Teams Lead the Way to Waste Reduction

From the Source, Winter 1997

SKF USA Inc., located in Flowery Branch, Georgia, employs approximately 425 people to manufacture deep groove ball bearings. Many of the plant’s production areas operate seven days a week, twenty-four hours per day. As in any manufacturing plant, SKF generates a variety of wastestreams.

Recognizing the need to more effectively deal with these wastestreams, SKF formed a ten member task team in December 1995 to address recycling and waste reduction issues at their facility. The team’s mission statement is as follows: “To reach zero waste by the year 2000 and to comply with the SKF corporate ‘clean’ policy directives through point source reduction, recycling, and reuse.”

Now thirteen members strong, the team includes representation from all areas of SKF, including manufacturing, purchasing, shipping and receiving, human resources, environmental and safety, engineering, maintenance, and janitorial staff. The thirteen team members meet monthly to discuss reduction and recycling projects that have been completed and new ones that are starting. Minutes of team meetings are posted so other SKF employees are kept informed of the wastestreams being addressed. The task team has worked on many wastestream issues since its formation. The approach used by the team for any particular wastestream is to form a smaller subteam of 2-4 members. The subteam is then responsible for gathering data about the wastestream and investigating appropriate source reduction, reuse, and/or recycling methods. This approach has allowed the task team to successfully tackle a wide variety of projects. Below are some of the team=s accomplishments:

1. Waste oil – The manufacture of ball bearings generates large volumes of waste oil and waste coolant (a mixture of oil and water). The Waste Oil and Water subteam investigated ways to reduce the volume of waste oils while improving the methods for disposal. As a result of that investigation the task team determined that hydraulic leaks in the machines which contaminate the coolant would have to be identified and repaired. They also determined that water would have to be separated from the coolant before it could be recycled cost-effectively.

The task team tackled both of these problems with great success. They started by instituting a program which would proactively identify and correct machine leaks. They also installed a new ultrafiltration system aimed at separating water from oil for disposal. These reduction efforts have helped decrease the waste oil generation from over 150,000 gallons in 1995 to 75,000 gallons in 1996. Recycling costs were cut by 50 percent.

2. Grinding Swarf – Grinding swarf, an oil saturated mixture of powdered steel and grinding abrasives, is a large volume solid waste for SKF due to the nature of their manufacturing process. SKF had previously been landfilling all swarf, at a rate of approximately 25 tons per week. After exploring many different options, the grinding swarf team found a recycling company to accept the swarf, eliminating hauling and landfill fees on over 2,000,000 pounds of swarf annually.

3. Grease and Grease Drums – SKF is working with grease suppliers to provide grease in reusable/returnable totes rather than in drums. This reduces the labor involved in changing grease drums out, the disposal of the drums, and the amount of waste grease generated. The possibility of using totes for some liquids is currently being assessed by a new Drums and Liquids subteam.

4. Pallets – When the Pallets and Scrap Wood subteam first assessed the wood wastestream, they discovered that pallets were being landfilled at a rate of approximately 34 tons per month at a cost of about $1,100 each month. During 1996, the team took steps that resulted in recycling of 65 percent of pallets generated by the plant. The team took the following steps to attain this accomplishment:

  • Identified the different pallet sizes.
  • Created a pallet reclamation area.
  • Sent a memo to key people in the plant discussing the reduction efforts.
  • Contacted raw material suppliers, and requested that they take back their useable pallets.

Four of SKF’s suppliers now reclaim an average of 200 pallets per week. A local packaging company picks up other useable pallets each week at no charge. Currently, the subteam is considering the economics of purchasing a shredder or mulcher to chip some small, odd-sized pallets generated by the plant. The chipped material may potentially be used as a ground cover on the SKF property. Through these efforts, the team has successfully reduced pickup of pallets destined for the landfill from twice to once per week.

The team has also made efforts to introduce their ideas to the entire SKF plant through distributing a newsletter, hosting two appreciation days for the plant’s workers, and providing fruit for the employees with the money generated from the recycling of small items such as batteries and wire. In just a short time, the Waste Reduction and Recycling team has made great progress. For more information on SKF’s program, contact Mary Cain at (770) 967-16588.