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E3: Economy, Energy and Environment

E3 Success Story - Overcoming Barriers: Metalworks

Company Basics

  • Headquarters: Rockford, MI
  • Employs: 200

Assessment Details

  • Date: March 2005
  • Team: The Right Place, Inc., a NIST MEP, Rick Flemming and Bill Stough

Metalworks is a small, family-owned company that manufactures metal filing cabinets. Metalworks employs about 300 people in three facilities located in northern Michigan.

Metalworks was nominated to take part in a Green Suppliers Network review by their customer, Steelcase. Steelcase purchases two-drawer lateral file cabinets from Metalworks and distributes them in their line of office furniture. Metalworks fabricates, powder coats, and assembles lateral file cabinets in their Ludington facility. Mary Ellen Mika, Supply Chain Manager at Steelcase, approached Metalworks about taking part in a review. Scott Lakari, Vice President of Operations at Metalworks, had some initial hesitation but met with Steelcase to discuss how to overcome potential barriers. Once Mr. Lakari's concerns were eased, he and others at Metalworks were very excited about the opportunity. Mr. Lakari stated, "We felt the program was a good fit since we were already pursuing lean manufacturing and environmental improvements."

The Situation

Metalworks' managers long wanted to draft a value stream map for their facility and their product lines but did not have the personnel or resources in place to do so. Mr. Lakari stated that they simply did not have anyone within the company who had the right expertise to lead such an exercise. The Network review team examined the facility's product line for two-drawer lateral file cabinets, which includes multiple processes. The review team focused primarily on the facility's energy consumption, hazardous wastes, and volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions generated by the powder coating process, and water use for parts washing.

The Solution

The Network review team drafted both a current-state and future-state value stream map for the identified product line. These maps helped Metalworks visualize and better understand how much water was actually needed in the parts washing process and how it could be reused. Review team members suggested measuring the amount of water that spilled out of the rinse tanks and then estimating the amount of water needed to achieve the optimal rinsing. Following the technical review, Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality provided Metalworks with an intern to help inventory the amounts of water used and lost during the parts-washing process.

Prior to the review, the parts-washing process contained a series of five rinsing tanks that were each filled with fresh water at the same time. This approach required 24 million gallons of wash-water annually. The review team recommended adapting the process to cascade rinsing. Cascade rinsing reuses water from one rinsing tank to another, less critical rinsing operation before being discharged to treatment. By changing to a cascade rinsing process, Metalworks reduced water use by more than 16 million gallons a year and saved $30,000 annually.

This reduction in water use triggered additional savings within the parts-washing process through the use of reverse osmosis water treatment system. By pre-treating the water used in their acid-etching phosphate parts washers, Metalworks reduced the amount of chemicals added to the process by 20 percent, resulting in a savings of more than $20,000. Metalworks expects a one year payback period for the installation

"Participating in a Green Suppliers Network review was well worth it! Taking part in the program led us to consider improvement opportunities that may have otherwise gone overlooked."

— Scott Lakari, Vice President of Operations, Metalworks