The IRS. The Principal’s office. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). They aren’t always embraced with open arms by taxpayers, students or business owners. Such was the case for David Amanti, CEO of Advance Manufacturing Co. Inc., in Westfield, Mass. “No one ever wants to have MassDEP appear, but it is inevitable,” said Amanti. “When the compliance inspector knocked on my door, you could equate it with having the Grim Reaper show up.” But he sees things differently now.
Advance Manufacturing Co. manufactures precision-machined components for the U.S Department of Defense, NASA, as well as the aerospace, power generation and semiconductor industries. These customers required Advance to have their parts cleaned with absolutely no residual oils, solvents, dirt or shavings on the surfaces in order to meet high-tolerance performance specifications.
In order to meet the strict tolerance for its customers, Advance utilizes high-performance parts cleaners (solvents) to immerse parts in a tank in order to completely remove all contaminants. These solvents are closely controlled by existing air pollution control regulations because they can “volatize” and cause air pollution.
Due to the potential for air quality issues at Advance, MassDEP must issue a permit for these operations and the agency does regularly scheduled inspections at the plant. Part of MassDEP’s job while reviewing Advance’s permit was to conduct a vendor survey to verify if the company fit into a narrow exemption category that allows Advance to use a particular volatile cleaner. Current Massachusetts Air Pollution Control regulations provide for an exemption from some of the control requirements if the parts or products are used in the aerospace industry. The exemption needed to be verified as there is no substitute for this cleaner to meet MassDEP standards. At the same time, Advance needed to minimize its overall emissions.
MassDEP’s regional office in Springfield worked with Advance to figure out how to minimize overall emissions while allowing the use of the solvent cleaner. “It was an educational experience for both MassDEP and us,” said Amanti. “We are a small-yet-growing company. Regulations are always changing and it’s hard to stay on top of them. They helped categorize our business and figure out what permits we could apply for. It was a very positive experience thanks to the educational aspect, as well as the cost savings.”
A MassDEP analysis determined that Advance met the narrow aerospace industry classification. Though Advance does manufacture other products outside the aerospace industry, MassDEP determined that it would be infeasible to grant an exemption to some of Advance’s products and not to others due to a complicated implementation process on the factory floor. The competitiveness of Advance was also taken into consideration by MassDEP; firms from other states may be benefitting from a broader exemption rule than Massachusetts.
The inspection caused Amanti to rethink parts of his operation. Advance voluntarily made improvements to its cleaning processes, such as eliminating shallow tanks for deep tanks and implementing hand-wiping strategies that allowed them to cut their emissions.
Amanti said an overall 70-75 percent reduction in solvent use has prevailed. Advance previously purchased two drums of solvent a month, but after working with the MassDEP, implementing alternative cleaning methods and realizing that they can recycle some solvent, Advance occasionally doesn’t need to purchase a drum a month.
The visit from MassDEP has made the company more economically and environmentally friendly. MassDEP took into account the company’s need to keep its competitive edge while achieving their own environmental goals.
“The experience was like going to the doctor; you don’t want to go, but then you find out there isn’t much wrong and work out the few issues at hand,” said Amanti. “Afterward, you feel remarkably better.”
Of the MassDEP, “they were very helpful to work with; everyone was very collaborative with us,” said Amanti. “While they did write us up for a few things, they also helped us correct them. We want a safe workplace and we do not want to be in violation of anything. I would imagine most companies feel the same way.”
Amanti added that while most business owners don’t want to see MassDEP show up at their door, once across the threshold the agency’s desire to help businesses work within the law and improve their environmental practices could not be more apparent. Amanti had these words of advice for business owners who might hesitate to work with MassDEP: “Welcome them into the building!”