lean manufacturing

How Can Lean Manufacturing Be Sustainable

Jane Marsh - October 18, 2018

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Sustainability is more than just a buzzword — it is an important part of almost every industry if the industry wants to continue to grow and thrive in the modern economy. Lean manufacturing can be a great way for a number of different industries to increase efficiency and productivity but can it also be sustainable?

What is Lean Manufacturing?

First, what is lean manufacturing?

The goal of lean manufacturing is to eliminate as much waste as possible from the manufacturing process. We’re not just talking about product waste or garbage here though — anything that doesn’t add value to the product or for the customer is considered waste. That includes wasted time, wasted effort and wasted productivity. According to research, up to 60 percent of typical production activities don’t add any value and are considered waste under the lean manufacturing practices.

This kind of wasteful production is neither green nor sustainable. How can you integrate lean manufacturing techniques and continue to be sustainable?

Less Time Wasted

They say that time is money, so the more time you waste the more money you’re potentially missing out on. The key here is to constantly analyze your manufacturing process to see where it can be improved.

Timing is also important, especially if you’ve got a production line that has multiple steps — one step being out of time can cause a backup in the entire line, which causes wasted time and slows down your overall production. It’s also detrimental to the environment — when you’ve got pauses in your production line, you’ve got a factory full of equipment that is sucking up power. Wasted power generates just as many greenhouse gasses as power that’s utilized in production — by reducing your downtime, you can reduce your company’s overall carbon footprint.

Reduced Overproduction

Everyone wants to have an inventory that can quickly keep up with product demand, but overproduction is another form of waste. It takes up valuable space once it is produced, but even the production process can be wasteful. Overproduction in manufacturing uses up energy and resources that could be put toward other projects.

A lean company doesn’t rely on back stock to keep up with its demands. It doesn’t need to — which also reduces the company’s need for storage.

Less Transportation

Transportation is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gasses in the manufacturing industry. Roughly 70 percent of all products in the country are transported by truck. Globally, the trucking industry generates 1.6 billion tons of CO2 every year. Reducing the need for transportation or making it more efficient can help to reduce the emissions generated by this industry and make the entire process more sustainable.

Too much in-house transportation can also be detrimental to a lean manufacturing business. The goal of a lean business, at least on the transportation front, is to reduce the distance that a product or an employee needs to travel during manufacturing. This could be as simple as removing a conveyor belt and positioning two machines directly next to one another so the product can move directly from one step to the next. It could also be applied in the supply chain — obtaining base materials from a source that is closer to home instead of shipping them from further away.

Too much travel time equals wasted energy and time which in turn translates to wasted money. Reducing transportation distance also reduces costs, saving you even more money in the long run.

Increasing Value

The entire goal of switching to a lean manufacturing business model is to increase the value — both perceived and actual — for your customers. Traditionalist tend to believe that going green increases a business’s costs, which would make it the antithesis of lean processing, but it’s actually the opposite. While it is true that investing in green technologies can be expensive to start with, over time many of the changes and upgrades can pay for themselves — such as switching to solar or other green energy sources.

Creating a sustainable system and one that uses lean processing models tend to go hand-in-hand. At their core, they are the same — they’re designed to increase production efficiency and reduce waste. A lean manufacturing business reduces waste by changing it’s practices — but that in turn reduces the waste that is produced by the factory itself so there is less waste overall being transported to the local landfill or recycling center. This allows the company to focus less on waste and more on creating a more valuable product for their customers.

Transitioning to a lean manufacturing business model can be a difficult step to take, especially if your business is thoroughly entrenched in traditional manufacturing practices. If you’re trying to create a more sustainable business model, going lean can be a great option. Not only will it serve you better in the long run, it can help make your entire enterprise more sustainable which is good for the planet and for our future.

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.