The word, ‘sustainability,’ appears in an increasing number of industry conversations and marketing materials as businesses of all sizes become more aware of their impact on communities and the environment. But, what does ‘sustainability’ actually mean, especially for the screen printing business – a manufacturing process that has historically employed inks, solvents and other materials deemed hazardous to humans and the planet?
“As a manufacturer, DuraTech wants to support sustainability for a number of reasons. The most important is that it’s the right thing to do for the environment, our employees and communities,” stated Dan Chandler, VP Manufacturing. “We’re continually improving our business practices to minimize waste, reduce VOC emissions, reduce energy consumption and buy local whenever possible; and we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished over the years.”
Let’s take a closer look…
Diverting material from the landfill has long been a focus of DuraTech’s waste reduction efforts. Currently, we’re working to become a paperless entity – a step-by-step process that will take time. In the coming months, we’ll be eliminating most of the paperwork that goes to the shop floor. We’re also digitizing all closed work orders (files that show past quotes, quality information and production flow). Each of these initiatives represents a big step forward in our journey to diminish paper consumption.
Another recent initiative is our partnership with Onalaska-based Dynamic Lifestyle Innovations to aggressively ramp up what and how we recycle what’s called e-scrap – surplus, broken or obsolete electronic equipment. We also recycle film that we use in the screen printing process and redirect appropriate waste to a local power plant for energy production.
Additionally, we employ a centrifuge to thoroughly wring out solvents from the rags we use to clean screens. By doing so, DuraTech avoids inadvertently discarding approximately six gallons of cleaning chemicals per day into the waste stream. Some of the rags are then reused for initial screen cleaning and the remaining rags are incinerated by Waste Management.
Furthermore, we distill, on average about 50 gallons of solvents per week. Used screen cleaning product is drained into a still, where it’s heated until it turns into vapor. Once the vapor cools, it condenses into clean, reusable solvent. Of the 50 gallons distilled, we reclaim, on average, 45 gallons of solvent for reuse. The remaining waste from the process is collected and sent to a hazardous material handling company for proper disposal.
Decreasing VOC emissions
The bad news is that Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – pollutants emitted into the air as a result of certain manufacturing processes – are an unfortunate byproduct of the printing industry. The good news is that there’s much that can be done to improve the situation, and at DuraTech, we’ve made significant strides in this area.
For example, we’ve replaced 80 percent of our traditional solvent screen printing inks with UV inks – specially formulated inks that cure when exposed to ultraviolet light – resulting in far fewer VOC emissions. We’ve also moved away from ammonia-based flexographic inks and cleaners to 100% water soluble products.
We’re fortunate to have as our partner and supplier, Hydrite Chemical, which helps DuraTech source cleaning and other products that have minimal impact on the environment. It’s important to us that Hydrite is a “no landfill” company and that their products comply with U.S. EPA criteria for biodegradability and aquatic toxicity. Together, we also monitor and report DuraTech’s emissions to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Through these and other efforts, we’re proud to share that the Wisconsin DNR continues to classify DuraTech as a “small” hazardous waste generator, even though our company has grown significantly over the past decade.
Reducing energy consumption
The screen printing industry can be energy intensive, which makes energy conservation a key area in DuraTech’s sustainability efforts. As an active participant in Xcel Energy’s Mid-Market Program and Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program, we conducted an energy survey to identify efficiencies in our operations and production processes. Among the action items we’re taking as a result of the audit:
Replacing all conventional lighting with LED fixtures throughout our facilities
Moved to ultraviolet light emitting diodes (UV LED) for curing inks. UV LED curing technology, which is 98% more energy efficient than mercury vapor, also produces no ozone emissions, reduces energy consumption and eliminates the need for high-energy mercury vapor bulbs
Installed high efficiency air conditioning systems
Changing the way in which we manage our compressed air procedures by reducing horsepower and downsizing use during second and third shifts
“DuraTech is an active participant in looking for ways to reduce energy consumption,” affirmed Dee Dee Kerska, Mid-Market Account Representative at Xcel Energy. “As a mid-size business customer, they’re proactive in their approach to minimizing their environmental impact, especially with the 2019 building addition.”
Last summer, our company celebrated completion of a 47,000 square-foot addition – the largest in our 41-year history; it was the perfect opportunity to install the best energy efficient mechanicals on the market, including capacitors that increase the efficiency of our electricity consumption, and computer monitoring and diagnostics equipment for managing internal environments throughout the building. Even the roof is specially designed to hold internal temperatures steady.
Supporting our communities
As a family-owned company, DuraTech believes that a vital component of sustainability is to support the communities where we operate. One important way we address this area is by purchasing as much material and services as possible from local partners.
Another aspect of community support is through community involvement, including:
Making donations and organizing walking teams for Steppin’ Out in Pink, a Gundersen Breast Cancer event
Providing volunteer bell ringers for the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign
Holding an annual company-wide food drive for a local food bank
Adopting families during the La Crosse County Adopt a Family Christmas program
Sponsoring local athletic teams and events
We’re always looking to improve
“Sustainability is such a vast concept,” Chandler noted. “Is DuraTech perfect? No. But, as a company with a strong culture of continuous improvement, we are dedicated to constantly innovate ways to minimize our impact on the environment, support our local communities, and otherwise improve our operations so everyone benefits.”
If you’d like to learn more about DuraTech, please visit our website: www.duratech.com.
DuraTech’s Environmental Policy
Our business practices include identifying, implementing and promoting best practice environmental management of systems and operations through these initiatives:
We will educate and train our employees in helping us maintain a safe work environment.
We will work with our employees to develop a wider understanding for implementation of minimizing waste by first
rethinking, reducing, reusing, repairing or recycling.
We will show strong commitment to segregation of waste through a recycling and re-use program.
We will ensure compliance with all government regulations.
We will reduce the use of solvent and VOC emissions, by switching to less hazardous UV products and constructions.
We will regularly monitor and report on our environmental performance.
We will continue to work with our energy supplier on reduction of energy usage through education and training and utilize ‘green’ resources whenever possible.
We will work with our suppliers on ‘green’ sustainable alternatives and reduce transportation costs by buying local whenever possible.