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Bekaert Shelbyville Plant Manager Kendall Hall said his employees start every day by talking about safety. Recently, the plant took a big step toward that goal of safety, both for its employees and the environment.
“We're trying to walk the walk and talk the talk,” Hall said.
The Bekaert Shelbyville Plant, which produces steel wire for products such as chain link fences to spiral bound notebooks, installed a new water-air patenting bath to replace the molten lead bath technology it previously used.
This removes lead from the wire-making process, which Quality Manger Mike Brown said is better for the environment.
The plant cuts large-diameter wires down to small diameters, which deforms the molecules of the wire, Brown said. The patenting process helps realign the molecules to make the wire bendable.
Previously, the wire was run through a large vat of molten lead for that process, Brown said.
The new technology runs the wire through water at about 90 degrees Celsius, or 194 degrees Fahrenheit.
Brown said the water-air patenting process is essentially the same as the lead process but more environmentally friendly.
“Bekaert is a worldwide company, so they [managers] recognize the need to be a good global citizen,” Brown said.
Hall said the old lead technology wasn't unsafe for employees, but the new system is better.
“There were no safety issues but the thought of lead put people back,” he said.
The new technology cost Bekaert Corporation about $750,000, Hall said.
“It's all part of continuous improvement,” he said.
Employees traveled to Belgium, where the company is based, as well as plants in Arkansas and Georgia to make sure the process went smoothly, Hall said.
He said that it demonstrated the company slogan, “working together,” in this case, for the environment.
Brown said the improvement was solely for safety and the environment.
“This isn't a cost save,” he said.
The plant has done several things in the past year to help lessen its environmental impact, including a $500,000, improved scrubbing system, Brown said.
The new water-air patenting technology was installed at the end of June, and county and city fire fighters and the EMS were on hand.
Brown said the installation process was safe, but managers didn't want to take any chances.
“We wanted to make sure if anything happened, they'd be here,” he said.
Hall said he wanted to thank city officials, EMS and fire fighters for their help.