How to Reduce Energy Costs With Lean Manufacturing

lean manufacturing

The lean approach focuses on aspects including continuous improvement and waste reduction. How could that translate to lower energy costs in manufacturing? Here’s a closer look.

Implement Predictive Maintenance

Maybe you know of some manufacturing companies where the approach to keeping equipment maintained is to act only once problems become obvious. By that point, however, a faulty machine may have performed inefficiently for weeks.

A foundational principle of lean is to keep looking for methods that increase value for customers. It isn’t easy to do that if machines consistently break down or use more energy than they should.

A predictive maintenance plan can tell you when energy usage becomes excessive. Getting that data should trigger a plant manager to schedule a maintenance appointment to determine what caused the increased energy requirements. For example, a failing component may mean the refrigerator at a food processing plant runs more often to keep the interior at the right temperature.

Company decision-makers who don’t have predictive maintenance plans in place yet should strongly consider conducting energy audits first. Those assessments will tell them which pieces of equipment or processes consume the most resources. Technicians can then verify whether failing parts, inefficient operations, or both may cause excessive resource usage.

View the Connection Between Lean Manufacturing Principles and Preventive Measures

Predictive maintenance can prevent ongoing excessive energy use, but it does not eliminate the need to perform upkeep that maintains expected performance. Such requirements extend to equipment interacted with every day, and some that people may initially overlook, such as items enclosed in electrical cabinets.

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) sets standards for electrical products sold in the United States. Each one has an alphanumeric rating to indicate the level of environmental protection an electrical cabinet offers. If a manufacturing plant’s cabinet does not sufficiently protect against dust, the buildup could cause overheating and contribute to higher energy costs.

Some commonly selected ways to deal with the dust are to vacuum it out or use a dry-ice cleaning method. Compressed air can also work well for blowing out the dust. Lean manufacturing strives to reduce waste wherever possible. Imagine if something as seemingly inconsequential caused a company to waste energy due to overheated components.

Similarly, if the dust causes a short, that event could result in downtime that negatively impacts the Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) metric that lean practitioners often use. It represents the percentage of truly productive planned production time. If a company achieved 100% OEE, it manufactured defect-free parts as efficiently as possible with no unexpected production stoppages.

Consider How the IoT Could Complement Your Efforts

The Internet of Things (IoT) can help manufacturing leaders make gains even if they don’t use lean methodology. However, the IoT can also accelerate attempts to reduce energy costs.

Connected lean enterprise solutions exist that can stop upstream processes when overproduction occurs. They can then automatically resume those ceased operations after detecting a more balanced output. Such options reduce the energy used by ensuring machines don’t run unnecessarily.

Moreover, you could connect motion sensors to smart lighting. Adequate lighting is an essential part of ensuring manufacturing plants operate safely. Some sections of factories have lights that stay on all the time. However, other areas don’t need continuous lighting and could benefit from lights that activate when people enter the space and turn off once they leave. Such setups eliminate the possibility of wasted energy due to someone forgetting to flip a light switch.

Another worthwhile approach is to assess data to figure out the parts and processes most commonly associated with flaws. If manufacturers have to make components again after finding defects in the original items, that necessity leads to additional energy used. If company leaders commit to finding the causes of defects and addressing them, they should see energy costs go down over time.

Engage With Employees About Lean Manufacturing

It’s substantially more difficult for company leaders to move ahead with effective lean manufacturing plans to reduce energy usage when employees are not on board with the new approach. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published an in-depth guide about using the lean methodology to cut energy costs.

One of the many recommendations within is to use standard work controls. They represent the best and most dependable methods for task performance or operations. However, you should only rely on standard work controls during the later stages of your lean implementation. That’s because it takes time to determine the genuinely superior options.

After identifying them, checklists can help employees remember how to follow best practices. You can also likely find opportunities to build energy-saving processes into worker training materials. Visual aids also help emphasize key points. For example, you might put a sticker on a machine to tell operators how much money gets saved in a year by putting it in standby mode rather than running continuously.

They then understand it’s not as difficult as they may have thought to practice lean principles that support energy savings. Finally, see your workers as valuable resources during your lean journey. They may have suggestions for making progress that you overlooked.

Lean Enterprise Solutions Can Help You Reach Energy Goals

Minimizing your energy costs through lean manufacturing is not an overnight process, and going through it thoughtfully will pay off. As you progressively implement more aspects of lean into the workflow, track metrics to see how things change. The results may highlight the need for occasional tweaks, but you’ll also see measurable evidence of energy reductions.

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Emily Newton

Emily Newton

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine that explores innovations in science and technology.