Plastics and chemicals

Plastics factory

Plastics and chemicals manufacturing is highly energy and materials intensive. There are many actions manufacturers can take to reduce energy and materials usage with the potential to save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year with a simple payback typically less than two years.

Top tips for improving materials efficiency

  1. Process optimisation. For manufacturers, wastage from production lines can cost businesses tens of thousands dollars per year, especially when the ‘real cost of waste’ is considered. Improving processes to reduce wastage and therefore the amount of raw materials used will boost productivity and save thousands of dollars per year. Find out more about how to improve processes.

  2. Materials utilisation. Improving the way raw materials are inputted into processes – including better measuring, spillage control and recovery for reuse, and bulk loading – can help save thousands of dollars with a less than two year payback.

  3. Reuse waste materials. The true cost of wasted materials is often between 10 to several hundred times the costs of disposal, when purchase cost and processing labour and energy are considered. Many waste materials can have the potential to be reused in manufacturing processes. Such ‘closed-loop’ practices allow the original raw materials, energy and manpower of a product to be recaptured and used again. Find out more about reuse of waste materials.

  4. Packaging. Packaging can cost manufacturers big dollars and make up a large proportion of factory waste. Investigate ways to save materials and money by illuminating or reducing packaging such as redesigning packaging to use fewer materials, or using different materials or recycled content, or reusable packaging. Reduce your packaging waste by working with your supply chain to introduce re-usable packaging or seek alternative suppliers with reduced packaging. Find out more about reducing and redesigning packaging.

  5. Inventory management. Review inventory stock control; have the right level of stock to satisfy customer needs, and identify excess or old stock; don’t run your stocks too low, but remember that if you have too much stock, it can cost you money. The estimated cost of holding stock is ten to thirty percent of the stock's value. This cost includes storage, insurance, keeping accurate tracking records, and controlling stock to avoid theft and spoilage.

  6. Quality control. Improve quality control and process monitoring in all production processes. By increasing production inspections (and inspection points) and displaying real-time production information, most production problems can be identified, stopped and corrected at an early stage before waste becomes a problem.

Top tips for improving energy efficiency

  1. Install variable speed drives (VSDs). Pumps and fans account for around 40 per cent of motive energy used in plastics and chemicals manufacturing processes, installing VSDs can reduce this energy use between 10 and 60 per cent. For example, reducing pump motor speeds by 20 per cent will halve the energy costs associated with the motor. Learn more about the benefits of installing VSDs.

  2. Boilers and process heating

    • Consider insulating pipes, flanges, valves and vessels hotter than 50°C. Adding 25mm insulation to a 168mm diameter pipe carrying product at 300°C will reduce energy losses by 88 per cent or 467 Watts/metre of pipe.
    • Save up to 20 per cent in steam energy costs by reviewing options for returning and reusing steam condensate.
    • Reducing steam blowdown can reduce a boiler's energy use by 2 to 3 per cent and reduce blowdown water losses by up to 20 per cent.
    • Consider implementing a steam trap management program. Even a well maintained steam system will experience failure in up to 10 per cent of its traps within a one-year period. Up to 15 per cent steam generated energy savings can be achieved.

    Learn how to improve the efficiency of steam, hot water and process heating systems.

  3. Compressed air. Compressed air systems use up to 10% of total industrial electricity in Australia, and up to 50 per cent of the compressed air used by industrial businesses can be avoided. By introducing regular checks and repairing compressed air leaks a business can save thousands of dollars per year. For example, an 8mm (hole) compressed air leak increases electricity energy use by $7,500/year assuming 2,000 hours annual operation and an average electricity cost of 15c/kWh. Learn how to improve the efficiency of compressors.

  4. Appropriately sized pump and fan motors. Check that pump and fan motors are appropriately sized for the load. A large number of motors are at least 20 per cent oversized for the load and therefore use more energy than what is required. Learn more about how to improve the efficiency of pumps and fans.

  5. Lighting. Replacing high bay or fluorescent lighting with LED lighting can achieve up to 70 per cent energy savings. Learn more about upgrading lighting.

Plastics and chemicals case studies

Sustainability Victoria has a number of published case studies highlighting how businesses in the plastics and chemicals industry have taken action to significantly reduce their energy and materials use, and boost productivity. For example:

  • Plastics manufacturer A. Schulman (formally Compco) replaced primary and secondary augers and batch blenders for a payback of less than three years.
  • Vinyls manufacture Welvic recaptured PVC powder wastage for reuse and carried out improvements to resin conveyancing and dust management systems to reduce materials use and waste by more than 95 tonnes annually, with an energy saving of 4 per cent.
  • By retooling one machine, at a cost of $3,500 Mackay Consolidated Industries saved 14,000kg of material per year representing a saving of $64,000.

View these and other case studies

PACIA has published case studies of member companies that have taken action to improve their resource efficiency or overall sustainability. See the PACIA case studies.

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