Steel King Expanding Focus on Sustainability | Steel King Industries, Inc.

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Steel King Expanding Focus on Sustainability

Posted on Feb 19, 2024

Top quality and durability are two of the key reasons people buy pallet racking and other material handling products from Steel King. But they are also getting products that increasingly are manufactured in an environmentally sustainable manner, and with practices that emphasis employee health and safety.

“We’re focusing on doing the right thing in terms of health and safety, so our employees are working in a safe and healthful environment, and that from an environmental perspective, we are doing things not just because we are following regulations and best practices, but because those are the right things to do,” said Brian Pfannes, President at Steel King Industries.

The company’s sustainability initiative extends from raw material sourcing to manufacturing practices to facilities management. The company is actively reviewing its entire scope of operations regarding employee health and safety, and environmental sustainability, added Ashley Placek, Environmental, Health and Safety Manager at Steel King.

A Journey Toward Greater Sustainability

Based on best practices learned from its Fortune 500 supply base and information from other industry sources, Steel King is embracing procedures that benefit employees and the environment – while making sense from a business perspective.

“We’re on a journey,” Pfannes says. “We are leveraging our supply base and learning best practices from them, and we are visiting strategic suppliers to see first-hand how we can embrace new procedures that make economic sense. We’ve learned a lot, and already are doing things differently.”

Sustainability is not a new concept for Steel King. Some of the company’s existing practices, such as purchasing steel solely from North American sources, and recycling all their scrap steel, have sustainable attributes, and have been in place for years.

Proximity of Material Vendors Is a Factor

Buying only North American steel gives Steel King the assurance of quality in the composition of the metal, but it also reduces the carbon footprint involved in transportation. Steel King goes even further in that respect, seeking to source materials from locations as close to its three plants as possible.

“We want to procure as closely as possible to our plants in Wisconsin and Georgia,” Pfannes said. “By doing that we reduce the carbon footprint of our products, and we meet reporting requirements regarding logistics and shipping.”

Another sustainable characteristic of Steel King’s steel is that more than 90 percent of it has always been sourced from “mini mills” that strictly use recycled scrap in their manufacturing. It gives new life to the scrap, with the resulting steel being of the high quality that Steel King requires.

Safety Benefits of Sustainable Practices

Some sustainability steps can have additional benefits, Placek noted. That includes the switch to LED lighting in the manufacturing plants, which reduces energy costs, and which creates a brighter – and thus safer work environment, she added.

With the help of a supplier, Steel King switched to an alternative powder coating material that requires less energy to produce. In the painting process, low-hazard alkaline cleaners are now used to pretreat wash systems, allowing wastewater to be pH-balanced and discharged directly. Further, excess heat from the powder-coat curing ovens is captured and repurposed to heat manufacturing facilities. “That heat used to go out the door,” Pfannes said. The result is a high-quality coating in a process that is much better for the environment.

As part of the journey toward greater sustainability, Steel King is looking at options for forklifts and lift trucks, with electricity-powered vehicles one option where that makes sense.

Reduced Impact in Development of New Headquarters

Besides practices in manufacturing, Steel King committed to developing its new headquarters in a sustainable manner. Instead of constructing a new building on undeveloped land, the company opted to purchase an existing structure that sat empty for several years. “We felt it was a pretty easy choice,” Pfannes says. “The location is close to our current location, so employee commutes won’t be any longer, and we can transform an existing building into a great place to work.” The office building incorporates new and state-of-the-art energy-saving equipment and devices. On the property, paved parking spaces were reduced from 209 to 137, with former parking areas being transformed into a low-maintenance, drought-resistant prairie. That not only will reduce maintenance costs, but also allow for filtration of parking lot runoff.

Steel King is keeping track of its safety and sustainable practices, and eventually will produce an annual sustainability document. The document can not only serve as inspiration for other firms to act, but will also satisfy increasingly common requests from larger customers for such documentation.

Steel King’s Steps Toward Greater Sustainability and Safety

In our Wisconsin and Georgia manufacturing facilities, we have a dedicated focus on sustainable procurement and operations. That includes:

  • Purchasing more than 90 percent of our steel for manufacturing from “mini mills” that produce high-quality steel from recycled materials
  • Using low-temperature powder coating materials that require less energy to produce
  • Excess powder coating material is baked in our paint line ovens to allow for compact disposal
  • Using a painting process (including wash down) that includes low hazard, alkaline cleaners to pre-treatment wash systems that allow wastewater to be ph balanced and discharged directly, minimizing any waste
  • Taking excess heat from our paint curing ovens and repurposing it to heat manufacturing facilities
  • Recycling all scrap steel from our manufacturing processes
  • Switching to energy-efficient LED lighting in our three manufacturing plants
  • Finding alternatives to propane for operation of forklifts and trucks
  • Repurposing an existing building for our new corporate headquarters, with environmentally friendly aspects both within the building and on the property
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