Sustainability is about meeting the needs of today without compromising on the needs of the future. The challenge today is to think holistically about the way a company does business in order to not compromise the future. In recent years, many companies have established a fundamental goal to minimise the environmental impact while maintaining high quality and service for all business processes and products. This is commonly referred to as sustainability or green manufacturing.
Sustainable manufacturing is the creation of manufactured products that use processes that minimise negative environmental impacts, conserve energy and natural resources, are safe for employees, communities, and consumers and are economically sound. Green Manufacturing is part of a continuous improvement strategy helping manufacturers to improve their productivity, profitability and competitiveness. The benefits of Green Manufacturing include reduced scrap and rework, reduced hazardous wastes, improved environmental performance, prevention of compliance and liability costs, reduced quantity of raw materials, resource and energy required to realise your product.
As most manufacturers are starting to realise, the quest to become green takes them right back to the lean manufacturing approach. Lean principles involve a systematic approach to identifying and eliminating waste through continuous improvement. This is one of the key ways to enhance environmental performance.
Lean manufacturing is a set of continuous improvement activities closely connected with the Toyota Production System (TPS) and Just-In-Time Manufacturing systems. One emerging working definition of Lean is the elimination of waste everywhere while adding value for customers. Green seamlessly integrates with Lean Manufacturing practices to optimise processes resulting in improved environmental, worker health, safety and energy performance.
Any waste creates inefficiency and erodes the sustainability of the enterprise – whether it is waste of human talent, effort or the transportation of unnecessary materials. Generating waste costs money. One pays for it three times over—when they buy it, when they process it and when it is disposed.
Evolution of lean manufacturing
The idea of lean manufacturing as a protocol in itself was originated by Toyota in the early twentieth century. Toyota’s process, known as the Toyota Production System or TPS, involves two key points—the elimination of waste (known, in Japanese, as muda) and the streamlining of processes (known as mura). Lean manufacturing identifies wastes as coming from three sources— ‘muri’ wastes, which occur during the planning process and result in unnecessary process steps or work; ‘mura’ wastes, which are due to inconsistencies in the processes themselves; and ‘muda’ wastes, which occur during the actual production process itself.
The four goals of lean manufacturing systems are as follows:
Improving quality: For most customers, quality at a competitive price is an important objective.
Eliminating waste: Waste is any activity that consumes time, resources, or space but does not add any value to the product or service. There are seven types of waste—transport, which is the unnecessary movement of materials; inventory, which is the excess inventory not directly required for current orders; motion, which is the extra steps taken by employees because of inefficient layout; waiting, which is periods of inactivity; overproduction, which occurs when production should have stopped; over processing which involves rework and reprocessing; and defects, which do not conform to specifications or expectations.
Reducing time: Reducing the amount of time it takes to finish an activity from start to finish is one of the most effective ways to eliminate waste and lower costs.
Reducing total costs: To minimise cost, a company must produce only according to customer demands. Overproduction increases a company’s inventory costs because of storage needs.
Case study of Toyota
Toyota’s official formulation gives seven deadly wastes of the modern workplace and designs its business strategies to fight them. These wastes include overproduction, transportation, waiting, inventory, motion, over processing and defects. By eliminating excess movement, products that cannot be used, idle time where workers or machinery are not in use, or any of these other items, money can be saved and thereby made, without affecting the price the customer pays at the counter.
The story of lean production chronicles the ideals and the shaping forces behind Toyota’s methods and boils the process down to six simple steps. First, the value must be specified in the eyes of the customer. The most important part of any business venture is the existence of someone who would be willing to pay for the offering.
The second step is to identify the value stream and begin to eliminate waste. Value stream is a term that efficiency experts use to determine exactly which processes in a production line actually add value to the finished product. When evaluating a value stream, experts check each step in a process and, if that step does not actually add any value to the final product, that step can be removed.
The third step is making value flow at the pull of the customer. A key thing to remember in manufacturing is that what one does and sells should be decided by what the customer wants. The fourth step is to involve and empower employees. At the heart of every corporation are the people who work for it. Without dedicated employees, a corporation simply cannot succeed. Loyalty, dedication, and good work ethic can make a far bigger difference than any small mechanical change one can make. The final step is to ‘rinse and repeat’. No process is perfect, which means something quite simple: every process can be improved.
