For Stoke Inc., sustainability is not just a passing fad or initiative du jour. A global manufacturer of mobile gateways used in LTE network equipment, Stoke committed to green manufacturing practices
Stoke's pledge to being more environmentally friendly throughout its operations has paid off in a multitude of ways, some delightfully unexpected. According to Stoke vice president of operations Paul Cianci, back in 2008 the company was concentrating on removing as much waste as possible from its processes, including production.
"Lean was an early manifestation of our going green," said Cianci. As a result of the company's lean focus, Cianci and his team decided early on to join forces with a contract manufacturing partner and suppliers located in close proximity to the 120-employee company's Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters. He believes this approach brings environmental advantages in addition to convenience.
"Our carbon footprint would easily be 20% higher if I had to fly my people to China to interact with a contract manufacturer there," said Cianci. "We have utilized local suppliers as much as possible. There are some parts that come from Taiwan, and you just have to deal with that. But where there are alternatives, sheet metal and plastics, we use local suppliers. By doing that, we have taken out waste, and we have a more green approach."
Finding the right green manufacturing partner
Stoke's primary contract manufacturer is Creation Technologies, just 10 miles away from Stoke's headquarters. Creation Technologies has a proven track record when it comes to green manufacturing -- in 2008 it was the second contract manufacturer in the country to be certified as a lead-free manufacturer of circuit boards.
"There are loads of choices for contract manufacturing. There were probably 10 companies close by that that I could use," said Cianci. But the firms shared an environmental-mindedness that made the arrangement a perfect fit. "It's pretty natural that we would migrate to a company that thinks the same way we do."
As an added benefit, Creation shares with Stoke its most advanced sustainable tactics adapted with customers from around the world. Together, Stoke and Creation have a number of green manufacturing initiatives, including:
-- Reduction in packaging waste. Stoke uses a five-slot chassis with a high concentration of sheet metal in its products. Traditionally, this component was packed with a lot of plastic and foam to protect it against getting dented or damaged. Cianci felt that was a waste. "All that stuff got thrown out. It was all done just to ship the product 50 miles from where it is manufactured," he said.
Now, Stoke gives the supplier wooden carts on wheels that hold 12 chassis. "The factory workers load them onto the cart without any packaging. Then the carts load onto their truck and get delivered to Creation and unloaded from the truck," said Cianci. He extended the no-packaging principle to all local suppliers, removing much waste and expense from the equation.
-- Lead-free, no-clean circuit board production. Creation had the foresight to build the infrastructure that would enable these green practices many years ago. "I had the option to build lead-free and no-clean way back in 2008," said Cianci. "We didn't want to contaminate the groundwater by manufacturing our boards."
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At the time, the decision to go lead-free was viewed as risky. "From an engineering standpoint, lead-free is a challenge," said Asif Paranjipe, quality production leader for Creation. "Stoke took a big step with us. It's not just a commitment to being green -- it's a commitment to engineering hours to make sure they make the process work."
-- Increased collaboration between teams to reduce the need for in-person meetings. Though Stoke and Creation are just a few miles apart from each other, they invested the time required to create a portal so Stoke has full access to all of the test results that go on in the factory. Inventory management systems are linked to distributors and customers. Everything from purchase orders to inventory levels to quality data is available electronically. "I can do self-service," explained Cianci. "I don't have to drive over there. We're all a lot more efficient, and this reduces waste and time."
Being green also accrues to Stoke's bottom line. "These things can pay off," Cianci said. "It seemed like the right thing to do then, and time has verified that it was."
As a particularly sweet validation, many Stoke customers now insist on sustainable processes. In addition to its green orientation, Stoke is also committed to on-shore manufacturing and sourcing wherever possible.
This approach is paying off, according to Cianci. "We compete through a tight focus on flexibility, quality and green techniques," he said.
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This was first published in November 2013