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Sustainability: Green trends growing in materials handling

Going green isn’t going away: It’s a permanent and increasingly important part of the global business landscape—and that includes materials handling.

Solar panels on the roof of States’ warehouse facility in Arizona generate enough energy to power the facility and recharge its electric lift truck batteries.

By Lorie King Rogers, Associate Editor
November 01, 2011

Once upon a time, a company measured its success using two colors: red or black.  Today, there’s a third color making its way to a company’s bottom line: Green. Environmentally friendly practices and products are becoming increasingly important to companies and trading partners on a global level. 

So, how does this affect the materials handling industry? 

In February of 2011, Affinity Research Solutions, with support from Modern, conducted a survey for the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA) to establish a baseline of the state of environmental sustainability in warehousing, distribution and manufacturing. The survey, entitled “Sustainability in Warehousing, Distribution & Manufacturing,” found that companies in the materials handling sector are steadily embracing earth friendly products, processes and practices. 

In fact, 48% of the 368 qualified respondents said their facilities currently have a sustainability initiative underway, and 88% reported that they plan to have more attention focused on sustainability in the coming year.

A number of respondents have launched environmentally friendly initiatives by picking the green, low-hanging fruit first.

Meaning, they’ve started by making small, affordable and relatively easy to incorporate changes, like installing fans to circulate temperature-controlled air and lighting fixtures. For example, replacing outdated HID (high intensity discharge) lighting fixtures with more energy efficient, high-intensity fluorescent fixtures can produce 50% more light while saving 50% of energy costs.

And when asked the reasons why, respondents identified a number of reasons for adopting greener ways. Social responsibility topped the list of reasons, with 78% claiming this to be the driving force behind supply chain sustainability initiatives; 63% cited resulting efficiencies; and 42% reported that customers were demanding this action.

“The customer is more focused on asking the question of sustainability in the supply chain, so companies are more focused on incorporating solutions that will demonstrate their commitment to reducing their carbon footprint,” says Joel Anderson, president and CEO of the International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA).

Here are some examples of how industry leaders are answering the sustainability question and making the world a little greener from inside the four walls of their facilities.

At the dock
Temperature control at the dock is an ongoing battle, but there are a number of winning strategies. For example, dented or poorly fitting dock doors can allow temperature-controlled air to escape, which translates to money drifting out the door.  So repair or replace dented dock doors, seal up the gaps, and install dock shelters. 

Hall’s Warehouse Corp. operates seven facilities in the New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia area and offers 1.7 million square feet of ambient, refrigerated and freezer space. When the company installed more than 250 dock shelters—150 of which were on freezer or cooler doors—it reduced its annual refrigeration consumption by 3.9 MW and 3,143 tons of carbon dioxide. According to Patrick Sahradnik, Hall’s purchasing administrator and energy resource coordinator, that annual savings is equivalent to 320,777 gallons of gasoline.

Dock plates are another target. In colder climates, steel dock plates can cause what Richard Murphy, president and CEO of Murphy Companies, refers to as the “ice cube impact.” Murphy says that by installing winter insulated blankets on the dock plates, his facility reduced its heating expense by 10% while increasing employee comfort level immeasurably.

The same goes for pit-style dock levelers. Installing a dock seal around the leveler perimeter can prevent temperature-controlled air on the inside from getting out and outside ambient air from getting in.

Here comes the sun
In warmer climates, it makes sense to look to the sun for power. When States Logistics Services designed its newest facility in Tolleson, Ariz., it incorporated a rooftop solar array, which has been successful in generating a significant portion of the facility’s power.

So successful, in fact, that States installed a second solar energy system consisting of more than 1,000 solar panels on the roof of its DC at its corporate office in Buena Vista, Calif. The system generates about 560,000 kilowatts of power annually, which is equivalent to providing electricity to 51 American homes year after year.

Danny Monson, States’ president and CFO, says, “We’re generating our own electricity with our own solar panels and powering anything electrical.” That includes recharging lift truck batteries on the facility’s fleet, which is currently about 45% electric and 55% propane.

Power play
With power companies increasing rates and calculating prices based on peak usage, it makes sense to charge equipment—including electric lift trucks—during off peak hours and spread out power usage more evenly over the day, says Ken Ruehrdanz, warehousing and distribution market manager for Dematic. “This means operating conveyors, sorters and automated storage and retrieval (AS/RS) technology with a consideration toward energy usage.  Energy demand management should now be considered when planning the work to be performed over each work shift,” Ruehrdanz adds.

An energy monitoring audit can be performed at a facility, whereby power consumption data is collected and analyzed.  Based on energy usage information from sub-metering stations, a demand management plan can be formulated. “The solution is to spread out power usage and reduce peak usage of conveyors, sorters and other technology,” explains Ruehrdanz. “This tactic reduces spikes in power usage and keeps the user in a lower energy price range.”

Adding a sleep mode to equipment can also lower energy consumption. Running conveyor at full speed all day long when it isn’t needed wastes energy, increases wear and requires more maintenance, says Ruehrdanz.  Conveyor controls can be programmed to time out and shut down if no load activity occurs.

Conveyors aren’t the only equipment to benefit from energy controls. Vertical storage carousels can be equipped with intelligent energy management systems that apply an incremental power reduction process that automatically switches stopped carousels to four different levels of standby mode. All systems that consume energy, even when the carousel is still, are systematically closed down by the control system. The final step turns the carousel off at the main power switch, which is ideal for end-of-shifts because it prevents the machine from consuming electricity overnight or over a weekend.

About the Author

Lorie King Rogers
Associate Editor

Lorie King Rogers, associate editor, joined Modern in 2009 after working as a freelance writer for the Casebook issue and show daily at tradeshows. A graduate of Emerson College, she has also worked as an editor on Stock Car Racing Magazine.

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About the Author

Lorie King Rogers, associate editor, joined Modern in 2009 after working as a freelance writer for the Casebook issue and show daily at tradeshows. A graduate of Emerson College, she has also worked as an editor on Stock Car Racing Magazine.