Circular Economy and Thermal Spray: What You Need to Know

Circular Economy: Sustainable Business Model

Long have we considered what we do a noble addition to the manufacturing industry. One that helps our customers reduce waste and keep their parts in production longer. It wasn’t until recently that we realized that we were contributing to something larger than ourselves; that others in the industry were having this conversation.

The conversation about stewarding the resources we have by considering ways to make things last longer and reuse the resources already in production. This idea has come with many names over the ages; recycling, going green and now the most wide-reaching approach, circular economy.

What is Circular Economy?

Circular economy is a systematic approach to economic development designed to benefit business, society, and the environment.[1] It is best understood by contrasting it with a historically prevalent economic model: linear economy. In a linear economy, we take resources, make a product and throw it out. In contrast, a circular economy seeks to find opportunities to keep materials and products in use.

Linear vs. Circular Economy in Manufacturing

Circular economy, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, has three principles:

  1. Design out waste.

This principle seeks to take an intentional look at manufacturing processes and decide if there are ways that one can reduce waste or use more sustainable methods and materials.

  1. Keep products and materials in use.

This means to seek to extend the life of the things you are already using or to find a way to restore things and continue using them.

  1. Regenerate natural systems.

A circular economy avoids using non-renewable resources. You can do this by choosing renewable materials or finding a way to use a byproduct of your manufacturing in some way.

These principles outline what it means to embrace a circular economy, but why is it important to the manufacturing industry?

Why Does Circular Economy Matter?

We have known for a while that our resources are not endless. There is only so much ore in the world to be mined or trees that can be harvested without causing short- and long-term environmental effects. Implementing the principles of a circular economy ensures that we make the most of the resources we are already using and protecting our ecosystems from overuse.

Along with environmental stewardship, we also face an economic responsibility. By taking this seriously now, we can mitigate the risk of resource depletion as well as prevent unstable commodity prices. Often times, adapting circular economy principles causes the creation of new jobs and new business opportunities which aid in the overall success of our economy. If small changes we make now, can ensure a better economic future, why not invest in these principles?

Although change can be scary, there’s no denying that reusing something or making it last longer will save money. If we can do something economically responsible and temper environmental concerns, all while saving ourselves money, why wouldn’t we? Not only do circular principles provide cost savings during the manufacturing process, it also provides cost savings on raw materials and consumer goods by driving market prices down. All while keeping waste out of landfills. With all the benefits to the manufacturing industry, how do we go about implementing these principles?

Value Retention Processes

In order to achieve a circular economy in manufacturing specifically, we have to begin looking at value retention processes, or VRP’s. Value retention processes are methods that retain value in the system by adding value and utility to a product and/or extending the useful life of a product beyond its expected end-of-use.

This includes practices such as choosing repair and overhaul over buying new or purchasing remanufactured equipment as opposed to new. A great example of circular economy would be instead of buying a new pump, buying a pump with remanufactured components. There are many avenues to accomplish these things, but one answer has become abundantly clear for us…thermal spray.

What Does Circular Economy Have to do with Thermal Spray?

Thermal spray can be used in any of the above mentioned VRP examples. Thermal spray repair can reduce waste by repairing damaged machine parts. Thermal spray coatings can keep machine parts in use longer by increasing wear and corrosion resistance. Thermal spray can also be done over and over allowing you to reuse the same machine parts again and again.

We have had customers report that parts they once switched out every two days, now last over four years. Even as we look at our own manufacturing processes, there are many ways we can use thermal spray to repair parts within our own shop.

Circular Economy: Manufacturing Before and After

" would have to be changed every two days (keep in mind we are a 24/7 operation), now we haven’t changed one out for wear since we started with the coating, probably 4 to 5 years."  -Valued Customer

A Part of a Larger Conversation

So maybe we’re late to the game on terminology but we believe in the processes we perform. We have always known the value of using thermal spray to extend the life of machine parts and aid our customers in economic, efficient manufacturing solutions. Whether that has been through repair or surface enhancement. If we are to take our long-term stewardship of our environment and our economy seriously, we have to begin to implement these value retention processes and contribute to a circular economy.