Environmental & Safety Issues: Green Design: It Can Be In the Process
Corporate and industrial sustainability encompasses strategies and practices aimed at meeting the needs of stakeholders, while simultaneously protecting, supporting and enhancing human and natural resources for the future. Businesses and industries have crucial roles to play in helping the U.S. become more sustainable and competitive. As a result, many industries are responding by reducing their environmental impacts and risks.
Green design is just one component of sustainability directed toward reducing these environmental impacts and risks. According to Frank Fischer and Michael Black (1995), "Greening seeks to open up the discussion of sustainability to include a wider set of economic and social values and goals" . In this sense, sustainability unveils new social spaces. Within these new environmentally conscious spaces resides opportunities for new market niches.
Consequently, organizations and industries worldwide, including the heat treating industry, are beginning to fill these new market niches. They are starting to grasp fundamental concepts, such as "triple bottom line" reporting, eco-efficiency, environmental management systems (EMS), life cycle assessment techniques and process and product greening.
Greening not only describes product development, but also process/engineering design. A green process may ultimately lead to a green product; however, the two are not exclusive. For example, the heat treating industry performs an intermediate step along the pathway to the finished product. Therefore, it is unable to control preceding and subsequent processes, and thus, is unable to control the ultimate end product-whether it is a green product or not. It is, however, able to develop and institute green engineering processes, which ultimately enhance its sustainability.
Consider the success of Quality Heat Technologies Pty Ltd. (QHT), a subsidiary of GCD International Pty. Ltd., Victoria, Australia, the developer of the fluidized bed furnace, an alternative heat treatment to traditional molten salt baths. The fluidized bed process uses a suspension of aluminum oxide particles in a gaseous stream. The fluidized bed is heated indirectly by electricity or gas and quenching is accomplished by using air, nitrogen, or helium.
The environmental benefits include: elimination of spent salt disposal, elimination of the need to neutralize quench oil or water due to salt carryover, elimination of the need to chemically remove gases or vapors from the bath, improved quality through temperature uniformity, lower installation costs, lower capital costs, lower energy consumption and improved working environment.
Another example of how a process can be made greener is from Dana Corp., Toledo, Ohio, the largest original equipment manufacturer of automotive and heavy equipment axles, transmissions and brakes. Dana uses a heat-treating (carburizing) process to harden and increase the wear resistance of steel product surfaces.
The process discharges the furnace carburizing atmosphere to the air when the process is finished. Dana began testing a membrane-based technology that recovers and reuses discharged furnace atmosphere gas rather than exhausting it to the air. The process is more environmentally responsible, while at the same time economically advantageous because it allows a facility to avoid installation of expensive pollution control equipment. This "greener process" has reduced air emissions by 90%, reduced operating expenses by about 65%, reduced energy use by 25% and increased productivity.
Green products and processes serve many functions, the greatest being their ability to reduce the environmental footprint. However, their success is also indicative of a socially satisfied society capable of comprehending the need for preservation that can be accomplished in an economically beneficial manner. Green design is an excellent indicator of how the integration of the social and economic systems, as well as the environment, is key to achieving sustainability. The benefits afforded by using green processes and producing green products are becoming impossible to ignore, and successful companies will soon be marked by their ability to comprehend this concept. IH