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Reducing waste in manufacturing

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Waste can be a significant problem in manufacturing. It can reduce profits, increase expenses and frustrate customers and employees. Additionally, there are environmental consequences of waste as the methods of disposing of waste, such as landfill or incineration on a vast scale. There is also a growing sense that on a planet of finite resources, as little as possible should be wasted. The exact forms of waste and how they are dealt with will vary from one sector to the next, but generally, there is agreement across all manufacturing that waste needs to be reduced. Many businesses are now turning to the principles of lean manufacturing.

What is lean manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing is not a new idea. The principles have been known for centuries. Benjamin Franklin was one of the first people to solidify the ideas in his Poor Richard’s Almanack and The Way to Wealth. The term ‘lean manufacturing’ was not used until the 1980s when John Krafcik, a quality engineer who had worked on a joint venture between General Motors and Toyota, used the phrase in a 1988 article Triumph of the Lean Production System. The philosophy is based on the idea of maximizing productivity at the same time as minimizing waste with the belief that by doing this the process can be streamlined with fewer costs and improved quality.

What is meant by waste?

The short answer is that waste is anything that doesn’t provide value to the customer. Traditionally, there were seven forms of waste, but many practitioners of lean manufacturing have added an eighth, which is unused talent. The forms of waste include:

  • Waiting – idle machinery or employees
  • Overproduction – producing more than necessary for it simply to be stored
  • Unnecessary transportation, particularly if parts or products are moved several times
  • Excess inventory – an overstock of supplies increases costs in terms of storage and inventory management
  • Processing – using unnecessary steps in the manufacturing process
  • Defects in production that must be scrapped or require costly corrections
  • Unnecessary motion of parts, equipment or people
  • Unrealized potential and unused talent in the workforce

The core principles of lean manufacturing

Lean manufacturing rests on five core principles. The first of these is value, which relates to how much a customer is prepared to pay for a service or product. The manufacturer needs to reduce waste to meet that price while maximizing profit.

The second principle looks at the value stream. In this step, the materials and other resources used in the entire manufacturing process are analyzed to look for places where waste can be reduced.

Creating flow is the third principle. This involves identifying areas of delay and time inefficiencies to streamline the manufacturing process for a constant stream of production.

Lean manufacturing’s fourth principle is about establishing a pull system rather than a push system. A push system is based on sales and production forecasts and can result in the need for storage or time spent poorly if the predictions are inaccurate. A pull system acts only when there is demand.

The final principle is to continually aim for perfection. This means it is not enough to simply put waste reduction measures in place. That is just the start. Instead, these measures should be continually assessed and improved upon and this continual aim for perfection should take place throughout the entire manufacturing process and at all levels of the business.

Implementing lean manufacturing in the workplace

With the goal of reducing costs, boosting profits, increasing customer satisfaction and enhancing their environmental standards, it is unsurprising that businesses are keen to implement lean manufacturing processes in their workplaces, and experts in lean manufacturing are much sought after. If you are looking for ways to enhance your employability, promotion prospects and long-term job security, expertise in lean manufacturing is an option worth considering. Gaining experience or pursuing training or qualifications in lean manufacturing is a good way to enhance your resume and boost your chances of being offered the job.

If you already hold a Bachelor’s degree, a good option to consider for additional qualifications is Kettering University Online. The Kettering Master Lean Manufacturing Online was developed in partnership with General Motors and is the only program of its kind in North America designed to give you and the business you work for the edge in streamlining processes, reducing waste and improving the quality of output.

With qualified and experienced employees in place, businesses can start implementing lean manufacturing processes in their workplace and identify ways they can reduce waste. While the methods to reduce waste will vary depending on the size of the business and the types of products or services it offers, there are some general ideas and methods that should be considered.

Set goals

No matter what product or service your business is selling, you will need a plan for your waste management strategy. A first step in this is to set goals. Keep those goals realistic as impossible goals simply invite failure and will lead to employees and management alike becoming disillusioned with the attempt to reduce waste.

Both short and long-term goals are good, with the short-term goals being relatively easy to achieve. The goals may encompass the entire company, such as reducing waste by 15%, or they may involve a single aspect of production, such as reducing the transport time of a particular material.

By keeping track of the goals, it will be easy to see how the company achieves its waste elimination strategy, helping to keep the motivation for further improvements high. You will also know when it is time to set new goals as you keep your strategy under permanent review.

Good inventory management

Keeping track of your materials and your finished product is essential to understand how much waste is taking place. Effective organization of storage will let you know if materials are sitting unused for ages or if stock of your finished products is building up.

Once you understand what you have, you can look at what changes need to be made. This is where the pull system of manufacture comes into play as you produce according to demand. If you can manufacture on a just-in-time delivery system, you will significantly reduce the amount of time your finished product requires storage. In an effective, streamlined system, the raw materials will arrive ready for the manufacturing process, again without the requirement for long-term storage.

Another issue with storage is that many materials will degrade over time, and this can happen quite quickly in the case of food production. Part of your inventory management should be keeping track of when materials have arrived and ensuring that existing materials are used before the new stock to avoid any materials having to be discarded due to being past their use.

Keep on top of maintenance

If you delay maintenance until a piece of machinery has already broken down, you are going to be left with a lot of waste as the machinery itself is doing nothing, workers are idle until it is repaired and materials will need to be stored. You can avoid this with a good preventative maintenance schedule that ensures all equipment is regularly checked for wear and tear, so a repair may be a minor task or not so urgent that it can’t be scheduled for a convenient time. In this way, you reduce the likelihood of interruptions to the production schedule.

