Saturday, January 24, 2009

Going Green

There has been a lot of talk about the green jobs, a "clean energy economy" and reducing one's carbon footprint. Recent college graduates are interested in working for green companies, and consumers have begun to demonstrate their willingness to consider the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions.

Being green is not new to ConMed Linvatec. The operations group has really lead the way, starting with a strong commitment to Kaizen that dates back to the 1990's. At that time, we were all big fans of the book Lean Thinking. As part of the operations group, I participated in a number of Kaizen events. I understand that Kaizen is an integral part of manufacturing operations at Conmed's New York facilities as well. Kaizen is a fundamentally green approach to manufacturing.

Lean Thinking highlights the Toyota Production System. Japanese car manufacturers like Honda and Toyota are some of the foremost practitioners of lean philosophy in the manufacturing world, but as the book explains, many of their manufacturing ideas were inspired by Henry Ford and american grocery stores- where "just-in-time" inventory was, and still is, an art form.

These ideas connected with a deep current in Japanese culture of respect for nature and a need after the second World War to be as resourceful as possible. You could say this philosophy is exemplified by "Waste not, want not." The TPS approach is to eliminate as much waste- wasted time, energy, materials and scrap- as possible from the manufacturing process. The idea is that in most manufacturing processes, there is much more waste than there is opportunity for increased efficiency. Unlike the high-dollar investments often required to increase efficiency, reducing waste is about observing and streamlining the manufacturing process carefully to eliminate waste and improve quality.

So over nearly two decades, through dozens upon dozens, perhaps hundreds of Kaizen events, the manufacturing of ConMed Linvatec products has become less wasteful, faster and more flexible, cleaner and greener.

In an excerpt from a recent article written by one of my esteemed colleagues at ConMed Linvatec, here are some other ways that ConMed Linvatec has been "Going Green" for many years...

  • Packaging. Almost all our boxes and shipping containers are made out of recycled material.
  • Trade-in programs for capital equipment. We accept back any and all prior generation capital equipment and offer credit toward the purchase of new equipment. The returned equipment is often taken apart and some parts are used in the service and repair of other products.
  • Made in the USA! Not only are most of our products manufactured in the USA but we also contract with many local suppliers. Many of our direct competitors are now subcontracting the manufacture of their products(s) outside the US; shipping from China (or elsewhere) increases the consumption of fuel and the "carbon footprint" of such products.
  • Autoclavable camera heads. Autoclaving is a widely accepted and environmentally friendly method of product sterilization. It is a much "greener" method of sterilization than other methods which rely on harsh chemicals that need to be specially handled and disposed of.

More and more business have begun to realize that being green is just plain smart. In the medical device industry, ConMed Linvatec is a green leader.

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