Planex, a leading Australian manufacturer of bespoke steel furniture products, is driving environmental change within their operations by incorporating several sustainability initiatives.

Planex research manager Robert Gianello is spearheading the sustainability drive at the factory located at Hallam in Melbourne’s South-Eastern suburbs, taking a focussed approach to green manufacturing by reducing waste and energy usage to lower the company’s carbon footprint.

Gianello met Planex managing director Jean-Pierre Jardel when both were studying at Monash University. After completing his PhD, Gianello went on to pursue an academic career in the area of medicine. Following an invitation from Jardel, he changed professional direction and began a new career at Planex in 2016. His scientific background as well as deep understanding of the importance of process, analysis and research coupled with a passion for the environment helped him on Planex’s sustainability journey, which is already achieving good outcomes.

Having embraced the idea of solar power at Planex, Jardel had 1020 solar panels installed on the factory roof to reduce their reliance on the grid. This alternative power source successfully supplements their traditional electricity source by a third in summer and 10 per cent in winter.

Looking for more opportunities to implement change within the plant, Gianello explored other areas of waste and established a relationship with Sustainability Victoria. For instance, Sustainability Victoria carried out a gas usage audit in 2016 to identify ways to increase productivity and reduce wastage through oven modifications. Following the implementation of these changes, the plant was able to increase gas emission efficiency by 15 per cent, with efforts on to raise the efficiency to 20 per cent.

Various waste reduction initiatives have been adopted at the Planex plant with the help of Sustainability Victoria and application of new processes. Planex now recycles 95 per cent of all paper, cardboard, steel, plastics and soft film waste. The company has also been able to address the most challenging waste situation involving the excess from powdercoat paint.

Since all Planex products are powdercoat paint finished, there is a certain amount of powder wastage that eventually ends up in landfill. Gianello’s process bakes the residual powder into a solid block, which is then re-used along with steel off-cuts as counterweights in cabinets produced at Planex. These measures have resulted in an annual 30-tonne saving in greenhouse gas emissions at the factory.

Taking the lead in sustainable manufacturing, Planex has initiated a working group with other companies within the powdercoat industry. The group is collaborating with Professor Sankar Bhattacharya at Monash University on the development of a pyrolysis process (heating substances without oxygen) to help reduce powder waste. This working group is at the very forefront of waste management initiatives thanks to Planex’s commitment to investigating and implementing sustainable manufacturing practices.

The initiatives and efforts of Gianello together with Jardel have produced several positive outcomes for Planex in terms of significantly reducing emissions and waste at the plant. As Planex serves as a driving force for the industry to move to a more sustainable and renewable future, it simultaneously seeks ways to support the environment through actions that are making a real difference.