Lean manufacturing looks at manufacturing from a systems perspective, which includes a thorough evaluation of upstream and downstream process inputs and outputs. Viewed this way, suppliers and customers play a critical role in successful lean manufacturing. Heavy emphasis is placed on design and innovation and obtaining input from supply chain partners, individuals and organisations.
With green initiatives, a company becomes a leaner and more efficient organisation. Most companies have done projects as an installation of solar panels. The company has replaced the average light bulb with energy-efficient lights and added motion sensors in all areas. The leading similarity between the benefits of lean and the benefits of green is waste, and so it makes perfect sense that in order to achieve higher levels of environmental performance, the organisation must first adopt the principles and practices of lean manufacturing.
Equipment reliability: When implementing lean within organisations, equipment reliability is the predominant foundation element. Improvements geared towards improving equipment reliability have distinct linkages to environmental performance, such as, reducing the amount of product and raw material waste. When bridging the environmental gap, organisations should evaluate the energy consumption of each engineered alternative as a sustaining cost category. Solutions or alternatives that effectively utilise higher efficiency motors will find that alternative fuels cost less over the life cycle period, whether it is five, 10 or 30 years.
The additional benefit of a green-focused life cycle cost analysis is that it will be easier to identify oversized equipment that could be replaced by smaller, more energy-efficient alternatives. In many cases,organisations tend to over-engineer their plant assets and, therefore, spend more than they should to operate and maintain the system or asset over the life cycle period.
Operator care programmes: This focuses on developing standards of practice within the operating unit, which decrease variation in the manufacturing process and reduce the amount of product and raw materials waste. This can be done by training operators in better standards of loading, starting and operating manufacturing equipment. Operator care programs also help manufacturers to improve workplace safety and reduce lost workdays.
Kanban: Kanban or pull-systems established within the manufacturing process, have greatly contributed to material and waste reductions. Kanban practices are designed to provide the right materials at the right time to support manufacturing needs. This concept focuses on reducing excess inventories of raw materials or work-inprocess materials, which cannot be consumed immediately by the production cycle. Cell-based manufacturing processes that signal a pull for materials based on the demand for product can significantly reduce raw material consumption, decreasing the amount of waste material
delivered to landfills as well as reducing the demand on raw material resources.
Combining lean manufacturing with green techniques can cut costs, increase productivity, grow and retain jobs, implement sustainable practices and make a company and their products more appealing to the environmentally conscious marketplace.
Applications of lean manufacturing
The lean manufacturing ideal applies to more than just industrial processes. No matter how autonomous machines and production lines get, humans are still running it and a streamlining of the human process is necessary for any manager or CEO who wants a truly efficient company. Toyota implements a mentoring system, strongly supported in Japan, which is meant for bring promising employees up through the system and ensure that the company is run by the most qualified individuals who, when they get to a high level position, have already been mentored and educated so as to fulfill that task. This is known as the Senpai and Kohai relationship in Japan and it is key to making an efficient business structure.
Toyota also advocates the use of lean Sensei, which is essentially the use of third party contractors and educators to bring new ideas into a corporation so as to provide unbiased outside advice to perform tasks, which only temporarily exist and for which it would be inefficient or not cost worthy to train full-time employees.
Limiting the environmental impact
Manufacturing is showing with increased frequency that companies incorporating lean practices in manufacturing are becoming more green. This is especially true for companies that integrate a number of proven methods e.g. ISO quality and environmental management systems, to meet environmental compliance and stakeholder needs. This is more rapidly accomplished with a dedicated corporate commitment to continual improvement and incorporating ‘triple top line’ strategies to account for environmental, social and financial capital. As manufacturers utilise lean manufacturing systems, companies are not only being more profitable for their bottom line but are also using less resources such as raw materials, electricity, gas, water and transportation costs to limit their impact on the environment. Thus, it is safe to say that lean manufacturers are probably some of the greenest companies on the planet.
The article is written by Priti K Rao, Assistant Professor—Management, Government First Grade College