Sustainability in the Machine Shop 3 Ways to Go Green

published Nov 03, 2021
2 min read

In a time of climate change protests and businesses embracing sustainable practices, it was only a matter of time before shops and machine tool builders also made efforts to lower their carbon footprint. 

As the UK makes steps towards recovery after a long lockdown due to COVID-19, the country’s manufacturers are looking to rebuild through green initiatives. They’re now calling on the Government to provide better financial incentives to drive investments in green technologies and energy efficiency programmes. 

Make UK reports that before the pandemic, 30% of UK manufacturers had already invested in energy efficiency projects, with 40% seeing an increase in profits and 30% reporting improvements to their competitiveness. Many machine tool builders are doing the same, whether it’s by using longer-lasting cutting tools (and thus requiring fewer replacements) or building shops and factories with the environment in mind.

Below are some examples of specific ways machine shops can become more sustainable and efficient.

1. Conduct an Energy Survey

First things first: analyse how much energy your machine shop is using with an energy survey. This is a systematic audit of how energy sources are used in your production processes and measuring their impact on the environment (in terms of carbon dioxide emissions). An energy survey also seeks to identify areas of energy consumption that can be made more efficient.

Energy surveys can vary in their attention to detail. Depending on the size of your machine shop, you can opt for a simple walkthrough or invest in a comprehensive investment-grade audit. 

At the most basic level, you should conduct a survey yourself and get a general overview of how much energy your shop is using. For larger operations, a survey done by an energy professional should put you on the path to better energy efficiency. 

Whatever your decision, you can refer to the Carbon Trust’s resources on energy surveys for guides to basic walkthroughs and the steps to organise an investment-grade assessment. 

2. Find Ways to Use Renewable Energy Sources

Embracing renewable sources of energy is perhaps the best way to make a machine shop more sustainable. Based on the findings of your energy survey, you should be able to find areas where you can introduce energy solutions like solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, heat pumps or biomass systems to reduce your reliance on the energy grid. 

The goal here is to make small steps towards using renewable energy. It’s very unlikely for any machine shop to go completely renewable, so focus on making swift changes with the most impact on your energy consumption. 

You can refer to resources offered by The Energy Saving Trust, which supports businesses, supply chains, communities and local authorities transition to renewable energy. 

3. Assess Your Use of Water and Materials

Going green goes beyond looking at your machine shop’s energy consumption. You should also assess your facility’s water usage and the types of materials used on your shop floor. For example, what percentage of your materials are hazardous? What percentage is recyclable? 

Consider the following recommendations:

  • You can start with cutting fluid maintenance to reduce what goes to the recycler or treatment facility. 
  • It’s also a good idea to use semi-synthetic cutting oils where possible rather than use fluids with additives like chlorine and sulphur, which pose an environmental hazard. 
  • You can also do a better job segregating chips/swarf between machining operations, making a point to keep steel material waste out of aluminium and aluminium out of titanium. These metal shavings can then be spun dry and compact for fast recycling. 
  • You can reduce the production of excess material waste by improvising the consistency of your milling processes, which offers the added benefit of reducing production delays.

Author Bio 

Gary Clegg has been in the industry for over 35 years, working from an apprentice to production manager. Gary is a time-served CNC machine engineer and has experience in all engineering fields, including milling, drilling, turning and threading. After leaving the shop floor to join the tool supply industry, he gained additional knowledge and experience in the tool and work holding category, making him an expert in static and driven tools and contacts in all leading CNC manufacturers.