How to Reduce Waste

Scrap materials sometimes pile up on the shop floor, especially when a plant ramps up production to meet peaks in demand. Excess scrap can lead to safety issues and cleanup costs — but waste extends beyond trash in a manufacturing context. Here’s an expanded definition of “waste” and some cost-effective ways to help reduce it.

Waste redefined

Profitable manufacturers make as many products with as few resources as possible. Efficient production starts with waste reduction efforts that focus on:

  • Scrap (leftovers from the production process),
  • Energy consumption,
  • Defects,
  • Motion,
  • Transport,
  • Queue time, and
  • Inventory.

Preventive maintenance, routine physical inspections and effective quality control are the keys to operational efficiency. For example, do you conduct ongoing maintenance on equipment? Doing so can ensure that each machine is properly calibrated and running smoothly. Maintenance schedules can prevent unexpected breakdowns and leaks that drain electricity, gas, oil, coolants and so on.

Another part of preventive maintenance is replacing equipment on a regular basis. No machine lasts forever. New equipment can help speed up production, minimize defects and lower energy costs.

More creative solutions

On the first workday of the month, get into the habit of walking the plant floor and pausing to observe the production process. Look for such issues as how much time machines and employees sit idle and whether work flow seems to be organized. Revising the flow to be more linear and moving raw materials closer to the production line are simple ways to minimize idle time and transport.

Also pay attention to whether locations are clearly delineated. You may occasionally need to update signage or repaint lines on the floor to help employees function more efficiently. Likewise, look for broken, dusty or expired inventory items. Slow-moving inventory is a waste of working capital.

Every manufacturer needs quality inspections to detect waste and prevent defects from recurring. Always look for the underlying cause of quality issues and fix it. For example, link defects to a specific employee (who may simply need better training) or a machine (that may need to be repaired or replaced).

Also consider recycling opportunities. To illustrate, you may reuse rinse water in the cooling system. Or metal scrap can be melted and returned to raw materials — or sold to a recycling yard — rather than thrown in the trash.

The bottom line

Company outsiders can offer fresh perspectives on waste reduction. One source of practical, objective input is your CPA. He or she has seen the best (and worst) practices from other manufacturers and can offer ideas to boost your bottom line.