The environmentalist Jonathon Porritt usefully defined sustainability as, “The capacity for continuance into the long-term future.” On that basis all businesses need to consider the question of sustainability since if there’s no future, there’s no business.
Sustainability can take many guises apart from the obvious environmental one. There are also the economic and cultural facets to take into account.
For a global engine manufacturer like Perkins our focus has been the reduction over time of pollutants emitted by the engines we make. It’s fair to say that by 2014 when U.S. EPA Tier 4 Final comes into effect, we will have made substantial reductions in emissions and our latest range of diesel engines will be the cleanest yet.
And it doesn’t stop there. Our commitment to sustainability carries on through our Perkins master distributors, who service and maintain the engines to the highest standards, to ensure ongoing optimum performance.
Of course it’s not simply the engines we make that have an impact, or lessening impact, on the environment. It’s also how we make them.
We’ve put in place a number of strategies to enhance a sustainable approach to supplying what is a global customer base. Among these is our principle of manufacturing close to our customers and major markets.
This both shortens the supply chain, which is good for the environment, and fosters the growth of local suppliers, bringing much needed commercial and economic growth. For example since manufacturing began in our Wuxi facility in China, the volume of locally sourced components has grown to nearly 85% for some engine models. This helps create a vibrant and sustainable local economy.
On a manufacturing level we have seen great advances in maximizing efficiencies while minimizing waste. In the U.K., at the Peterborough site, the investment made in a new crankshaft facility was predicated on not only improving the quality of our engines but lessening the impact of our processes on the environment.
This included completely eliminating the need for cutting fluids in many of our machining operations, and using 100% recyclable neat oil in our grinding process.
The use of cast spheroidal graphite iron instead of forged steel has reduced the amount of rough material removed from the first machining operation by 30%, lessening the amount of material wastage. We have also achieved a significant 90% reduction in our supply chain meaning less transportation, less packaging, and reduced inventory transit times.
Engine building is an energy intensive process so we’ve also looked at how to reduce our consumption. For example when the Global Engine Development facility at Peterborough was upgraded we took the opportunity to address our long-term aim of reducing our carbon footprint. To that end three of the test cells were designed to use the power of the engines on test to export electricity back to a substation so reducing our site dependence on the grid.
This approach has generated a saving in the region 500-MW hours of electricity per year; that’s the equivalent of 272 t (300 ton) of CO2. It’s an encouraging start and by adding more of the regenerative technology to the cells over time we can increase this figure.
Continued training and the development of our people at all our facilities are a key strength and area of focus for us. Sustainability is not just about the company and the product; it’s about the people and what you’re giving back to the communities in which you are based. We invest in our people and contribute to the community, by leading on environmental initiatives or providing a source of employment for the present and future generations.
What is certain is that the question of sustainability touches every part of our business and so it should. We need to ensure that there is a future for our business and whether it’s on a global or local level, sustainability in all its guises, should help inform our decision making.
Nigel Basely, Marketing Director, Perkins Engines Co. Ltd., wrote this article for SAE Off-Highway Engineering