Lean Manufacturing Yields ‘Green’ Results

by | Jan 21, 2014

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kitchell, shawn, madico windowsIf you’ve ever sat in traffic having simultaneous thoughts that “all of these vehicle emissions are bad for the environment,” and “I wish I lived closer to work,” then you already have a sense of how mutual “lean and green” thinking works.

The traditional way of thinking goes that “green” business initiatives add costs, while implementing “lean” processes is about streamlining and saving money.

Many manufacturers today have evolved their thinking so that lean and green initiatives work hand in hand, achieving the same goal of increasing profits.

In fact, a 2009 study by the University of South Florida suggested there is a “synergistic relationship” between lean and green systems, and that there are “philosophical and structural similarities” between the two models.

Lean manufacturers follow stringent manufacturing processes designed to eliminate or minimize waste and non-value added steps in seven categories.

You can think of them as the “seven deadly sins” of wasteful manufacturing: Defects, Overproduction, Transportation, Waiting, Excess Inventory, Unnecessary Movement and Over-Processing. Some manufacturers have also adopted a “Six Sigma” improvement process, which includes a set of disciplined tools and problem-solving methodologies for reducing or eliminating process variation and product defects.

Here are seven examples of how these lean innovations can yield sustainability results for manufacturers:

  • Fewer product defects: If you’ve improved your processes to minimize product defects, that means you’re using fewer raw materials to manufacture those products. In addition, you don’t need as much plant space, systems and equipment to rework or repair those products, which equals less energy consumption.
  • Less overproduction: Overproduction means manufacturing in excess of your customer orders. Eliminating overproduction is a major focus of lean. In traditional manufacturing reasoning, if a production line is running and you’ve already made all of the products to meet customer demand, you make more of something to justify the expense of your equipment and people. Lean concepts require that you only produce what you need, when you need it. If you don’t overproduce then you consume fewer raw materials, use less energy to operate, and eliminate the risk associated with not selling the excess inventory and eventually disposing of it as waste.
  • Minimizing wasted movement: A great example of a wasteful motion is when a production area is poorly designed so that workers are wasting time and effort lifting things unnecessarily or needing to walk an excessive distance back and forth to find tools or complete a task. An ineffective layout requires more space increasing heating, cooling, and lighting demands.  It can also increase the time to produce a product resulting in increased energy requirements.
  • Reducing transportation: An example of wasted transportation is by having your production facilities not located near your customers, requiring that you transport materials over long distances. It can also relate to the movement of materials within your facility. Internal movement of materials adds no real value to the product, but increases the energy used and the costs associated with the product.  Lean thinkers look to minimize transportation wherever possible.
  • Less excess inventory: Similar to overproduction, if you have less product inventory sitting around, you can use your plant space more efficiently (saving heating and cooling demands) while also consuming less packaging and raw materials. Lower levels of inventory also reduce the risk of waste due to obsolescence and undiscovered defects.
  • Reduced waiting: Nobody likes waiting, especially those of us who are lean thinkers. A key lean concept is reducing waiting for things like equipment to be available, information, or materials. A great example of waiting is when your production processes aren’t balanced, so when an operator has finished part of a task, he needs to wait for a machine to complete a cycle before finishing that task. Syncing up these processes to reduce waiting can cut down on production downtime, which means you have less wasted energy.
  • Less over-processing:  Over-processing means you’re adding more steps or materials to something than what the customer will pay for. In other words, every step of a production process should add customer value. Improving your processing to just what is needed allows you to cut down on waste and lower your environmental footprint.

Applying lean thinking to your sustainability efforts will help ensure that your green initiatives will have long-term staying power because of the added value to your business.

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