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How green is your valley?

Case story - Green energy giant grinds with micron precision - Wind turbine bearings
Posted 30th Jun 2010 by Chris in engineering, manufacturing, environment, green energy, sustainability, machine tool, touch probes, linear encoder, angle encoder, magnetic encoder

There are seemingly endless measures of how ‘green’ a manufacturing organisation is in relationship to its use of natural resources and its wider impact on the environment.  Whilst most measures focus on direct environmental production ‘costs’, there is an increasing awareness of the lifetime carbon footprint for an individual product or packaging.

This cradle to grave approach looks at carbon emissions for all raw materials and processes that have gone into manufacturing a product, and very importantly its impact after it has left the factory and is in daily use. Last year Renishaw sponsored a sustainability conference, at which there was a fascinating presentation by an organisation called Eco3, which argued the case that 80% of the costs and environmental impact of a product are determined at the design phase, and that to focus on its manufacturing impact alone would almost certainly be ineffective in tackling the biggest causes of waste, environmental damage and energy use.

Their presentation gave the example of a shower manufacturer, highlighting that by far the biggest carbon impact of their product is after a shower unit it is installed and that by making improvements in product design that the use of both water and energy consumption was reduced markedly, far outweighing any carbon saving that could be made during the manufacturing stage.

However, a further carbon impact, and one which is very much pertinent to Renishaw, is the benefit that the product itself can have in helping to reduce energy consumption and minimise waste, or in its contribution to the manufacture or operation of alternative energy products. So for example our touch probes and laser tool setters help maximise the efficiency of machine tools and significantly reduce scrap and rework, whilst our position encoders are increasingly used in the manufacture of solar panels and also to give direct feedback on electric motors.

We have just released an application story (‘Green energy giant grinds with micron precision’) about the use of our linear encoders, angle encoders and magnetic linear encoders to control the accurate production of huge bearings used for wind turbines, some as large as 4 metres in diameter. As we say in the article, wind turbines are significant structures which to some are objects of beauty and to some simply an ugly blot on the landscape. However, whatever the arguments about their form and efficiency, it is clear that they are very much here to stay and are increasingly in demand as a generator of renewable power.

This point was reinforced this week with the launch of another green energy supplier based in the town of Stroud, close to our main UK headquarters. Already home to Ecotricity, one of the world’s first green energy suppliers which has been building wind turbines and supplying electricity since 1996, the new company Five Valleys Energy (FiVE) aims to be the majority provider of local energy in the Stroud district within 10 years using a mix of hydro-power, ground source heating, solar power and wind turbines.

The landscape for manufacturers has changed, and whilst we all have to get used to tighter environmental regulation and reporting, a renewed focus on energy usage and waste is almost invariably good for business, as we’ll highlight in future posts.