Stecker Machine Blog

Sustainability in Manufacturing: Is Your CNC Machine Shop Meeting Your Expectations?

06/10/2024 | Scott Waak

Laptop open with sustainability features.

Sustainability has become a crucial part of nearly every industry, and manufacturing is no exception.

As someone involved in partnering with a CNC machine shop that aligns with your company’s goals, you may first want to understand how sustainability is being incorporated into a machine shop’s processes. And then determine the metrics to measure sustainability so you can make an informed decision.

Why care about manufacturing sustainability?

Companies take on sustainability goals for different reasons. To stand out from the competition. To satisfy regulatory requirements. To grab the attention of potential customers. And many others.

No matter what the end goal may be, true “sustainability in manufacturing” involves striving to accomplish three things:

  • Minimize the use of energy and natural resources
  • Reduce any negative environmental impacts
  • Prioritize the safety of employees and the community

This approach not only results in environmental benefits, it also leads to financial benefits that likely match what that company is striving for: cost savings, improved efficiency, and enhanced brand reputation.

In addition, many business partners require an annual sustainability scorecard to be completed that tracks reduce/recycle/reuse efforts and acts as a running tally of carbon footprint, CO2 emissions, and other measurables. A scorecard that drives health, environment, and safety initiatives can be a powerful motivator for a business.

5 key metrics for measuring sustainability in manufacturing

  1. Energy consumption: Monitoring energy use (and reducing it) through the implementation of energy-efficient equipment and processes.
  2. Waste reduction: Minimizing waste through lean manufacturing techniques, recycling, and the use of eco-friendly materials, if possible.
  3. Water conservation: Implementing strategies to reduce water consumption and promote water recycling.
  4. Carbon footprint: Tracking and reducing greenhouse gas emissions throughout the manufacturing process.
  5. Employee well-being: Ensuring a safe and healthy work environment for employees and promoting sustainable practices within the organization.

Working toward sustainability in a CNC machine shop

Similar to manufacturing overall, it feels like the CNC machining world is emphasizing the importance of sustainability more and more. And, while various tactics may be used to achieve goals, they typically start with machining but also involve materials, equipment, and people.

One thing to keep in mind is that very few companies are completely “green” and truly excel at sustainability; that’s okay. It’s a journey that takes planning and effort … and time. If a CNC machine shop can prove that they’re moving in the right direction, you can expect future improvements that will strengthen processes as well as your relationship.

Efficient machining processes

Optimizing CNC machining processes helps reduce cycle times, minimizes tool wear, and decreases energy consumption. Carefully designing these processes to reduce all forms of waste are especially important and can lead to forward leaps in sustainability.

One significant byproduct of CNC machining are metal chips left after machining. Recycling this waste usually involves the right separation processes for different metals and recycling the chips using a local company.

Liquid coolant — applied during machining to reduce excessive heat — is usually a single-use material that gets disposed of post-machining (see below for news about a possible coolant recycling effort at Stecker Machine).

Energy-efficient equipment

Similar to household appliances, newer pieces of equipment are more efficient, generally speaking. Advancements are built in that affect how the equipment performs and how it consumes energy.

That said, CNC machine shops are big energy users, with dozens of machines running multiple shifts within high-end shops. Investing in energy-efficient CNC machines and auxiliary equipment isn’t a simple decision to make, yet efficiency is no doubt discussed when equipment upgrades are considered.

Employee training

Providing training to shop employees on sustainable practices and regularly encouraging them builds a culture of sustainability. Comprehensive training programs and incentive systems can encourage employees to adopt eco-friendly practices, fostering a sense of shared responsibility and driving long-term, positive change in the organization.

Processes as simple as separating incoming packaging materials — cardboard, recyclable plastic, etc. — reduces what ends up in landfills. Outgoing packaging materials should also be wisely used to minimize waste. Implementing regular maintenance schedules can extend the lifespan of CNC machines, reducing the need for frequent replacements and minimizing waste.

Insights on choosing a partner

It’s important to partner with a CNC machine shop that prioritizes sustainability and demonstrates a commitment to reducing its environmental impact. During evaluation, ask about their sustainability initiatives and metrics, and get proof that they actively incorporate sustainability into operations.

Yes, cost savings, improved efficiency, and enhanced reputation all drive the bottom line. Yet, at Stecker Machine, there’s a moral obligation to work with sustainability being top of mind.

Again, few CNC shops have developed and follow a complete blueprint, but having initiatives that push sustainable thinking forward is the key. We’re confident we’re doing that at Stecker Machine, and we’re proud to share these accomplishments and initiatives:

  • Potential sustainability improvements at Stecker include investigating a piped-in system that recycles coolant. Not only does auto-feed machine filling (instead of manual filling) reduce waste and effort, it prevents overfilling and wasteful spillage. Implementing the whole system is a large undertaking and requires careful planning. The system needs to be plumbed throughout the entire shop and to each machine. 
  • Energy-efficient lighting is often overlooked when it comes to sustainable manufacturing. At Stecker, new LED lighting will be installed this year that will reduce kilowatt usage and costs by 45%; a large number that should quickly show impressive ROI. (Employees may note, this project is taking longer than we expected, but it is coming soon.)
  • Hand-in-hand with sustainability is social responsibility. From adopt-a-highway efforts to sponsoring community events, Stecker’s core values are lived out by employees in the local area, “walking the walk” by supporting meaningful efforts

When it comes to sustainability in manufacturing specific to CNC machining, look for shops that invest in energy-saving technologies and equipment upgrades to improve operational efficiency. Discover more about working with high-end CNC machine shops by reading our CNC Machine Shop Guide. Get your copy by clicking below.New call-to-action

Scott Waak

About the Author

Scott pushes Stecker Machine forward. He brings a hands-on approach to a dual role of Sales Account and Customer Service Manager. Scott has over 25 years of experience in the CNC machining industry, starting as a Machinist, and advancing to his current roles. He credits his success to hard work, dedication to manufacturing, and a drive for excellence.

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