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Putting More P2 in Your Production Processes

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure -- Benjamin Franklin

For the most part, I do not feel comfortable when anything sounds too good. (Just an ounce of prevention is worth a whole pound of cure?) But in the case of pollution prevention technologies or “P2” -- the transition from an operation that employs pollution control devices (or simply pollutes), to an efficient waste reduction (or elimination) system -- the benefits are real, and often surprisingly “holistic.”

In fact, if you look at the definition of P2: the reduction or elimination of the creation of pollutants by means of increased efficiency in the use of raw materials, energy, or other resources; it is remarkably similar to the popular business paradigm “lean manufacturing,” which can be defined as the minimizing of resources required for production by eliminating waste that inflate costs, lead times and inventory requirements.

Lean manufacturing techniques are increasingly employed by firms to become more competitive and efficient. Many P2 technologies do the same. The “catch” is that P2 -- like lean manufacturing -- means manufacturers typically have to think about their processes in radically new ways. However, not surprisingly, it is easier to sell boardrooms on the implementation efficiency systems, than on P2.

Ultraviolet (UV) and electron beam (EB) “radiation” technologies cure (or dry) coatings, inks, adhesives and composites. UV? EB? Radiation? Not always an easy sell. But as it turns out, UV and EB technologies are P2 systems -- they are also typically much safer than traditional processes. The application for this technology is widespread with thousands of installations worldwide -- from cars, to cereal boxes to CDs and DVDs to fiber optics to magazine covers and floors -- UV and EB applications are everywhere, used to protect and decorate a myriad of items you use everyday. You may have experienced the technology by having your nails rapidly dried in a beauty shop, or by a dentist fixing a tooth.

It is a process that chemists developed decades ago whereby special formulations react to UV or EB -- eliminating the use of potentially dangerous and polluting chemicals (including volatile organic compounds, VOCs; and hazardous air pollutants, HAPs) and also obviating the need for the expensive, energy intensive equipment to drive off and control these pollutants.

How is UV and EB a P2 technology; and how can it make a company more efficient? Let’s say a company uses a protective coating to make a part. Coating “A” is a “traditional” coating containing VOC and HAP chemicals that help give the coating the desired properties in application. It is a coating that has been used for decades and is proven to perform well and is inexpensive. However, to finish the part, those VOC and HAP substances are not needed and are baked or dried away. What is left is just 33% of what was originally applied (the rest being largely eventual waste). But let’s say this coating costs just $13 per gallon.

Coating “B” costs well over twice as much or $32 per gallon -- but “B” does not contain these VOC and HAP containing chemicals that are later driven off; and 99.5% of what is painted on the part remains on the part as a protective coating. In this example, Coating “B”, the UV or EB cured coating is much more expensive by gallon, but actually has a lower applied cost; in fact, representing a substantial dollar savings in this application.

This small example says a lot. It says that Coating B is economical as it ultimately costs less; efficient, as a substantial volume of material is not processed simply to become eventual waste; energy savings, as the finishing process does not have to handle the elimination of waste products with, for example, pollution control devices; and environmentally friendly, with the virtual elimination of emissions. This is an eco-efficient process with also no CO2 emissions, as no ovens or burners are used as with traditional methods.

“The business logic of these types of pollution prevention efforts like UV and EB continually pay dividends while the alternative of pollution control costs continue to rise,” says Jeffrey J. Burke, executive director, National Pollution Prevention Roundtable. “Pollution Prevention typically offers a permanent solution for sustainable production that increases productivity and dispenses with compliance costs and the liability of pollution.”

There is no question that adopting UV/EB or any P2 technology requires a new way of approaching the production process. It is more often than not a hard sell to companies that have been successful with traditional methods. Moreover, environmentally friendly alternatives are often perceived as “concessions” and feel good solutions rather than sound business models. But with international competition threatening many of our manufacturers that also sometimes feel at a disadvantage due to environmental regulation, the emergence of powerful technologies like UV and EB means there does not have to be a trade-off. Change is disruptive -- but we often ask ourselves if there is a greater risk to not investing in change and improvements.

Gary Cohen is executive director of RadTech International -- The Association for UV and EB Technology.

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