An Environmental Legacy
Midwest Metal Products combines environmental consciousness with solid business decision making
By Lynn Shelton
Enterprise Minnesota's Vice President of Marketing
(Lynn Shelton, vice president of marketing, Enterprise Minnesota)
Sometime later this year Winona-based Midwest Metal Products, Inc. will become the first commercially operating foundry in America that is run completely by solar power.
CEO and owner Joe Plunger says his decision was based partly on being a good corporate citizen and partly on identifying a source of finding a way to save on his $30,000 monthly energy bill for his melt-based foundry. “We consume a lot of energy,” he said.
Plunger was one of four manufacturing executives who made presentations at Enterprise Minnesota’s business event called “Your Business Strategy: On Purpose or by Accident” last week at Great River Energy in Maple Grove. (We had an overflow crowd of 62 people. Our next event, “How to Maximize Your Production Capacity,” will be 8-10:30 AM, Tuesday, December 12 at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Shakopee.)
Plunger says that being environmentally conscious is part of the sustaining (but underappreciated) legacy of America’s foundries, that have a “long historic path of being recyclers and good environmental citizens.”
“When you think about it, foundries are kind of the ultimate recycler, to begin with,” he says. “We take scrap steel and we turn it into nice beautiful durable goods that all of you need.”
Plunger’s involvement began when developers related to Minnesota’s 2013 solar initiative recruited Midwest Metal Products to take part in the program. These developers would create regional “solar gardens” for which businesses can subscribe for their energy.
He ultimately signed up with Geronimo Energy, a “green” energy supplier based in Edina.
Issues around the project generated a hurdle for a company as big as Midwest Metal Products to participate. State regulations would not allow huge acreages of solar panels, so the company had to sign up for relationships with several “gardens.” In addition, no single subscriber could consume more than 40 percent of the energy from a single garden, so Plunger signed up for four.
Plunger says that for the next 25 years, he will save one penny below the prevailing rate for every kilowatt he consumes. For someone paying $30,000 per month for energy, that will mean a savings of about $25,000 per year.
Plunger is also innovating environmental pathways to reclaiming the sand used in forms. He has teamed with Milt Mathis, a retired engineer from 3M. Plunger, a metallurgist by training, had seen a proof of concept project regarding Mathis’s technology to recover gold from gold mine tailings.
“When I saw this, I said, ‘Hey, I know there's something there,’” he recalled.
Foundry sand retains a resin of phenolic urethane, he says, calling it a volatile material.
“So when you put molten iron or molten steel against it, it creates some combustion products and gasses off,” he adds, explaining that once the sand is used, and you break it back down to granular it retains that resin. “You have to put more resin on it to bind it again so you can make another shape. And that means that it's carrying extra volatile material, and that degrades the properties of the sand mold some.”
The process weakens the sand, he says, making it subject to creating more gas, “which ultimately could be a problem for defects in castings.”
His thermal reclamation project removes that resin from the sand, leaving an “almost virgin material to reintroduce into the process, which then has the ability to develop better properties for the user.”
Eventually, the sand will break down, he says, but it is reusable “almost forever, and you have to just add a little percentage of new sand for the stuff that is broken down to the point where the dust collection pulls it out of the system.”
How to Maximize Your Production Capacity
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
8:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites
4550 12th Ave E
Shakopee, MN 55379
What to Expect
Many manufacturers have integrated lean practices throughout their business, but is your organization empowering employees to make continuous improvement a daily priority?
Come learn from manufacturing executives on how you can take the next steps on your lean journey and:
- Increase employee skills and behaviors that align with company values;
- Increase focus on value-added activities; and
- Improve productivity company-wide.
Sam Gould, an Enterprise Minnesota continuous improvement expert, will moderate this event.
Click here to register