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Taking Steps to Go “Green” With Steel

The pressure for organizations to go “green” is increasing daily, and some companies fear it will hinder their ability to compete. However, many companies are finding with the right approach that it could actually help them become more productive and profitable. Going green doesn’t mean a company’s foundation has to be destroyed, but it can mean finding opportunities to enhance what is already there. Going green is simply making more environmentally friendly decisions to reduce pollution and waste, and to recycle more.

The most eco-friendly decisions can be reached by analyzing a product’s intended use, maintenance expectations, life cycle, and recyclability. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines eco-friendly material as, “products or services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose.”

Facilities can limit pollution and reduce waste if the right materials are selected, efficient equipment is used, and good practices are put into place. And since there can be monetary benefits to going green, it just might be worth your while!


The raw materials used and the energy consumption required for manufacturing processes should be analyzed closely for any opportunities to reduce waste. Implementing lean manufacturing is one way to help eliminate waste while delivering quality products more efficiently. The EPA states, “While the focus of lean manufacturing is on driving rapid, continual improvement in cost, quality, service, and delivery, significant environmental benefits typically ‘ride the coattails’ or occur incidentally as a result of these production-focused efforts.”

Engineering programs can be used to determine the most optimal cuts that can be made on a piece of steel that will help limit scrap, and an effective change management process can help limit rework. But effective communication, detailed documentation, and quality control are needed throughout the entire process to be successful.

Material selection alone can provide opportunities to go green. The use of raw materials can be reduced drastically by implementing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) programs. For contractors also associated with the fabrication portion of the project, purchasing recycled steel from steel mill groups that use Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) technology is an additional option. EAF technology melts scrap steel material instead of the mined iron ore that blast furnaces require. Painting and galvanizing steel can also help preserve and protect the material from the harmful effects of corrosion.


Another area that can help contractors go green is equipment. A properly designed ventilation system that provides adequate clean air is necessary for establishing and maintaining the indoor air quality of a facility. The amount of exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other air impurities such as microbial contaminates can be reduced dramatically when blasting and painting areas are isolated into separate rooms with temperature and airflow controls. Exhaust ducts equipped with filters and scrubbers can be located under the room’s floor to help minimize emission, catch overspray, and limit VOCs to help meet or exceed EPA standards.

Savings of materials and money have also been observed from using plural component equipment. This type of equipment measures and then mixes two components at the spray gun nozzle. The coating components are sent to a pump, proportioned at the proper mix ratio, mixed, and then spray applied. Normally, components would be mixed at the beginning of job and too much or too little might be mixed, resulting in extra waste. The plural component equipment, on the other hand, allows the components to be stored in bulk and mixed as needed, resulting in less waste.

With the right machines placed in ideal areas, air pollution can be reduced while increasing efficiency. For example, a Wheelabrator machine can perform surface preparation of steel plates by using electric motors that propel steel shot/grit onto the steel surfaces at speeds up to 400 mph (643.7 km/h) inside a closed chamber. The machine recycles the metal blast abrasive in lieu of single-time use and disposal. The steel abrasive minimizes surface contamination that can occur with other forms of blast material, and all parts receive a consistent surface profile. The closed chamber and automatic recycling reduces potential employee injury and exposure to blast media. Fabricated sections too wide for the Wheelabrator can be placed in a sealed blast room with a full recovery shot blast machine equipped with dust collectors to reduce exposure.

For companies that manufacture and coat in-house, an overhead crane and cart trolley positioned between the manufacturing plant and paint areas may help. Immediate transfer to the Wheelabrator, blast room and paint rooms can occur. The efficient layout reduces the elapsed time from shaping and cleaning material to applying coatings down to a matter of hours instead of days.


Many painting and other processes still require the use of solvent-borne products that must use clean solvents to flush spray equipment, lines, and paint bays to prevent them from becoming clogged with hardened paint material or contaminated by other paint selections. Once the solvent has been used, it can either be disposed of as hazardous waste or it can be recycled. Minimizer machines or distillation systems can be used to recover those solvents so they can be recycled into a clean and reusable product.

Manufacturing new products of value from waste or scrap can improve efficiency, help reduce consumption, and save money. For example, with the right labor force, steel can be modified to fit almost any need. Creative knowledge and inventive people have transformed scrap steel into not only useful tanks, but also new and impressive structures such as homes, drop towers, observation decks, and hunting stands.

For the Future

Progressive thinking and inventive methods to go green should be applied to the design, manufacturing, and recyclability of a product. Steps taken today will affect the health and wellbeing of future generations.

About the Author

Erika N. Henderson has a bachelor’s degree in international relations from University of Southern Indiana. She has been published in numerous water publications. For more information, contact: Erika Henderson, enhenderson@hendersonwritingspider.com or Pittsburg Tank & Tower Company, www.watertank.com

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