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|Lean thinking at Ahlstrom|
Nonwovens leader Ahlstrom’s just-released 2012 Sustainability Report shows solid environmental progress and in 2013 the company is embarking on a Lean programme, with four initial pilot projects.
“The fundamental objective of Lean thinking is to reduce waste,” explains the group’s supply chain executive vice-president Luc Rousselet. “The idea is to eliminate anything that consumes resources but does not increase the value of the product. This covers everything from over-production to poor inventory management and even extends to wasting human resources by not using the full skills and potential of the workforce.
“We’ve made a commitment to work towards zero waste-to- landfill by 2015, and some good progress was made again this year. To eliminate waste from the end of the value chain will take more time as the change has to start from the product design phase. This is an area where we need to improve, but the vision is to be much more efficient in dealing with end-of-life waste too.”
Another area of focus is on reducing energy consumption.
“A long-term action plan is being developed to reduce consumption and use renewable energy, though we still have a long way to go,” said Rousselet. “Energy consumption is directly related to CO2 emissions and the carbon footprint of our products, and we aim to achieve 10% reduction in energy use per ton by 2020, based on our 2011 consumption. We’ve started energy assessments at our plants, beginning at Osnabrück. Another way to reduce energy use is by working with other companies and buying our gas as a consortium as we do in France. It may be possible to do this in other countries as well. Likewise, whenever we invest in a new plant, we’ll be looking at using state-of-the- art energy technology for energy. The new filtration media saturator in Turin is a good example. We’re also looking at the possibilities of biomass energy.”
Bio-polymers are an area of intensive research for the company, and the most important of these PLA, as an advanced
“Food is an area where consumers want both products and packaging to be more environmentally-sensitive, but they don’t expect to have to change the way they shop or cook to achieve that,” says Omar Hoek vice president of marketing for Ahlstrom’s Food and Medical business. “They expect companies like Ahlstrom to come up with new alternatives. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. For the beverage industry we’re already using PLA in tea bags, and
Forest-based nano-cellulose is another highly-promising raw material, Ahlstrom believes, being both very light and very strong while recycled materials such as rPET made up 20% of Ahlstrom’s total polyester fibre purchases.
“We have ambitious targets in this area, aiming to file ten new patents annually, and achieve 15% of our sales from new products developed within the last three years,” says Dr Paul Stenson, who joined Ahlstrom in 2011 to lead the company’s global product and technology development organisation. “We nearly achieved these targets in 2012 with 12% of sales from new products but exceeded our target for intellectual property with nine patents and three
Accident frequency rates were also down across Ahlstrom’s operations by 46% compared to the previous year and 20 out of 34 plants reported no lost time accidents, following the introduction of a company-wide behaviour-based safety programme.
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