Lean and clean

Environment Business investigates the manifold benefits of lean manufacturing

It is increasingly recognised that by putting in place a sound, lean methodology, manufacturers can become more operationally efficient and increase profitability. However, what is often overlooked are the accompanying environmental benefits to be had, which can enhance a company's standing in the marketplace.

Indeed, the government is actively encouraging UK manufacturers to adopt such a stance by introducing the statement Changing Patterns, led jointly by Defra and DTI.

Key objectives of the statement include:
  • breaking the link between economic growth and environmental pollution;
  • improving resource efficiency;
  • focusing on areas where environmental damage is greatest; and
  • examining the whole life cycle of a product to help reduce its effect on the environment.
  • Lean advantages

    If a lean-focused software package is implemented in order to enhance manufacturing practice, the over-riding advantages can be improved further. Many end users of lean-focused, integrated software solutions are testimony to the benefits offered by such systems.

    Take automotive parts supplier Magal Engineering for example. Since going live with a Lean ERP and warehouse management software solution supplied by SSL-WinMan, Magal subsidiary Western Thompson has saved around £1 million in inventory reduction within a year.

    The key to this saving is the KanBan element within WinMan. This is focused on the supply chain, ensuring suppliers are kept clearly informed as to materials and parts required by Magal's subsidiaries on a daily or weekly basis. "Reduction of inventory, through concentrating as much as possible on Just-in-Time production techniques, can result in less need for stored raw materials," says Jonathan Davies, sales director at SSL-WinMan.

    "And if there is less demand for storage space, this can ultimately result in less of the countryside being overrun with often unsightly warehousing facilities - an obvious aesthetic environmental advantage," he continues.

    An excellent tool

    There is a raft of tangible lean benefits to be gained from an end-to-end, fully integrated business software suite, as opposed to pockets of design data etc, held on different systems.

    Bob Clements, managing director of in2grate, comments: "A fully joined-up business process software solution - including design, manufacturing, ongoing service and support - can be an excellent tool in helping design engineers and manufacturers to manage everyday production processes in a leaner manner."

    He adds that such a system can also facilitate seamless communication and data access internally and among suppliers/business partners.

    Environmental benefits

    What Clements believes is often overlooked, however, is the way such a lean package can prove highly beneficial from an environmental perspective. He maintains that, with the right configuration or customisation, such a system can help designers and manufacturers choose quickly from a selection of environmentally-friendly and regulation-compliant materials when designing a product or choosing the packaging materials.

    "For example, certain materials might be more easily recycled at the end of product life, or more be known to be less environmentally harmful during use," he says.

    Through the use of automated and integrated software as part of a company's lean methodology, Clements says paper consumption can also be reduced enormously, even to the extent of achieving a paperless environment.

    "Savings in energy and paper usage are not only good for the environment, they are also excellent for an organisation's bottom line and in contributing to the return on investment on the cost of an integrated software package," he believes. And there are other benefits aside from those directly related to the environment.

    Benefits for businesses

    "By putting in place such a system, every relevant member of staff has access to appropriate information on the computer network. This means operations will receive a host of benefits, such as proof of origin regarding parts batches and materials, and having clear visibility regarding which products were distributed to which clients, and when."

    This can be particularly beneficial for companies looking to put in place a software package that can ensure compliance with the impending Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, which is due to come into effect in early 2006.

    Scheduling software is another major advantage to manufacturers. Through using scheduling software as part of an integrated software package, companies can ensure optimum use of available machinery on the shop floor and the flow of materials to the warehouse and production line.

    "By reducing dead time on running machinery, through ensuring any active machinery is also gainfully employed, considerable amounts of energy and water can be saved," says Mike Novels, managing director of Preactor International.

    "And through reducing the amount of energy consumed, manufacturers can not only save on direct energy bills but also pay less tax to the government in accordance with the Climate Change Levy."

    Putting the strategy in place

    As has been highlighted above, there are manifold benefits to be had by putting in place a lean manufacturing, warehousing and supply chain strategy, supported by lean-focused software. However, once the strategy and the software is in place, it is important for a company not to rest on its laurels, believes Novels.

    "Putting in place Kaizen-based (continuous improvement) practices, any perceived wasteful activities can be constantly assessed and addressed. What manufacturers need to do is establish a culture that encourages employees to share their thoughts and suggestions as to how to further reduce waste. A continually improving waste strategy should be at the heart of any lean methodology."

    Environmental issues concerning design and production have never been so critical. With the right strategy in place, and the use of the right software functionality, manufacturers can not only tighten up overall efficiency, but also make for a more environmentally responsible, safer and more cost-effective work regime.


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