Sustainable manufacturing is creating products in ways that minimize environmental impact and conserve energy and natural resources. It covers many different issues from water consumption, waste and recycling to air emissions, material and energy usage.
It is not only good for the environment but helps to improve brand image, reduce costs, retain employees, and increase productivity. It is not as much about a final destination but about learning, innovating and improving continuously. Here are five action steps to help you measure your impact and improve your performance.
- Assess your impact
It is important to assess your activities and determine what impact they have. In doing so, you are likely to find many areas where improvements can be made that will not only reduce environmental impact but may also be able to save costs.
The first indicators to measure impact relate to the raw materials you use in your production processes. Other indicators will assess your operations, focusing on the key processing and manufacturing functions.
Managing partner of 6Sigma.com, Peter Peterka, offers Lean Six Sigma training courses for product and process development. Deploying lean Six Sigma strategies can improve manufacturing and business processes.
- Set your priorities
When deciding on your priorities, you need to focus on areas where it is possible to make small changes with the maximum benefit in terms of your manpower and what you have to spend.
When you see the benefit of small, incremental changes, it offers more incentive to make other more significant changes. Many companies are shifting from a take, make and throw away model to lean or circular manufacturing with the aim of reusing, reducing and recycling instead.
- Reduce waste
One of the priorities of sustainable manufacturing is to reduce waste. In the past, the primary objective was probably to get products to market and there was little focus on whether more resources were used than were really necessary.
Finding ways to collect, reuse, recycle and compost materials has benefits. Investing in precision manufacturing equipment may be initially costly but could significantly reduce waste and save costs over the long term. It may be possible for one piece of equipment to perform what you were using two machines to do.
There is a shift towards finding more sustainable ways of getting goods from A to B, including using locally sourced suppliers to reduce transportation mileage. AI is playing a role in using real-time data to calculate the most fuel-efficient methods and track vehicle maintenance levels to optimize efficiency.
- Cut energy costs
The trend towards energy-efficiency is a no-brainer for many manufacturing businesses. Using less energy means lower emissions and lower operating costs. There are various simple ways to cut energy costs, such as turning off lights or machinery when not in use.
It is also easy to use more energy-efficient lighting and make investments in machinery such as variable-speed hydraulic pumps. Take a look at alternative energy sources, such as solar, wind or hydroelectric power that can save costs over time and have less impact on the environment. You can also get tax credits when you invest in alternative energy.
- Save time
Manufacturing companies benefit from saving time. For example, running a cycle faster without using more energy saves power and money. In a large-scale facility, a goal may be to reduce the number of machines needed to produce the same quantity of material.
When most people think about sustainability, they tend to think of the big-ticket items, like wind farms or solar panels. However, there are many different small time-saving changes that can be made to save time and saving time saves money.