Thursday, October 13, 2011

Consuming all but the oink!

Or, using most of what you have

When I was a graduate student in Madison in the early 70's I had a part time job working with a small company that delivered rock salt for domestic water softeners, sales in markets and stores and, on some occasions, to some major food processors in the area. One of those we'd deliver to was the Oscar Mayer Company.

There used to be a saying that Oscar Mayer used every part of the pig but the "oink" in making products (at least the pork based ones!). We also delivered to Frito-Lay but, other than getting some bags of chips that happened to "fall into our truck," we learned little about making potato chips.

I cannot confirm the exact details of material utilization at Oscar Mayer from my contact with them when a student, but it always struck with me as an ideal "buy to fly" ratio for food processing. I did observe truckloads of animal carcasses at the loading dock heading off to make gelatin and other products. Can't use much more of your raw materials than that.

On this subject, I was contacted a while back by some folks working in the furniture business on the East coast about maximizing yield in lumber processing for furniture. That sounded interesting to me.

One company, Manchester Wood,  sent me some info about how they maximize yield on raw lumber in their production process.  They also sent a link to a video that depicts their use and processing of raw materials.

According to my contacts there, they use the latest technology for ripping and cutting raw lumber in their rough mill. Six cameras view the boards to determine where the boards should be cut to insure they get the most yield from each log being sawn. Ripped boards get marked with a crayon to note defects. A computerized cut off saw reads markings and calculates the best cut for the highest yield. The edging pieces go through the hog to grind up material for shavings which goes to local farms for livestock bedding. A hog is sort of a hammer mill with a rotor with fixed hammers and tips for shredding wood waste, bark, scraps, etc. It makes bigger things small.

They also edge glue wood parts into panels to get a better yield by utilizing otherwise parts too small for commercial use. They try to use as much of our raw materials as we can while minimizing any waste.

Materials that they can't use, they try to recycle locally.

Another company making wood furniture products that I've had some communication with is Harden Furniture. You can see a video presentation of their factory operations (actually the video starts in the forest and follows the processing/building of furniture through shipping).  They use very little natural gas and almost no other fossil fuels as most of their facility is heated with wood waste.

They have a strong commitment to sustainable production and describe their activities on the web. This website gives a lot of background on the energy used and impacts in furniture manufacturing as well as a comparison of the net carbon emissions in producing a ton of wood versus other materials (from brick to aluminum). Wood looks pretty good!

There is another example I just was referred to - check out this youtube video of very clever utilization/recycling of materials. My dad (recall the "it'll come in handy if I never use it" comment from a past blog?) would have loved this one!

Finally (and on a different subject) the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has just launched the OECD Sustainable Manufacturing Toolkit. You can find some background on this organization on their website.

The toolkit is, according to the OECD website, "designed to help businesses around the world, particularly supply chain firms and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), develop a more viable, socially responsible business approach and make the most of green growth opportunities. It provides a set of 18 internationally applicable, common and comparable key performance indicators to measure and improve the environmental performance of manufacturing facilities. This indicator framework owes to much to the existing variety of environmental and CSR initiatives and offers a potential for future standardization in this area."

The toolkit is specially designed for businesses looking to address sustainability in terms of what it means, how it relates to their business, and how they might benefit from greener production. A bit like this blog!

The Toolkit includes a Start-up Guide, which provides a step-by-step approach to measuring and benchmarking environmental performance, and a Web Portal which provides additional technical guidance, data tools and useful links.

You can download the start-up guide and start reading!

We'll discuss some of the features, applicability and other related elements/issues with the toolkit next time.


  1. Hi David - I work for a gangway and safety equipment manufacturer here in Houston, Texas. I'm always looking for ways to maximize our output, while minimizing our impact and streamlining our processes. I've just come across your blog and I'll be checking in regularly - always eager to learn something new!

    Anyways, thanks for sharing - Aly

  2. Thank you for the insight into the inner workings of manufacturing giants such as Oscar Mayer and Frito Lay, great utilization of humor and in-depth exploration of green manufacturing procedures. It was very interesting to read that manufacturers are adapting sustainable practices in their everyday processes. I will be checking back soon, keep up the awesome work.


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