Global Companies Acting Locally
Ethical consumerism is a hot topic these days, especially in terms of food production and environmental sustainability. When it comes to large scale producers of goods, it is not always obvious how much value they place on the environment, community building, and sustainability verses the almighty bottom line. Several global companies have facilities in Jackson, TN. I have worked with the following companies and taken students on tours of their operations, and have been pleasantly surprised by conscientious concern and awareness on the part of management for the environment and the local economy. I would encourage you to at least consider the “think globally, act locally” angle when making purchases or seeking employment with global companies.
Pringles Potato Chips are sold all over the world and manufactured in just two locations, one of which is a plant here in Jackson. The last time I went on a tour, the plant claimed to be the second largest employer in the county, after West Tennessee Healthcare. Their economic impact is enhanced by several local, philanthropic efforts and sponsorships. The main material inputs for their operation are dehydrated potato flakes and vegetable oil. Neither of these is produced locally, but when possible they arrive by rail to reduce costs as well as the environmental impact of transportation. Once the chips are made and packaged, shelf life drives the need for expedient transportation, which is always by truck. Ideally, all of the vegetable oil would leave the plant with the product, but whatever is left that cannot be used to make chips has to be treated as a hazardous material. Waste chips are taken to a nearby pig farm. Overall, this operation is doing a pretty good job acting locally.
Bodine Aluminum, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Toyota Motor Corporation that produces blocks for Camry V6 and V8 engines. A few years ago, they sought some help from one of our senior design teams in automating an exacting and laborious process. A shot sleeve is a cylinder that contains molten metal while it is pumped into a mold during the die casting process. After a certain number of cycles, the shot sleeve has to be replaced. Each shot sleeve is very heavy and needs to be precisely aligned to be properly installed in the machine. Our senior design team came up with a hydraulic apparatus which allowed shot sleeves to be replaced 45 minutes faster and with vastly improved ergonomics. But this is only part of the story. Bodine Aluminum did not produce the new apparatus, Cross Machine Tool, Co. (CMT) did.
CMT is a locally owned business that employs several machinists, technicians, and draftsmen, as well as design engineers. The company does the majority of its work for Bodine Aluminum, Inc., and other local manufacturers. They make and improve upon tooling for die casting and stamping processes. It makes more sense for a company like Bodine to access local talent as-needed for some of its engineering requirements rather than maintain the capability in-house or rely on non-local support. CMT Engineers can consult on-site and new tooling can be made nearby and delivered without delay. Many global companies support local engineering companies in this way, and working for one of them may offer the challenge of a fast-paced, ever-changing variety of design problems.
Armstrong is a global flooring and ceiling material manufacturer with a plant located here in Jackson that produces oak and red oak hardwood flooring. This operation has several “green” aspects to it. First of all, all of the wood is sourced from sawmills within 500 miles of Jackson. Boards from larger mills with rail access arrive via rail, while smaller mills deliver by truck. For approximately 90 days after arrival, the boards sit outside to begin their drying process. After that, they spend 10 to 14 days inside one of several large, heated kiln buildings. Once they reach their final moisture content, they are milled, sanded, stained, sealed, and packaged for shipment. Since wood is a natural product, the defect rate is somewhat high. Knots, checks, and shakes lead to only about 60 percent of the wood leaving as finished product. The rest is recovered as short boards, shavings, and sawdust which is all burned in large boilers. The steam produced is used to heat the kiln buildings, and as production ramps up in the coming months, it will also be used to drive a steam turbine generator to sell electricity back to the grid. This operation definitely “acts locally”, especially in terms of supply chain and waste stream management.
I believe community building and care for God's creation are important in everything we do. However, they are not the only factors that should determine which companies should earn our business or association. I hope these illustrations inspire an additional set of questions to consider when dealing with global as well as local companies. If “acting locally” is not a current practice, it may even fall on you to advocate for innovation.
Jay Bernheisel, Ph.D., P.E.
Department of Engineering