How much thought do most people put into how that plastic laundry detergent bottle came to be the shape, size, thickness and even color that it is? And what about the material, energy and expertise that goes into producing mass quantities of these and other containers?
Injection molding is a key technology used to manufacture many consumer plastic parts and containers for almost every imaginable industry, including the automotive and consumer electronics markets. In fact, according to Transparency Market Research, the global injection molded plastics market is predicted to reach $252 billion by 2018.
Equally large is the opportunity to make this process more sustainable. At Jabil’s Nypro Packaging operation in Mebane, North Carolina, the team is fanatical about continuously reducing the waste and energy usage of their growing operations.
Starting inside the plant, Nypro Mebane has replaced 22 of its injection presses with energy-saving all-electric models, providing as much as a 50 percent reduction in energy consumption and saving anywhere from $3,000 to $15,000 a year per press. Even better, these new machines are friendlier for the environment, requiring less oil than traditional hydraulic counterparts.
But reducing energy consumption of plastics injection presses is just one small part of an overall sustainability initiative. Reusable packaging solutions, bio-based materials, thin-wall technology, returnable packaging options, energy efficient operations and reduced distance logistics also contribute to a significant sustainable packaging operation.
Think about it. Instead of a single use and dispose model, a container designed for durability can be refilled many times, thus eliminating processing, handling, storage and transportation costs for the vast majority of all liquid products. Additionally, freight can be reduced by 16 to 20 times over the standard one-time bottles, making them economically efficient for retailers and consumers. Best of all, the durable model reduces plastic content going to the landfill by 90 percent.
Taking advantage of government incentives, Nypro capitalized on the opportunity to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels by implementing both solar and wind energy systems that generated roughly $44,000 a year of clean energy. So, beyond energy savings and durable design, what’s next?
Using the same fanatical approach to energy savings, no detail is too small to contribute to increasing sustainability. For example, Thermal blankets on machine barrels, warehouse air curtains, variable-speed drives on hydraulic motors and even recycling the rainwater from rooftops to be recycled for cooling towers are in the works for greening the facility. Plastic, wood, oil and cleaning supplies will be recycled so that zero waste finds its way into the landfill. And by moving to electronic invoicing, the facility even aims to reduce or eliminate paper and ink.
What if every plastic injection molding operation practiced this same focused approach to sustainability, rethinking virtually every system involved in its fabrication? It will not only change manufacturing, it will change the world.