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Friday, 27 April 2012 15:22

Herman Miller cements use for scrap powder paint

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Herman Miller cements use for scrap powder paint PHOTO: Joe Boomgaard
WEST MICHIGAN — A million pounds of scrap powder produced by West Michigan manufacturers could someday end up in office furniture instead of the local landfill.

Zeeland-based Herman Miller Inc., working in conjunction with its supplier VanderWall Brothers Concrete, has developed a process to mix the scrap powder into the concrete counterweights inside a range of office products.

On the surface, the recycling program might not seem like a big deal. But as companies try to reduce or eliminate the amount of waste they send to landfills, scrap powder paint continues to be a nettlesome problem. In West Michigan alone, companies are sending what’s estimated to be millions of pounds of scrap powder to the landfill every year.

The reason: Recycling scrap powder paint is difficult. The scrap is generated because of the different color runs manufacturers have to make for each product. Whenever the color is changed, the paint line has to be purged of the previous color, and what results is a hodgepodge of various colors that produces an undesirable gray finish not suitable for exterior surfaces.

As MiBiz reported in October 2011, companies including Haworth Inc. have been recycling the scrap with various vendors, but the process requires great volumes to make it feasible.

The Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, Western Michigan University’s Green Manufacturing Industrial Consortium and Sustainable Research Group LLC convened a cross-industry user group to identify ways to recycle the scrap powder.Herman Miller is a member of that consortium. For the last seven years, the company had been looking off and on for a solution for its scrap powder.

“We felt we had a waste that we needed to try to figure out what to do with it,” said Dan Broersma, an environmental specialist on Herman Miller’s design for the environment team. “And it was an evolution. We tried a couple different ways to recycle it. We decided to try it in concrete and we worked with VanderWall Brothers. We wanted to step up to the plate and try to use a different way of thinking to use the scrap in a beneficial process.”

The quantity of scrap powder paint can in some ways be tied to lean manufacturing practices. Companies first moved away from wet paint because of its negative environmental qualities in favor of powder coating. Even the best powder coaters achieve only about 75 percent utilization of the powder they’re buying at $2 to $4 per pound. Average companies might use only 50-60 percent of the powder paint that they buy.

The scrap situation was compounded when furniture makers started to accommodate designers’ requests for smaller runs of various colors. The companies used lean manufacturing principles to reduce cycle times as they changed over the colors.

But every time they change colors, they generate waste as they clean the booths and purge the paint. As such, companies found their waste management costs increasing even though they improved the time it took to change colors. Experts have called the scrap an “unintended waste.”
With recycling options limited, many simply put the scrap into the landfill. Because the material did not leech any chemicals, it could be sent to a standard landfill — not one specifically for industrial wastes. Throwing it away was often the easiest solution for the companies, according to sources. The waste started becoming more of a problem as many office furniture companies worked toward sending zero waste to landfill.

When Herman Miller began using concrete counterweights in some of its cabinets and other products in 1995, it looked into using the scrap powder in the weights but eventually shelved the idea. Those ideas were resurrected in the last year or so, and the company began working with VanderWall to reuse the scrap powder paint in the counterweights.

“There is a process to it,” Broersma said. “A lot of testing and such went into figuring out how to put it into the concrete. You can’t take powder and dump it into concrete and expect the results we’ve got.”

Paul VanderWall, VP of VanderWall Brothers, said the company worked closely with Herman Miller to determine the proper amount of powder that needed to go into the concrete.

“It’s not been an easy process,” VanderWall said. “But we’ve found a percentage that we’ve deemed over years of testing that (is) a very good product that works in their particular counterweight.”

Over the past 10 months, VanderWall Brothers has used about 80,000 pounds of powder offal in the counterweights. Because the weights are hidden, they don’t have to be a particular color, VanderWall said, which allows the company to mix various colors of scrap.
However, the partners have also identified positive qualities from the mix, including increased strength, better water repellency and a lack of leeching from the salts naturally in the concrete.

The collaboration has also worked to take 60 percent of the cost out of the counterweights to make the product more economical, VanderWall said.

The goal is for VanderWall Brothers to be able to take all of Herman Miller’s scrap powder and use it for other products, including concrete block walls VanderWall Brothers produces for many school and university projects. The reduction in salt leeching is particularly attractive for that application, VanderWall said.

“We want to move forward to put this in everyday products,” VanderWall said. “If that’s the case, (we’ll use) a big chunk of Herman Miller’s powder. And as the economy grows, so does the need for powder.”

Herman Miller also decided to share the scrap development with the user group, despite its competitors also being involved.

“From our point of view, this is an industry-wide problem,” Broersma said. “The right thing to do is to expand it and tell everybody. That will bring more resources to the table to solve it. We still have testing that will need to be done to put it into a block wall. And at the same time, we have more work to do. We’re in the last mile. If we bring our competitors to the table, we can help everyone and the planet.”

VanderWall said he commends Herman Miller for talking about a process into which it has poured a great deal of engineering and time to solve a broad problem.

“They didn’t have to release this,” VanderWall said. “They’re doing this for the good of everyone and to get rid of this powder. They need kudos. Not many companies would have done this to see this through.”

Read 7848 times Last modified on Tuesday, 07 August 2012 10:22

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