Embracing environmental sustainability initiatives has fostered a culture change at The Wagner Companies while boosting its bottom line.
“We looked at all aspects of our business and how they pertained to sustainability,” said Mike Skelton, manager of manufacturing services at The Wagner Companies, a Milwaukee manufacturer of handrailing systems and components for handrails.
The Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP) brought a team of experts to Wagner, an initial step in the company’s journey toward becoming more environmentally sustainable and, as it turns out, more profitable.
The WMEP’s Profitable Sustainability Initiative (PSI), at its core, offers a business case for reducing a company’s impact on the environment. It involves a three-step process that includes a diagnostic look at a company’s operations, a subsequent assessment, and then the implementation of any recommended steps.
The innovative approach helps small and midsize manufacturers focus on improvements in the entire operation that will result in the greatest return on investment while positively impacting the environment.
PSI is statewide initiative launched in 2010.
“With WMEP as the lead, we are able to introduce key resources to organizations in the area of energy efficiency, environmental gains, logistics and transportation, and project financing,” said Randy Bertram, director of sustainability services for the WMEP.
Through its work with the WMEP, The Wagner Companies examined electric and water usage, along with packaging, transportation and manufacturing processes, Skelton said.
“We got a chance to look at sustainability in a whole different way,” he said.
A key determination focused on Wagner’s water jet process, which used a high amount of electricity and water, as well as significant usage of materials.
“We decided to see if there was an alternative there,” Skelton said. “We came to the conclusion that a fiber laser would really benefit Wagner.”
Switching to a fiber laser increased material utilization by 15 percent, meaning that it consumed far fewer raw materials than the water jet.
The change also meant that The Wagner Companies no longer had to dispose of garnet, a byproduct of the water jet operation. Before the switch, the company shipped 132,000 pounds of garnet to landfills each year.
The fiber laser also has boosted production speed by four to five times, allowing for a decrease in lead times and inventories, Skelton said.
“We didn’t know what we didn’t know until we hired Mike Skelton, who was familiar with WMEP and he encouraged us to become involved and see what WMEP could do for us,” Robert Wagner, chief executive officer of The Wagner Companies.
Wagner’s sustainability initiatives also have included involvement in the city of Milwaukee’s ME3 program, an environmental initiative aimed at small and midsize manufacturers and for which the WMEP serves as a main partner.
“WMEP brings to the table their experience from the PSI initiative and its diagnostic and assessment tool,” said Matt Howard, environmental sustainability director for the city of Milwaukee.
All in all, Wagner’s sustainability initiatives have reduced material scrap by 15 percent; cut solid waste by 132,000 pounds annually; reduced energy consumption by 20 percent; and led to a reduction in water consumption amounting to 92,000 gallons per year.
“We are starting to change the way we think about sustainability,” Skelton said. “We actually have a sustainability story here at Wagner and we should be proud of it. It’s also changing our culture. People are more aware of what we put into landfills, what we do with our waste, how much scrap we have, how we recycle our cardboard. All of these things come into play as part of our culture where they didn’t before.”
Wagner PSI Results:
- reduced material scrap by 15 percent
- cut solid waste by 132,000 pounds annually
- reduced energy consumption by 20 percent
- led to a reduction in water consumption amounting to 92,000 gallons per year