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Green Business Network

SMC Pneumatics Case Study

Savings in two years of more than £54,893
Reduction of CO2 emissions by 141 tonnes
Recycling up from 61% to 73%

What do you do when you’ve picked all the low hanging fruit? Japanese owned SMC Pneumatics started to look at cutting its resource usage more than five years ago, but having made significant savings on energy needed to move forward in line with its obligations under ISO 14001, and to remain competitive.

Bob Farr, facilities manager at SMC, explained: “Competition from China means we’re always looking to stay one step ahead to maintain our competitive edge. We need to produce more using less to keep costs down.”

The Milton-Keynes based company mainly manufactures energy saving pneumatic components for use in the automotive, food and drinks, canning, robotics and mechanical handling industries. Its components are designed to use less compressed air – one of the most expensive parts of any production process.

SMC uses its own advanced pneumatic products to make savings in its manufacturing process; for instance it is crimping some fixtures, rather than screwing to save compressed air, and installing blow guns that use 30% less compressed air have resulted in savings of around £1000 per year.

Anyone running processes that use compressed air will testify to its expense and SMC’s major saving for last year came from replacing its high pressure compressed air system with one offering variable speed drives. This has helped to reduce overall compressed air use by 10% and resulted in year on year savings of £12,283. Energy monitors fitted throughout the factory are also helping SMC to identify the greatest drains on energy so that it can work to reduce usage where it’s most needed.

Recycling has increased from 61% to 73% in one year. In fact, the company comfortably exceeded its target of less than 125 tonnes going to landfill by achieving 105 tonnes. This resulted from measures including:

Of these measures, three have yielded major cost savings. Removing individual waste bins reduced the number of cleaners needed (and bin liners) and resulted in a £35,000 per year saving.

Purchasing a perforating machine for cardboard to reuse it to pack orders also brought significant savings. Bubble wrap use was decreased by 45% - equivalent to £1800 a year, £933 was saved in transported waste to the compactor, and £626 was saved in sorting waste. The factory now produces 2 or 3 wheeled skip loads of waste a day instead of 12 to 15, and the number of PRNs it has to purchase each year have also decreased dramatically.

Reducing the number of product catalogues printed reduced waste and resulted in a saving of £3249.

Reducing waste isn’t the only concern for SMC. This year, it has also cut its carbon emissions by 141 tonnes by changing most of its vehicles to diesel.

All of these actions have taken place after the company looked at more fundamental energy issues. In 1999, the company installed a computer controller to restrict the flow to its gas radiant heating system, which is housed in the roof of the building. This switches the power on for three minutes and shuts it down for one minute. This resulted in an immediate saving on gas of 25%. The system, which cost £35,000 repaid SMC’s investment in just two years. The company’s gas bill now is the lowest it’s been since 1999 and this is with an increase in working hours and production.

The company has also used imaginative schemes to reduce electricity consumption without going to the expense of replacing fixtures and fittings before they become redundant. For instance, on parts of the shop floor, the environmental team have removed 50% of the tubes from fluorescent lighting units to cut power usage. It has also removed the starters so that lights can’t be switched on unnecessarily.

Water consumption has also been addressed – with cleaning processes reclaiming and using the same water no less than four times. To wash some components, SMC has to chemically clean water, which means it is stripped of all impurities. This is then reclaimed and reused for a deburring wash, which in turn is reclaimed has detergent added and is used to wash long components. Finally, the cleaners use the water for washing the floor.

On the cards for next year SMC is looking at ways in which water can be saved in the toilets throughout the building, installing saver controls on air conditioning units, and setting up a herb garden in the company grounds, the produce from which could be used in the canteen to reduce buying-in costs and the cost of food air/road miles.

What do you when you’ve picked all the low hanging fruit? If you’re SMC, you invest wisely for fast payback, or you use your imagination and commitment to take innovative measures – the rewards of which can be sweet.

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