photo courtesy of Mario & Son
With closer monitoring of fabrication shops than ever before, more operations are utilizing water treatment systems as part of their equipment lineup.

Transcribed by Michael Reis

Q: This is a multipart question:

What are shops out there doing in terms of water recycling? Have you been investing in/upgrading water treatment systems? How are the investments paying off in terms of reducing the water bill?

What about air treatment? How much is required? What air treatment, if any, is required in a “wet shop?”

Aside from water and air treatment, I am wondering what steps people are taking to run a “green shop.” We are all hearing about “green this” and “green that,” but what does it mean in practical terms in the shop/field?

Dan Riccolo SFA, Morris Granite Co., Morris, IL:We run recycled water (gray water) for all cooling aspects of our shop. For hand polishing, we use fresh water, although we do very little hand polishing. For air supply, we use a high-efficiency rotary screw air compressor. We cool it and then filter it before each station of final use.

Ambient air is a non-issue, since we are a wet shop for processing.

In terms of waste removal, we give away the broken-up scraps for landscaping, roadbed construction, etc. for free. This ensures that it will be used somewhere, as the price is right. We give away our sink cutouts as garden/yard stepping stones or downspout splash blocks. For the decent-sized scraps - 8 inches and larger - we cut into random lengths of thresholds and run them through the splash machine during off times. They are a nice little profit center.

Many of today’s fabrication shops have become 100% “wet” operations, minimizing or eliminating the need for dust collection.

Dustin Braudway, SFA, NTCA, Cape Fear Marble and Tile, Inc., Wilmington, NC: Water recycling is a big “green” item in a stone shop. Every stone shop should invest the time and energy into recycling their water. We have built our own water recycling system that uses bag dehydration for sludge removal as well as multiple 1,500-gallon storage tanks. We also collect rainwater in our exterior pit for extra water. All of our machines - CNC saw, CNC router, line machines - run on the recycled gray water. We do, however, run clean water to our polishers and internally to the CNC router. Currently, we are upgrading our shop so that we can hopefully be 100% recycled by 2010.

For us, air [treatment] is not that important because we run a wet shop. If we grind something, it is completed outside in the open. Naturally, the employees wear the proper protection for dust.

We have just purchased a new air 40-horsepower rotary air compressor to replace our 25-horsepower rotary compressor. Our old compressor used quite a bit of oil and energy, and it was just plain old and outdated. So our new compressor is a variable-speed compressor that is supposed to be better on energy and noise reduction. It will be nice to see a savings in the energy bill and knowing that we have spent less energy powering our company.

Extra stone scrap is crushed and used in landscaping. We bought a stone crusher a year ago, and it has been used every day since. We crush it up for our yard, for customers (given to them for free) and landscape companies if desired. A lot of times we will pallet the stone scrap and take it right down the road to a materials company. They allow us to dump it for free and then they turn around and crush it up and use it as aggregate for roads and concrete. It works really well.

Shops today are coming up with new and creative ways to utilize their cut-offs and scrap material.

Our office and shop recycle the normal aluminum cans, plastic bottles, etc. We take these to a recycling center on the way home from work.

Our wish list would be:

• A new facility with 100% recycled water for the shop, with recycled gray water to flush all the toilets in the building and irrigation to water the company’s plants and landscaping.

• A self-sustained energy source (solar panels) to power the entire operation. I’m not sure if the solar panel technology is up to speed on the amount required to power a stone shop. I would like to spend more time researching this.

I also wish that, as a stone industry, we could get more credit for the use of stone in terms of LEED certification. Stone is a durable material that has a life-cycle cost (less replacement due to durability of the product) that flatten out will outlast just about any other product. It can also be torn out and reused or just cleaned up and reused.

John Fallon, Water Treatment Technologies, Hampton, NH:It is a fact that in the U.S., you cannot discharge anything from a fabrication process without a permit according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which is obviously a federal law. Canadian laws are very similar. Local municipalities may or may not check on shops for discharge, but we hear the horror stories when they get caught discharging illegally. Fines from $2,000 to $50,000 have been levied this year - with some shops threatened to be shut down until they comply.

Yes, we manufacture closed-loop, zero-discharge, no-chemical systems ranging from under $20,000 up to $150,000-plus - depending on water demands and production levels - but as said earlier, you can improvise and make your own, too.

There is no excuse for not complying. As we all know, it is not just “granite dust.” It is granite, resin, quartz, silica and many other elements that should not be introduced to groundwater via ponds, streams, storm drains, etc.

As far as the savings realized from recycling, aside from the obvious lack of fines for discharging, I have heard of $500 per month in water bills quite common and $1,500 septic pump-outs per quarter. Using crystal clear recycled water for those $18,000 CNC spindles is always better than silty well water without filtration.

