Here is an interview with Mark Summers, President of CNC Software at Mastercam.
Mastercam stood out to me as one of the few manufacturing companies that made “Going Green” an issue worth mentioning. Even the smallest steps taken to minimize the damage done by industry is immensely important in these modern environmental times. With all the harm that manufacturing potentially causes the earth and how much we rely on manufacturing it to keep our economy running it seems more important then ever to bring our attention to this. Society is held together by many things, including technology and manufacturing, and companies like this will be the future of sustainable manufacturing in the coming decades.
What are the environmental efforts being made right now by the manufacturing industry as a whole?
Mark: I don’t know if there is enough information to summarize the efforts made by the manufacturing industry but my guess is that many businesses are at least thinking about these issues and many will act in the next few years in various ways.
Where does Mastercam stand in this context, how do you measure up or exceed expectations and standards for “Going Green”?.
Mark: The expectations are vague and not official unless you’re LEEDS certified so it’s up to the decision makers in each company to decide what level of sustainability to integrate. However I think we measure up pretty well in the green department. We have made both small improvements and large improvements in the way we operate our facility and the way we use energy.
Small ideas include using dishes, glasses and ceramic coffee mugs instead of throw away items. (We have six energy star dishwashers). We compost all of our coffee grounds and food waste so as not to use fossil fuel to haul garbage around for no good reason. In our recent building addition we made sure to use low V.O.C. paint and PVC free carpet to improve our indoor air quality. We’ve installed a fresh air heat exchanger so that we don’t lose valuable heat when bringing in fresh air from outside. All of the windows in the building open if occupants want fresh air when weather permits and a large amount of windows allow us to use more natural light rather than electric lights, which are energy efficient fluorescent lights. All of the lumber in the addition was FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified. All of our printing is done on 100% recycled paper with environmental ink and over time we have been printing less and supplying more documents electronically. Many of the employees work from home 2 or 3 days a week to reduce fuel usage.
Like most businesses the real opportunity to make a difference in energy usage is the way a building is heated and cooled. Our 50,000 sq. ft. building is 100% geothermal and does not have a backup system. We have 46 wells that are 300 feet deep that extract either heat or cold out of the ground to heat or cool the building and make our hot water as well. Since the only energy source we use is electricity we decided to install a 72kw photovoltaic system to make some of our own. The solar system is newly installed but it appears we are making about 30% of the electricity that we use. That portion of our electricity will cost the same for about 30 years which is the predicted life of the solar panels.
Do you think technology has the ability to make our society sustainable, what social and scientific steps do you feel are needed to make this happen.
Mark: Yes, I think we have the technology to be 100% sustainable but it will take time and large investments and a change in our living standards. The laws of nature will eventually demand that we all become sustainable in our work and home life and making changes sooner rather than later will allow a smoother and less painful transition. The social steps that need to happen are mostly financial to start with since cost seems to have a way of getting everyone’s attention. Keeping fuel prices high via taxes will keep the pressure on all of us to pay greater attention to the way we live. Lobbying for low fuel costs to keep the economy going is short term thinking and just putting off the inevitable. A small amount of pain now might avoid real problems in the future. This theoretical fuel tax revenue could be used for tax credits and rebates to help fund more homes and businesses that invest in alternative energy. If the U.S. government can find a way to spend over half a trillion dollars to fight a war we can surely find the same amount of money to invest in more clean energy ideas that could actually avoid a war.
You were a “green” company before “green” really existed. What is the history of your company’s progress with its environmental efforts?
Mark: We have always tried to pay attention to our energy and material usage. My depression era parents might have had some influence in this area. We built our first building in 1989 about five miles from our current building and incorporated a geothermal system and passive solar system. Oil deliveries and burning oil in a furnace never really made much sense to me.
Are you noticing any other manufacturing companies going green or being socially responsible? If not, why do you think this is and what would it take to change this trend.
Mark: I know of one local shop that is environmentally aware and is in the process of installing a 32kw photovoltaic system to make some of their electricity. The Connecticut Clean Energy Fund offers a generous rebate for this type of system and I am certain that other shops are acting. Some businesses are motivated to save money and some are motivated to save the environment. Either way works.
What is your view on the peak oil crisis and how it will and has affected industry and manufacturing?
The peak oil crisis and high energy cost spike was a much needed wake up call for all of us. Hopefully the recent drop in oil prices won’t allow us to forget that we need to pay attention and make some changes. I think most people realize that was just a little taste of what’s coming and we need to be ready when cheap energy is no longer available. There are many ways to “be ready”. Take advantage of the energy incentive programs that are available right now. Hire an energy company to audit your operation and then act on at least some of the advice. Use less energy and make some of your own. Almost any business can afford a few solar panels and encourage recycling and shutting the lights off. Do something and then tell people about it, in that order.
Are there any new greening initiatives at your company, underway or being discussed?
We’re not obsessed with green ideas since we still need to spend most of our time operating the business so it stay healthy but we do talk about energy and environmental ideas regularly. Lately we have been monitoring many of our electronic devices to see how much power they used when turned “off”. You might be surprised to learn that many of these devices such as computers, printers, fax machines, cable boxes, dvd players etc. steal your power all the time. A $25 Kill A Watt meter will help you uncover these electric injustices and will surely pay for itself in short order provided you act on your findings. Another current project is to add more computerized controls to our HVAC system to make sure it runs only when necessary. For example, many people forget to adjust the heat or AC when they leave at night or the weekends. A computer can make that adjustment easily and with more consistency than a human and save lots of energy in the process. In other words, an efficient system that isn’t controlled properly isn’t really that efficient.
How does the lax environmental regulations in China and India fit into the global environmental solution?
Well, we all live in the same world and the responsibility level of other countries affects us all. My opinion is that the countries that care about the goal of sustainability and environmental responsibility should first offer technical and financial help to the countries that need it if they can. If the offending countries ignore sincere help then the heat should be turned up and we should reduce or avoid doing business with countries that don’t toe the line. Countries are just a collection of people and policies and sometimes a repercussion needs to be felt before action takes place. When my kids leave the lights on in their room I take the bulbs out of the offending light to send a small message. A country might need a larger message in a similar fashion.
What new and exciting things are happening right now over at Mastercam?
We are continuously working on new ideas for our CAD CAM product called Mastercam as we have been for 25 years and this year has proven to be successful as well. Our cautious but constant growth allows us to serve our customers as they expect now and in the foreseeable future and we will continue our ever present goal of reaching sustainability.
Special Thanks to Mark Summers for taking time to answer some of our questions. To read more about MasterCam’s Green initiatives, check out this article.