The majority of China’s export manufacturers cannot afford the investment required to run a fully sustainable production facility. But some are taking baby steps and modifying their equipment to decrease energy consumption. The high cost of investment and the long wait to see positive returns are holding back most China makers from “greening” their factories.

Many of those that have taken serious measures toward introducing more environment-friendly practices and equipment in their production lines have external funding. These include some Hong Kong-invested companies in Guangdong province that were qualified to receive subsidies from the SAR. By investing in advanced equipment, such businesses were able to reduce wastewater discharge from the printing lines or lower VOCs emitted during the painting process.

The return on investment, however, can take between five and eight years, and most SMEs are reluctant to wait that long. Nonetheless, about one-fifth of China’s export manufacturers are willing to introduce small measures to lower their carbon footprint. Most steps are geared toward reducing factories’ electricity consumption. Energy-saving modifications Plastic-injection machines, for instance, are being fitted with inverters that can decrease energy use by 30 to 60 percent. Widely used in many industries, the machines often need to run 24 hours daily. The inverter adjusts the pump speed automatically so that only the right amount of fuel is disbursed for each manufacturing step.

It costs about 30,000 yuan ($4,600) to fit a 37kW 350T plastic-injection machine with an inverter. Processing a plastic part generally takes 17 seconds, while the machine typically consumes 25kW per hour. Electricity charges, meanwhile, are 0.76 yuan ($0.12) per hour. By using an inverter, one unit running 24 hours daily can save as much as 4,100 yuan ($620) in energy costs. Modifying the plastic-injection machine’s electromagnetic heating controller can reduce electricity consumption as well.

The retrofitted controller heats up fast and boosts thermal efficiency without affecting the temperature of the plastic-injection machine and the workshop. This is said to cut one-third of energy use. Meitu Plastic Ind. Co. Ltd is one of a number of companies that have invested in such energy-saving devices. A maker of plastic toilet seat covers, water tank fittings, and bathroom and kitchen accessories, Meitu converted 263 plastic-injection machines.

Now, each unit is said to consume 36 percent less electricity. Manufacturers of LED lighting products, meanwhile, are using their own products to lower energy usage. Guangdong Gangfeng Electrical Appliance Co. Ltd has already replaced all of the lighting at its new factory with LED versions, a move that cut monthly power fees by more than 50 percent. A handful of China makers are procuring environment-friendly equipment as well, mainly because the current machines are nearing the end of their service life and need to be replaced. But since they will be buying new units anyway, these companies decided to purchase ecologically safe equipment that can boost productivity.

Moreover, the central government has implemented preferential policies to encourage green manufacturing. In the ceramics industry, for instance, companies that buy eco-friendly machines receive a tax credit equivalent to 10 percent of the purchase price.

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