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Lean & Green – Boost Sustainability with Lean Manufacturing Principles

Greg Hernandez
By Greg Hernandez Marketing Manager, R.W. Lyall

At Lyall, we’ve been manufacturing components in the natural gas distribution industry for over 45 years, and we’ve spent the past 16 of those years implementing lean manufacturing principles in everything we do. As you can imagine, we’ve had quite a few conversations about lean practices with colleagues in the industry. We’ve discovered that just about everyone in manufacturing knows at least a little bit about the topic. But a surprising few are aware of how powerfully lean manufacturing principles support sustainability.

Lean Means Less, and Less Means Green—Broadly speaking, the lean approach revolves around reducing waste while increasing quality (less is more). But to help break it down, I listed the three lean practices that are most supportive of sustainability. Read on!

Making Less (and I don’t mean money)—Overproduction is the Great Waster. Not only does it waste profits, overproduction overuses energy and raw materials. With the lean approach, you don’t make it unless your customer orders it. Contrary to the traditional belief that backstock brings security, the lean company sees backstock as a red flag. It means the facility has been operating on air and consuming resources to do it. A production facility operating as a fine-tuned lean machine only produces what’s needed when it’s needed.

Less Moving Around—This idea applies to the big, medium and small scales. On the big scale, an ideal lean facility is strategically located to minimize time and distance in the supply chain. On the medium scale, the lean production floor is designed to reduce the total distance employees and materials have to travel in the production process. Finally, on the small scale, a lean production process is made up of stations optimized for efficiency within. That is, all of the tools and machines within that station are organized for time and space efficiency.

In all these instances, less distance traveled equals lower energy expenditure and, therefore, lower costs and less waste in the long run.

Taking Less Time—Like overproduction, overprocessing is a great big resource waster, sucking up resources and depleting profits over time. In a lean facility, the production process is constantly analyzed and refined to eliminate any unnecessary steps or materials. And this less wasteful process is also designed to maintain excellent quality at the same time. In our facility, we’ve found that this type of balanced process creates a trickle-down effect that serves to increase product quality continually.

The lean approach also helps reduce the “waste of waiting.” We like to use the analogy of waiting in line at the DMV. We’ve all been there. You’re standing there doing nothing as valuable minutes slip away from you. All you can think about is what you could be accomplishing were you not standing there waiting. You could be hustling up business, calling clients or making money in so many other ways. It’s the same with production. For example, when a production process is well designed, a machinist isn’t forced to stand around waiting for his equipment to be freed from the guy ahead of him. By saving time, we save energy and resources.

There’s definitely a lot more to learn about lean’s greenness. But the three areas above should give you a basic understanding and, hopefully, a big inspiration to implement lean manufacturing principles in your own facility if you haven’t already.

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