If a shop in your town, your county or your city gets caught illegally discharging, it is a matter of time before you get a visit from an official very interested in the environment, and let’s face it, these towns need the revenue stream.

Joey Marcella, Mario & Son, Liberty Lake, WA:Our shop water is 100% recycled. (We use the EnviroSystem from Water Treatment Technologies). The city would not allow us to build our facility without a water treatment system in place. Our water usage is now just a fraction of what it used to be, and our sludge removal issues are now clean and manageable. Not only has this been good for the environment, it has been good for business as well.

We are also a totally wet shop, so air concerns are non-existent. We had OSHA visit our facility at our request to confirm this. Our compressor is a high-efficiency, variable drive model, which consumes less power.

Most of our remnant material is sent to our sister shop, resulting in a very green operation there - since that shop does not purchase any new material whatsoever. The unusable scrap is picked up by a contracted party that recycles it for road use.

We also held a charity event in June, utilizing scrap fabricated into small items and trinkets for sale to benefit our local animal shelter.

In the future, we would like to explore the possibility of running our offices and showroom with solar energy, as this is becoming more feasible in our area.

Miles Crowe, SFA, Crowe Custom Countertops, Inc., Atlanta, GA:We went to all-recycled water a couple of years ago (after some friendly encouragement from our local EPD). We only use fresh water through our SawJet, and we only do that for make-up water. We are using a Water Treatment Technologies EnviroSystem. We also have tanks to catch the run-off. Prior to installing the Water Treatment Technologies system, we were recycling gray water for cooling our saw and CNC halo. Our water bill has decreased by about $700 dollars a month since the installation of the system.

At the time we installed the system, we were in the midst of one of the worst droughts in the history of the Southeastern U.S. The local water authorities began to impose penalties for high-volume water use. Of course, since we installed the system, it hasn’t stopped raining.

This is an old P-38 can opener from Army Basic Training - circa 1970s

Kevin Padden, AZ School of Rock, Pinal County, AZ:There’s plenty of things a shop can do to get more “green.” One thing that comes to mind is a concept that I have been preaching to whoever will listen - and that is water “recirculation” in addition to water recycling. Think about it; not all of your equipment has to have perfectly clean drinkable water to do its job. A case in point would be any bridge saw. It does not need to have clear water to cool its blade. In my opinion, as long as you are not pumping “chunks” back onto the blade, you’re okay.

What has worked best in this case is that a small electric pump, which will deliver the required gallons-per-minute rate of flow to “siphon” off water from the shop’s collection pit, and recirculate the untreated water right back to the saw.

Other things that shops can do at a smaller level, but still have an impact are:

1. Save all of your boxes that you get your sinks in. Cut them up instead of throwing them into the trash, and make 8- x 8-inch squares for use as “mixing boards” for your knife-grade adhesives.

2. Save your plastic soda bottles and cut the tops off of them. Then rinse them out thoroughly, and you’ll have more mixing cups for your flowing adhesives.

3. The same can be done with aluminum cans. Just get a P-38 can opener and you’ll have lots of throw away mixing cups for flowing adhesives.

4. I’m seeing a trend in two-part adhesives now being sold in self-contained cartridges that dispense a more exact amount of resin and hardener - equating to less waste and more usable product. If you have not tried them, I’d encourage everyone to give these new adhesives a look-see.

I’m sure that there’s more out there, but these are just some of the things guys can do to get more environmentally active in being “green.”

Scott McGourley, Kasco Stone, Tampa, FL:Recycling water does not have to mean investing in a $25,000 water treatment system, especially for the small shop. For shops with a bridge saw and manual equipment, a simple chain of 55-gallon drums and a couple pumps will do the job. Usually with a CNC, the water clarity requirements are more stringent, and it is necessary to have a more sophisticated system. We run our FabCenter, saw and polishers all on a homemade system consisting of two 1,000-gallon plastic storage tanks, a four-bag homemade dehydrator with 50-micron filter bags and a large pool sand filter, two dirty water sump pumps and one sprinkler pump. I am not saying that this system approaches the reliability and convenience of a professionally built filter press system, but it certainly does the job.

If you are running a dry shop, it may be easier than you think to convert it to a wet one. Your lungs will thank you for it. I am also of the opinion that you can achieve better edges in a faster timeframe when working wet. With a wet shop, you pretty much won’t have an air problem. We run a 4-foot exhaust fan in the back of the shop to continuously exhaust any airborne particles. We add a ½ cup of chlorine weekly to keep the water fresh.

The best thing we can do as a fabricator to contribute to the green movement is to sell and install natural stone. Although we sell manmade “green” countertop materials, in our eyes, natural stone is by far the greenest countertop product available. Most customers can be shown the benefit of using a natural material versus one that is born of chemicals in a factory that contains a pinch of recycled glass.