Everett seat teams stand up for the environment

November 24, 2015 in Our Environment

James Shaver (left) and Michael Roe unpack economy seats for airplane installation. The 44-pound pallets used to be smashed and recycled after just one use but are now reused repeatedly.

Gail Hanusa

When it comes to large quantities of waste, two groups of Everett employees are refusing to take it sitting down.

Hundreds of 777 and 747 economy airplane seats, fastened down with plastic leg clips, arrive in Everett, Wash. every week on wood pallets. Two shifts of employees work each day to unpack and prepare the seats for airplane installation.

Rather than break down wood pallets so they could be transported for recycling, employee teams asked themselves, “Why not return the good-condition pallets and clips to the supplier for reuse?”

Their idea seemed simple enough, but making it happen proved to be a challenge.

“The airline customers buy their own seats and control the procurement processes. This caused some roadblocks but the teams kept plowing ahead because they knew it was the right thing to do for Boeing, the supplier and most importantly the reduction in the waste stream,” said their manager, Bryan Brown.

Together the employee teams figured they could collect the pallets and leg clips and send them back to the supplier, Zodiac Seats, in a semitrailer. Each trailer holds 700 pallets and could be parked at the dock until full. The process change would save natural resources from being unnecessarily harvested and manufactured over and over again.

The teams’ next step was to enlist support, so team leads Brandon Stewart and Colin Gedney went beyond their own work group to build a network of people who could help. To better work with both Zodiac and Boeing, they enlisted Louis Tse, a packaging engineer and expert number cruncher, to develop an easy-to-understand, properly formatted business case. Tse’s analysis showed zero investment cost for Boeing and a nominal investment of about $16,400 a year for the supplier.

“The most difficult part was done by Lee Huntzberger, supply chain analyst," said Stewart. "He had to coordinate with Supplier Management and convince the supplier to pay for and provide a trailer on-site." Huntzberger’s job is to help get seats and galleys to Boeing on time.

Huntzberger was able to persuade Zodiac that with very little effort the project would save it an estimated $124,000 and divert 320,700 pounds of material from having to be recycled annually. Zodiac leaders were convinced.

Now, trucks return pallets and clips to Zodiac every five weeks when the trailer is full. Since starting the program in 2014, 400,920 pounds have been returned for reuse.

“The process of separating materials for reuse takes no more effort than processing garbage," team lead Gedney said. "All it takes is a simple pivot in perspective. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to do something green."

By Christine Cranston

Edward Church loads a 53-foot semitrailer with wood pallets and plastic leg clips so they can be sent back to the supplier, Zodiac Seats. A truck returns pallets and clips to Texas once every five weeks when the trailer is full.

Gail Hanusa photo