Caterpillar spinout targets environmental metamorphosis for factories

By maintaining applied manufacturing equipment and systems more proactively, ATS aims to improve corporate sustainability credentials for big manufacturers.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Much has been written about how changes and efficiency tweaks to information technology infrastructure can help a business improve its corporate sustainability profile. But what about improvements to your applied technology, such as all the specialized equipment and systems that keep your manufacturing operation afloat?

That's the concern of Advanced Technology Services (ATS), a spinout from Caterpillar in Peoria, Ill., that focuses on recycling parts and reducing the environmental impact of factory equipment. The company got its start as an internal Caterpillar division and were spun out when the giant company realized its services were applicable for a broad range of manufacturing concerns, says ATS President Jeff Owens.

Let's be clear, ATS is first and foremost concerned with improving the productivity of your factory. It just so happens that reducing energy waste, air leaks and other energy-related inefficiencies happens to be a big part of this, Owens says. "The No. 1 reason our clients hire us is productivity, but soon after, sustainability is the focus," he says.

One example of what I'm talking about is ATS focus on ensuring there are no air leaks associated with equipment that uses compressed air, which is one of the most expensive processes in any factory -- used for robotics, automotive assembly, silicon production. Owens says ATS listens for leaks that the human ear would not normally be able to hear by using ultrasonic technology.

"Fix these leaks and you will see a decrease in the time it takes a compressor to run, which is much more efficient," he says.

What other smart things can you do to make your factory operations more sustainable?

Here are three additional suggestions from Owens:

  • Invest in smart lighting that only operates when facilities are in use.
  • Consider clean in-factory transportation operations, such as electric Cushman vehicle pictured to the right, which uses recyclable batteries. The vehicles cost 2 cents per mile vs. 22 centers per mile for gas-powered units.
  • Proactively maintain the oil and lubricant levels for all equipment, in order to decrease friction that could keep systems running for longer than necessary. Some of ATS' tools also analyze oil life, which helps cut back on the frequency with which it must be recycled.
  • Consider variable speed hydraulic pumps and fans, which can site idle unless they are being used.

Looking into the future, Owens and I debated the potential impact that remote technology management services could have on factory systems.

This approach, often described as "managed services" has dramatically improved the support experience for information networks, data center services, desktop machines and other pieces of IT infrastructure. The challenge is that the communications protocols used by most factory equipment today are proprietary, and the systems themselves are often 20 to 30 years old -- compared with three to five years for your typical piece of IT equipment. Smarter factory equipment is emerging, but it will take years before it is the dominant technology in use, Owens says.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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