PLANT

Lean leads to green


April 7, 2010
by Ron Harper

Replacing metal halide light fixtures with T5 fluorescents consumes 46% less energy.

Photo: Cogent

Green practices have a positive impact on the environment, but they’re also good for business. With that in mind, Cogent Power Inc., a Burlington, Ont. manufacturer of transformer components and electrical steel products for power markets, decided to tackle its environmental challenges in 2006 and formed a Green Team.

These dedicated employees applied lean tools such as kaizen and value stream mapping to eliminate landfill waste, reduce and offset Cogent’s carbon footprint while encouraging employees to make eco-friendly choices.

Many manufacturers choose to see energy as part of the cost of producing and supplying a product; however, much of it can be wasted, so the Green Team decided to address the use of electricity and natural gas, both major carbon contributors.

With the support of its suppliers, Cogent replaced 311 metal halide light fixtures with T5 fluorescent models that consume a total of 241 watts per fixture, a 46% energy reduction. Lighted emergency signs were replaced with CSA-approved glow signs that require no electricity. And energy-wasting problems such as air leaks in compressors, lines and equipment were also addressed. Old, inefficient motors were replaced with high efficiency motors and motion detectors were installed in office areas that didn’t require constant lighting.

Manufacturing transformer cores uses a lot of natural gas and nitrogen in two large gas-fired annealing furnaces. By retrofitting bearings and seals, heat loss was lowered with a significant reduction of oxygen ingress. Redesigning and rebuilding primary door systems, and refinements to the sequencing of products entering and exiting the furnaces, substantially reduced natural gas and nitrogen use while increasing the level of product quality.

Extending green benefits
Cogent employs a unique and highly effective method for replenishing a series of kanbans used to stock production supplies. This system was put in place and happily accepted by suppliers who actively take part in maintaining and replenishing them.

Suppliers and customers also helped eliminate waste, which contributed to a reduction in landfill waste, resources used and the energy required to produce new materials.

Arrangements were made with a skid supplier and domestic customers to reuse and refurbish wood skids. The old skids are returned to the supplier where they are refurbished, then resold to Cogent at a fraction of the cost. And cardboard suppliers recommended new packaging that would contain the highest recycled content available.