If you’ve heard anything about Lean Enterprise, you know the goal of Lean is to eliminate all forms of waste. The outcome of Lean should be improved economic well-being for everyone involved in a product’s life cycle, including owners, employees, suppliers, customers and investors.
Lean techniques can also provide environmental and energy benefits. Sometimes, the company reaps a reward in the form of lower energy bills. In other cases, manufacturers can more easily conform to environmental and safety regulations.
In addition, some Lean implementers can feel good about the fact that they’re minimizing their effect on the environment and natural resources. Looking for opportunities to save energy is fast becoming a function of Lean thinking and tools like Value Stream Mapping. The concept is often referred to as the Lean to Green connection.
Industries that run on a short profit margin with a lot of moving equipment are intense energy users, so one of two things can happen when energy costs go up. The increased expense can either drive an industry out of business, or the energy savings not only allows them to stay in business, but gives them a bigger profit margin when energy costs go back down again.
Manufacturers can save energy by isolating, rather than integrating, moving equipment so they can do more than one job. For instance, electric motors have been added as a business expanded and new equipment was added, so now they have too many pieces of rotating equipment. A step such as designing a different floor layout can often reduce or integrate multi-functions on one motor.
Some companies design robotics, lasers and sensors into systems to reduce the number of times motors and conveyors need to be stopped and started. With this practice, a company can do things more safely, because a human is not involved. Anytime you stop or start anything, you increase energy consumption to get that machine up to speed.
Often, technical specialists find manufacturers tend to over-engineer their energy needs. Lean to Green calls for manufacturers to make the products their customers need in the most waste-free way possible. However, energy is becoming a bigger and bigger constraint for manufacturers, as energy costs increase and it becomes more scarce—making it a larger source of waste for some operations.
Consequently, reduced energy waste can be a good outcome of a Lean effort, assuming the energy efficiency decisions are integrated with decisions for the whole operation.
In other words, businesses shouldn’t try to cut their energy costs if the efficiency solution just creates more waste somewhere else in the system.
Only through the use of Value Stream Mapping, which is a valuable tool in the Lean arsenal, can a company identify all areas of waste and tie all the opportunities together. In most cases, energy costs and waste go directly to the bottom line. IBI