Do Green & Lean manufacturing go hand-in-hand?

Lean and Green Manufacturing

Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry is classified as a huge consumer of natural resources. It consumes 50% of natural material resources, 40% of energy and is responsible for 50% of total waste. Subsequently, different sustainability indices and environmental certifications have been introduced to AEC. As a result, most construction firms turn to green building designs and acquire different environmental certifications. Recently, the concept of lean management has been introduced to AEC after succeeding in manufacturing. This paper aims at examining the interaction between lean and sustainability principles on the management process of design and construction projects.

While it’s important for lean consultants to stay on top of current trends in lean manufacturing, it is difficult to keep up with advances in technology and new opportunities.

Here are five new trends in lean manufacturing we believe you will want to know about:

1. Strength-Based Lean Thinking

Most applications of lean thinking begin with an assumption that there is a theoretical “perfect state” for each organizational process and that the current state deviates from the perfect state due to inefficiencies and waste. The strength-based approach to lean has a different focus. Instead of focusing on what is not working and inefficient, it teaches how to identify what is already working efficiently and generates value in existing processes and systems (this is called “strength focus”).

The strength-based approach to lean is more natural to work with and more sustainable in the long term.

2. Labor in Lean Manufacturing

Razor-thin margins, pressures to cut costs, increased competition from existing vendors as well as new players in the market have made it tough to remain in the manufacturing sector today, especially when it comes to gaining a true competitive edge.

For these reasons, it is important for manufacturers to increase productivity, control costs, optimize labor resources, and align them with the most important project or goal. Conceptually, all of this sounds good, but for many manufacturers, the question remains: How?

Lean labor can help manufacturers improve the way they align employees with production demand. For example, scheduling applications — a critical component to a larger workforce management solution — helps shift supervisors create each shift with the right mix of employees and skills. Not only does this increase total production and help achieve revenue targets, but it also helps decrease overtime costs for any replacement workers who may have to be called in to fill a gap.

3. 3D Printing and Lean Manufacturing

It’s no coincidence that 3-D printing is gaining fame as lean manufacturing is on the rise. Lean manufacturing and 3-D printing go together naturally. While 3-D printing isn’t a new technology, it is getting more attention lately because of the potential cost implications for everyone involved. The leaner you are, the more you can save and create. The catalyst is 3-D printing. Below are a few reasons why 3D printing and lean manufacturing go hand in hand:

  1. Easier prototyping
  2. Easily customized products
  3. More creativity and efficiency
  4. More consistency
  5. Shorter lead times
  6. Local manufacturing

5. Lean-Driving Green Manufacturing

Green manufacturing is a method of manufacturing that minimizes waste and pollution. Lean manufacturing is the system, which aims towards the elimination of the waste from the system with a systematic and continuous approach. Operations management teams attempt to balance costs with revenue to achieve the highest net.

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

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

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.

Fewer product defects: If you’ve improved your processes to minimize a product defect, 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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