Many process manufacturing plants are embracing lean manufacturing production, and more are considering ways to implement them within their organization. Eliminating waste is the fundamental principle for lean manufacturing, and is seen as the key to boosting value and increasing productivity. 

What types of waste are there in manufacturing?

Fuji Cho, the CEO of Toyota and originator of the concept of lean manufacturing, defined waste as “Anything other than the minimum amount of equipment, materials, parts, space, and workers time, which are absolutely essential to add value to the product.” 

Manufacturing waste goes beyond scrap that’s released alongside the desired product. It can include: 

  • Energy, water, and raw materials wasted through inefficient processes, or in the production of poor quality batches that have to be discarded; 
  • Time wasted on unnecessary tasks, like fixing preventable failures, carrying out activities that could be automated, or during unplanned downtime;
  • Money spent on product that isn’t needed; wasted time, energy, water, or raw materials; unnecessary warehouse space or packaging; dealing with PR disasters, and more. 

It’s obvious that reducing waste is a positive, but manufacturing organizations might not realize quite how much they stand to gain from doing so. Here are 5 primary benefits that process plants can enjoy when they reduce waste in manufacturing. 

1.Reducing waste brings lower costs

The first and most obvious benefit of cutting waste is significant cost saving. Wasted raw materials, for example, represent a clear loss of the money that was spent to buy them from the vendor and transport them to the plant, as well as the loss of the product which should have been produced and sold for a profit. Employee hours that are wasted still count as salaried worktime.  

2. Reducing waste increases plant resilience 

The sharp spike in energy costs as a result of the war in Ukraine was a timely reminder that plants can’t rely on low-cost fuel, so decreasing the amount of energy that goes to waste will be good for the bottom line. Drought and climate change are likewise pushing up water and sewerage bills, making it worthwhile to cut waste in this area too.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed resilience to the forefront of plant concerns. In the last few years, manufacturing companies around the world have taken steps to raise plant resilience and maintain production and productivity no matter what happens. Cutting waste is a critical part of resilience preparations. 

Resilience around water is a key example. For example, a Canadian mining company, Barrick Gold, had to close its Chilean gold and copper mine because of complaints that it used too much water from local sources. Water scarcity is becoming a hot button issue, and plants which reduce their water needs are less likely to suffer. 

Plants are still experiencing labor shortages, but cutting the amount of time that employees waste on tasks that could be automated can help them function smoothly with a smaller workforce. And a reduced supply chain that brings only the raw materials that are really needed is easier to manage and less likely to buckle under pressure, which is important when global supply chains continue to shudder and crack.

3. Reducing waste raises efficiency 

According to lean manufacturing principles, lower waste, more efficiency, and greater productivity go hand in hand. When you shrink waste within the plant, you make it easier to monitor production in real time, which helps boost productivity. With less waste, it’s possible to streamline manufacturing processes so that less time is needed to complete each step, resulting in faster production times and increased throughput. 

Removing waste from manufacturing processes translates into fewer unexpected incidents and less downtime. Employees won’t need to spend as much time fixing faults and cleaning up and disposing of wasted materials or product, allowing them to spend more time on revenue-boosting activities. 

4. Reducing waste lessens environmental impact

Sustainability is another major concern for manufacturing companies today, and reducing waste can help them achieve sustainability goals. Waste reduction can minimize energy consumption per unit, helping shrink the plant’s carbon footprint and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Likewise, right-sizing production volumes and raising product quality helps diminish the waste of water and raw materials, lower the plant’s environmental impact, and conserve natural resources. 

Plants can also boost sustainability by reducing packaging waste. Unnecessary packaging ends up in landfill and can take centuries to degrade, increasing pollution, while the production of the plastic packaging itself releases harmful pollutants. Curtailing packaging waste through recycling and circular production helps reduce the plant’s environmental impact. 

Many governments and international bodies have implemented regulations that limit waste and protect the environment. By reducing waste, plants can minimize pollution, environmental hazards, and energy consumption, helping them comply with those regulations and avoid costly fines and penalties. Lean manufacturing plants are also more likely to qualify for green tax credits and other eco-friendly public funding opportunities.  

5. Reducing waste enhances plant reputation

Last but not least, cutting manufacturing waste can contribute to a more positive company reputation and increased satisfaction among customers, shareholders, and the general public. Many consumers prefer to buy from organizations with a commitment to sustainability, and growing numbers of businesses choose manufacturers that share such values. 

Plants that focus on reducing waste demonstrate efficiency, which appeals to shareholders and investors, and potential business partners also prefer to work with companies that reduce waste. Employees are also increasingly concerned about their employer’s values around sustainability, so cutting waste helps boost morale and makes the plant more attractive to top talent. 

Reducing waste begins with digital transformation

Digital transformation is seen as playing a key role in the struggle to reduce manufacturing waste. Digital tools can free employees from tedious and time-consuming tasks, and automation helps cut the risk of manual errors that result in wasted batches.

Artificial intelligence (AI)-based applications like predictive maintenance can spot the earliest signs of impending failure, enabling plants to fix issues while they are still relatively minor, extend equipment life cycles, and minimize unplanned downtime. Predictive monitoring can also identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies in production, thereby increasing product quality and optimizing energy and water consumption. 

Reducing waste in manufacturing is an all-win decision

Overall, lowering the amount of waste in process manufacturing plants brings significant benefits for manufacturing organizations that cross a number of categories. Cutting costs, raising efficiency, lowering environmental impact, improving brand reputation, boosting resilience and sustainability, and assisting with compliance are all valuable achievements, and reducing waste helps with them all. 

To learn more about reducing waste in process manufacturing with SAM GUARD: