Two of the best ways for a manufacturer to stay competitive are by reducing costs and creating a brand customers want to do business with. We’re not talking about laying off employees and coming up with a sleek new logo. What we’re talking about today is starting a sustainable journey to reduce costs and while creating customer loyalty.
Becoming a sustainable manufacturer takes a lot of work and commitment, not only on the part of the owners but also by each individual employee as well. The transition for some manufacturers can certainly have a lot of overhead if the company is using old technology and industry infrastructure. A manufacturer can attempt to dive head first into the sustainable pool and revamp their entire operation by overhauling every process in their facility. But changing out every machine for an eco-friendly version and turning to any other sustainable practice the manufacturer has read about is extremely expensive and has the potential to bring productivity to a screeching halt for a long period of time. Have a plan, a goal and take the necessary steps to ensure success.
However there are ways to continuously improve your operation in order to start your sustainable mission.
Manufacturers use a lot of energy. From electric to heat and in all of its forms, manufacturers have a tendency to need a lot of energy to create products out of raw materials. Just because a manufacturer is accustomed to a large energy bill does not mean it has to be this way. Take a close look at the manufacturing facility. Check and make sure all electrical systems, machines air compressors and everything else are working as they should be. A small leak in an air compressor could add up to thousands of dollars being tossed away in the wind, here are some PDC Machines application examples for a nitrogen compressor, ethylene compressor and other process gasses to learn how the equipment should be operating. Faulty wiring can not only be dangerous but it can also lead to higher energy bills. Understanding where every watt of energy is going will give a manufacturer a better idea of where they can improve. These kinds of improvements can be affordable and add up to enormous savings.
Often green and sustainable are used interchangeably but they are indeed different. Green is usually referring to a small change that is less harmful to the environment than a previous process or material. Sustainability is the ability to become completely self-sustainable, bringing your operations environmental impact down to near zero levels. The first step in any sustainable journey will be to think of ways to make these small green changes.
For example, if a manufacturer needs to stamp out a component from a sheet of aluminum and the left over scrap is thrown away, check if there is a better way to lay the stencil to get more out of that one sheet.
Take a look at the lighting in a warehouse or shop floor. Is energy efficient lighting being used? Has the lighting system not been upgraded in years, even decades? There have been major advancements in lighting technology that can have a drastic impact on energy usage. Smart lighting systems have been developed which give off only the necessary amount of light needed and it will take into account natural lighting and adjust accordingly.
A sustainable journey is not just on the shoulders of management or the owners. To truly create a sustainable business manufacturers need to create a culture centered around awareness. Sometimes being aware of what is being wasted can be an extremely powerful tool to inspire the workforce to think about the environment. If a can of grease needs to be thrown out at the end of the day but is rarely used until empty, an employee could instead share one can between a number of different people. This may sound small, but the small things have a tendency to add up and create big savings. Another way employees have been making a difference is setting up a carpooling system. A recent article from the EPA states that employers can save anywhere from $360-$2000 a year in parking space costs by offering this kind of program. Employees also save by splitting gas money and reducing wear and tear on their cars.
Employees are usually more aware of day to day operations than upper management. If an environmentally conscious culture is instilled in a facility, an employee will likely notice a wasteful product or process before management. Have a policy in place where employees can express their opinions and suggestions to help advance the sustainable mission of an organization. But this collaborative effort needs to be taken seriously. If their suggestions continue to fall on deaf ears, they will slowly lose interest and sustainability could never be achieved.
By collaborating with employees from all levels throughout an organization and having a common goal in mind will not only further your sustainable efforts, it will also create a better work environment for everyone throughout an operation. When a person feels as though they have a mission and their input is appreciated and encouraged, they will always go above and beyond what is expected. The higher moral can not only lead to more suggestions and better processes but it has the potential to greatly increase productivity as well. A win win in our book.
Manufacturers by nature take raw materials and create products out of them. But do they know how these materials break down once thrown away? Or how recyclable they actually are?
Speak with suppliers to get a better idea how these materials can be broken down once thrown away. Check and see if the product can be turned back into raw materials to produce like-new produces again and again. (This is where having a reverse logistics plan can come into play https://mfgtalkradio.com/remanufacturing-reverse-logistics-saving-money-the-environment-and-your-image/)
Steel is a great example of a sustainable material. Steel is 100% recyclable and if a manufacturer has a plan in place to retrieve a used up steel product, they can reuse this steel for future products. This will have a drastic impact on the health of the environment.
Every raw material needs to be produced. The production process requires energy and often times creates waste. By cutting down on the amount of new raw materials a manufacturer needs, they can take one more step in their sustainable journey.
People are more environmentally conscience than ever before. Customers make a point to look for products that are produced by sustainable means. Creating the sustainable culture and practicing what is preached can be an enormous benefit to a brand. People do pay attention to where products come from and a simple Google search can show a company’s true colors. If a search comes up and there are countless environmental hazards associated with the manufacturing process, a customer can just as easily find another manufacturer who takes into account their environmental impact.
A sustainable mindset and business practice can become a strong selling point. Not only is this manufacturer producing quality products, but they are thinking about the environment. This idea has the potential to create incredibly loyal customers who may choose a brand over a competitor based solely on this fact. Becoming sustainable is about the environment as well as about a brand image.
These are all just suggestions to help a manufacturer understand what it means to be sustainable and what the road ahead has in store. If becoming sustainable seems difficult, break it down into incremental steps and strive for better year after year. Each sustainable operation will vary to fit the needs of a specific operation, or institution. Even manufacturers in the same industry can have vastly different approaches and ways of creating a sustainable business. It is about finding what works for YOU as an organization. The initial costs will not come close to the long term gains. A sustainable manufacturer is protecting the environment, saving money, reducing waste and creating a more desirable brand all at the same time. When workers achieve common goals together, they are perpetuating a happier and healthier work environment all around.