Consider the packaging

Packaging is a well-known area of waste, both in terms of cost and environmental impact. While packaging tends to be necessary to keep a product safe in transit, there are often ways of reducing the volume of waste. Sometimes products appear in retail stores in two or three forms of packaging when one would have been enough. Also consider the size of the packaging and determine if the item could be shipped in smaller boxes. The small amounts saved on each reduction in packaging can soon add up to considerable sums.

For the customer, once the product is in their home, the packaging has done its job and is discarded, often ending up in landfill. If it is possible, you may be able to develop a recycling program. As an example, including a prepaid envelope with printer ink cartridges will encourage customers to send their empty cartridges back to the manufacturer. Customers are usually pleased to have an environmentally friendly option, which further boosts the reputation of the company. The cost of postage for the cartridges may be significantly less than the raw materials and production costs of making new ones.

Communications systems

Effective communication can reduce misunderstandings, a frequent form of waste. If instructions are clearly conveyed, there is a better chance of the product being manufactured to the required specification and standards, and less chance of it needing to be discarded. If questions are answered promptly, there is no need for any part of the production process to be halted while employees wait for answers.

Different forms of communication can save time in different circumstances. Being able to speak to someone immediately, via the phone or an intercom system, is much quicker than sending someone to talk in person or waiting for a response to an email and is likely to be the most effective action when information is needed urgently. For less urgent matters, an email or text might be the best form of communication as it allows the reply to be sent at a convenient time, rather than interrupting someone involved in a task.

A professional waste audit

If a company has employees skilled in lean manufacturing methods, this is a step that may not be necessary. If you have no one on the payroll with experience or qualifications in this, then having a professional waste audit is likely to be a good investment. They will be able to identify areas of improvement and provide suggestions on the goals you should set and how they can be achieved.

Reusing waste

What is waste for one company may not be waste for someone else. No matter how much you streamline the manufacturing process, there is almost always going to be some waste product that you cannot use, but that does not mean someone else can’t. In food production, there is waste in the form of peelings. These could be composted and made into fertilizer.

In food retail and hospitality, you can reduce the amount of wasted perishable food, but it is hard to predict the need so precisely that there is none. Rather than discarding the food, consider allowing employees to purchase it at a bargain cost or give it to them for free. This perk of the job will increase employee loyalty and boost morale, likely improving the efficiency of your employees and creating a happier workplace. Alternatively, consider donating it to a homeless shelter, providing good publicity to enhance the reputation of your business.

If mistakes have resulted in products that are usable but not perfect, consider selling them at a reduced cost. It does need to be clearly stated that these do have minor defects so as not to impact the image of your brand, but people hunting for bargains may be happy to sew up a small hole in an item of clothing or have a functional product that is not as aesthetically pleasing as it is meant to be. This will provide more profit than simply discarding items.

Keep records

The sale of products and services is likely to fluctuate over the year, and there may be some significant events that cause spikes in sales. Christmas, for example, is often a time when sales peak. At times like this, you will want to create extra so as not to leave customers disappointed but not so much that you are left with large quantities that you might have to sell at a reduced cost or even discard. Good record keeping will allow you to monitor sales, helping you to make more accurate predictions on the quantity of stock you will need.

Are there downsides to lean manufacturing?

Done properly, there shouldn’t be any downsides to lean manufacturing other than a period of adjustment as the business and its employees accustom themselves to new methods of operation. Where downsides do appear, it is more likely to be as a result of lean manufacturing methods not being properly applied or being used as an excuse to cut corners.

For example, you may be able to cut transport time by changing suppliers from your well-established supplier, who you know will supply you with materials of high quality, to someone much nearer. Unfortunately, if they are not as efficient or their materials are not of a high standard, it will be a false economy that could damage your brand and could lead to more waste if products must be discarded.

If you are removing steps from manufacturing to reduce production time, be certain that those steps genuinely hold no useful function. If they end up compromising workplace safety or the efficacy of the finished product, this is an example of cutting corners rather than lean manufacturing.

When changes are made after careful analysis by someone experienced and/or qualified in lean manufacturing, there should only be advantages as you streamline production, boost profits and create a finished product or service that meets the standards customers expect.

Getting started with lean manufacturing

If your workplace appears to have excess waste or to only have very minimally utilized the principles of lean manufacturing, now would be a good time to take action. If you haven’t already, it is worth employing someone with qualifications or experience in lean manufacturing methods who can look at ways to get started. Depending on the size of the business, this might be a permanent employee who can oversee the reduction in waste in the long term. If it is not possible to hire an additional employee, consider investing in training for an existing employee or hire someone from outside to carry out a waste audit to identify areas where you can improve.

The environmental need for waste management in addition to the continued desire for companies to boost profits and streamline their manufacturing, without reducing the quality of their products, will ensure that there is a demand for experts in lean manufacturing. For anyone looking for ways to enhance their employment and promotion prospects, gaining a qualification in lean manufacturing can be an effective way of enjoying job security for many years to come.

Used correctly, lean manufacturing helps at every stage of the manufacturing process, from effective use of your employees’ time and talents to the satisfaction of your customers with the finished product or service. There is every reason to learn more about this manufacturing principle and how it can help your business.

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