Thought Leadership | January 29, 2020

Flow-Rite Controls: Leveraging Lean Initiatives into Circular Economy

We’re happy to welcome guest blogger Shannon Warren with Flow-Rite Controls of Byron Center, Michigan. Founded in 1981, Flow-Rite designs, manufactures and markets fluid control devices for flooded lead batteries, recreational fishing boats and more. Shannon shares how the company’s Lean Initiative is driving significant sustainability results.

Flow-Rite is based in the Midwest, but we have a global footprint and aspiring core values that include: Think Beyond Tomorrow.

Shannon Warren

To live that value, Flow-Rite Control’s leadership recognizes the need to create sustainable growth with a long-term, leaner solution, not a short-lived band-aid. In the spring of 2016, we launched a new lean initiative; we held our first Kaizen event.

Committing to Change

Kaizen (Japanese for “improvement”) is a continuous improvement method. It encourages creativity and ingenuity to change company culture for the better, requiring a team effort to solve problems of waste. Kaizen uses small, incremental changes introduced gradually to eliminate waste and improve efficiency.

Flow-Rite’s commitment to Kaizen has transformed our company’s entire approach to reducing its environmental impact. Here’s how:

Creating a Circular Economy

Foremost, we became more conscious and mindful in our recycling practices. As a plastic injection mold company, we saw great opportunity to reduce our waste. In short, we created our own circular economy where over 80% of our waste is now recycled and gets to live on in new ways.

How so? We invested in press side granulators to grind excess materials in the sprue and runner (channels for liquid material) for re-use in the molding process. Defective parts and excess regrind, cardboard, shrink wrap, plastic and other packing materials are now sold to a recycler. Even the steel and brass from our tool room gets recycled. Currently, we recycle more than 24,500 pounds of the majority of our production materials. We also receive monthly and year-to-date reports on all our recycling efforts to ensure we are on the right track – and assess any opportunities to improve.

Fostering Energy Savings

Prior to our lean journey, we had already been incorporating small, but impactful, changes throughout our facility to reduce our environmental impact and increase savings. For example, compact florescent lighting throughout the building and motion detecting light switches in every room, have significantly lowered our energy use. Offices have their own recycling bins. Eating areas have designated trash receptacles for waste, paper, bottles and cans. Refunds from cans are then donated to local charities, such as Kids’ Food Basket, Habitat for Humanity, and a few others where we also donate our time during our Associate Service Days.

Maximizing Space Efficiency

Lean practices have also helped us maximize our physical footprint. Using one-piece flow (rather than large-batch production) and inventory management has liberated an extensive amount of floor space. It now gets used for new product research and development, to become Kent County’s Toys for Tots sorting headquarters during the holiday season, and for opportunities that require room to grow.

Pioneering a More Sustainable World

To date, we have had over 30 Kaizen events throughout production and the front office. These include everything from optimizing the workflow in an individual production cell, all the way up to management processes. Within our materials stream, it can be as individual as recycling office paper, on up to minimizing scrap on the production floor.

Regardless, Flow-Rite is actively working to leave a smarter, leaner, more sustainable wake. The result is a closed-loop economy that benefits more people, communities and the planet.

 

About Shannon Warren

Shannon has been a marketing specialist at Flow-Rite Controls since 2017. As an experienced marketing professional, she assists with market research, social media strategy management, SEO, and various aspects of content creation and management. She holds an MBA from Western Michigan University’s Haworth College of Business.

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Venkat Srinivasan from the Argonne Collaborative Center

The lead acid battery ... is legendary. We can recycle 95+ percent of [these] batteries all across the world. It's a very safe chemistry, ... [and] we understand how to use it very, very well.

Dr. Venkat Srinivasan, Director, Argonne Collaborative Center for Energy Storage Science