Manufacturing Waste: Creating an Action Plan

There are guiding principles in lean manufacturing that are designed to improve revenue through reduction of waste. Waste affects the bottom line, but it’s become important in the larger environmental scope. Regulations, and reputations, are on the line as green manufacturing catches on. Those who choose to maintain dirty operations are increasingly finding themselves on the wrong side of history.

Competitive manufacturers are able to reduce lead times and provide a competitive service with less waste while remaining friendly to the environment.

Waste Reduction Audits

Audits provide valuable insights about equipment usage and potential improvements. Audits that target how equipment is used, for example, can catch increased wear on components already prone to breaking down. A.J. Weller Corporation manufactures “Green Steel” plating that is designed to reduce abrasion in commonly replaceable items like high-speed drills. Such plates extend the longevity of replaceable components, reducing costs year over year.

How employees use machinery also makes a difference. Ongoing training ensures everyone uses equipment properly. Deviating from recommended usage can cause machinery to work harder than intended, potentially exposing more fragile parts to greater wear. Employee turnaround can leave factories with a shortage of workers capable of operating heavy machinery properly. A bad year, with high turnover, can have a higher effect on productivity if machinery breaks down from improper usage.

Outside observers can provide honest assessments and ideas management had not considered. They may suggest improvements to the line or provide a full-scope audit that may not have been conducted in a timely manner. Any information about what’s happening on the floor can influence high-level thinking and lead to noticeable improvements.

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Plan Production Properly

Every factory owner wants to reduce employee idle time and some resort to cutting production hours. There are situations where a reduction in manpower is ideal, but idle time can lead to more productivity elsewhere. Engineers and line workers can be retrained as amateur techs to evaluate and maintain the line. Repurposing employees with a small bump in pay is often far less expensive than hiring a third party, or a new full-time employee for a singular task.

Plan production around items that will sell as well. One of the simplest ways to accumulate waste is through under utilizing materials. This also applies to development, where too many features cloud the product’s purpose and complicate sales. Thinking lean means producing a product that fulfills a need while thinking granularly about the approach.

Reducing Lead Times

Simple adjustments on your end, including improvement to IT infrastructure, can affect supply line and reduce lead times. Doing so helps you stay competitive and offer a better estimation of when the product might hit shelves.

There are certain ways to improve the efficiency of your own supply line as well, making you ready for anything. Regular orders, especially in bulk quantity, will make material suppliers more willing to work with you. You can also standardize certain components, which tends to work better if you work with the same vendors. Standardizing even something as small as a screw or an internal component can help improve the cost of development and turnaround speed.

Be sure to review payroll and transit costs as well. Much of the delay in supply lines come down to waiting on invoices. If you can find ways to streamline that process, you can save a great deal of time and provide faster service. That includes incentivizing your suppliers to deliver on time, or ahead of schedule. A small bump in pay on your side may result in a much larger payoff for fulfilling the orders those materials will help build.

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Identifying Major Waste Sources

Review your own supply chain to see what’s applicable to you. Pay careful attention to personnel, materials and transit costs.

Your personnel should be well trained and be operating at peak efficiency. Reduce workers as needed to accommodate the production schedule, and stay ready to hire seasonal help as needed. Recruiters can help find contract placements to fill those seasonal roles.

Regularly review vendors to ensure top quality materials are always procured at the lowest possible price. Some vendors reward loyalty, but commodities can be purchased from anyone. Go where the market dictates and hunt for the best possible price.

An underrated part of transit is how employees handle stock within the warehouse. Better inventory systems allow workers to locate and move stock faster. Speeding up the load speed of a truck gets it back on the road faster, improving lead times and providing a better overall service.

Maintain and Improve

Lubricants can save a factory line over time. Investing in lubricants keeps machinery running smoothly, and avoids unnecessary wear on fragile parts. However, excess lubricant or grease can jam up machinery. There is a hidden benefit as well, which is routinely utilizing lube forces techs to constantly evaluate machinery for breakdowns or wear.

Teams that properly maintain machinery, at regularly scheduled intervals, are more likely to catch the source of a far more expensive problem before it grows out of control. Management should put into place a clear reporting structure for employees to utilize when something breaks down or is in danger of wear. Documenting existing problems is the first step in reducing the costs of major repairs.

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Keep in mind that every piece of machinery will have its own maintenance schedule, with certain subsystems (such as power units) requiring a unique schedule. Also, be sure to run seal checks and stress tests on objects that will encounter high-powered torque. Testing new parts ensures that there are no costly malfunctions that hurt productivity, and potentially harm employees.

Final Thoughts

Factory downtime is cyclical and part of being a business owner. Learn how to make downtime matter by applying maintenance and smart planning to your factory floor and warehouse.

Also, don’t underestimate the value in communicating with suppliers. Regular check-ins help identify hangups and put pressure to fulfill in a timely manner. You can also create a better sales forecast for your vendors when they know more about your supplies, and the best times to order.

Seek opportunities to maximize floor space and minimize non-productive downtime.

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