Michael Araten is the President and CEO of Sterling Drive Ventures, LP. Sterling is a family corporation with multiple businesses, including The Rodon Group (Rodon). Araten joined in 2005 as their Vice President and General Counsel. He became President and COO in 2006 and was named President and CEO in 2009. Rodon is a highly automated plastics injection molder doing small plastic parts for various businesses. A particular fun focus is their production of the K'NEX components, an educational toy developed by Joel Glickman, Araten’s father-in-law. Rodon is an example of a company that has profoundly ingrained sustainability into its manufacturing operations
"While we've focused on ESG from a sustainability perspective throughout our history, we really honed in on it when we decided to go landfill-free. That means that we recycle all the water we use here. We recycle at the press all of the plastic we use, so there's no wasted plastic resin. Any other trash that we can't recycle at the work cells is sent to a trash-to-steam facility to become clean energy." – Michael Araten
Rodon has embedded an ethos of environmental sustainability. As a result, the company has become one of the leaders in responsible manufacturing in the plastic injection molding industry. Examples of their initiatives include:
• Landfill-free solutions – The company was among the first in its industry to receive the Sustainable Waste Solutions (SWS) recognition as a Landfill Free Facility.
• SWS logo – All Rodon manufacturing waste ships to SWS to be recycled or processed into advanced energy-from-waste facilities.
• Packaging conservation – The large volume resins of nearly ten million pounds annually are bought in bulk and stored in silos. They currently recycle twenty percent of the incoming cardboard, increasing the percentage yearly. Outgoing cardboard reductions come from cartons shipped from Rodon that hold 300-400% more product than the original packaging. The company also offers customers a returnable and reusable packaging program.
• Energy conservation – Rodon is a member of Direct Energy Business with programs that allow them to improve energy usage. These programs range from basic improvements like motion-sensor activation lighting to more sophisticated demand responses to reducing energy consumption during peak periods.
• PPL logo – The PPL Electric Utilities Corporation has recognized the company for its energy-efficient initiatives and added them to the E-Power Energy-Smart Business Honor Roll.
• Nontoxic materials – All materials used in manufacturing are guaranteed to be nontoxic and nonhazardous. The resins used in the large-volume injection modeling processes are certified for this status by the FDA, RoHS, REACH, and NSF. As a result, they improve the environment and the safety of their employees, customers, and end-users of the products they produce.
• Environmental stewardship – The Rodon workforce fully supports the single-stream recycling program at the plant. The company also contracts with AERC Recycling Solutions to provide a way for employees and their family members to recycle batteries, computer equipment, electronics, and used lights from their households.
The company has been a long-term champion of corporate responsibility and a committed steward of the environment.
When building the Rodon plant in 1987, they incorporated new practices and technologies that resulted in a green factory. In addition to the above items, robots allow the operation to run 24/7, but additional benefits include efficiency improvement and waste reduction. The excess plastic from each produced part is reground and recycled for reuse in the manufacturing process. The robots are programmed to do this at optimal timing, where the timing eliminates resin material waste. Robots stack the in-process materials precisely, which results in packaging cost savings. The technology reduces part distortion allowing triple or quadruple the number of components in each carton. The result is a reduction in cardboard usage and landfill waste leading to additional positive environmental impact.
Manufacturing engineers work to optimize each product produced through the injection molding machine, where a hybrid of hydraulic and electric generally is the best option. Further process enhancement utilizes Eco-Indicator 99 (EI'99) methodology, a life-cycle assessment weighing method to produce quantifiable measures of "environmental friendliness." The three types of damage the process works to eliminate are human health, ecosystem quality, and resource depletion.
Rodon's dedication to a healthy and vital environment includes a societal obligation to foster sustainability to minimize the impact on the local community. The company clearly understands that manufacturers produce too much trash and consume too much electricity. The company has embraced this challenge; to date, the company has driven various initiatives resulting in a 20-50% reduction in electric usage.
The path to a more sustainable manufacturing operation can begin with simple changes. Examples are a list of energy consumption reduction opportunities found in a NIST blog post. Then, start with the low-hanging fruit, where the resultant savings can fund a subsequent round of improvements that may require more investment. Then continue to repeat with more substantial projects as the savings continue to grow.
I continue to learn from the examples of companies using responsible manufacturing as the approach to doing business, for which I am grateful. The Rodon Group is another company others can use as a benchmark organization. Additionally, in recent years they have reshored from China the production of its K'nex products to their Montgomery County plant, which will have an additional positive economic impact on that area.
Next week's blog will continue exploring sustainable practices' benefits in manufacturing operations. The result is to lessen the negative environmental impact and align with the humanist manufacturing framework.
To learn more about our work or read more blog posts, visit emmanuelstratgicsustainability.com.
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