Steven Chu, then US secretary of energy, famously said: “Energy efficiency isn’t just low-hanging fruit – it’s fruit laying on the ground.” However, energy wastage is technically not one of Lean manufacturing’s focuses. First let us consider the seven fundamental forms of waste, those being: overproduction, inventory, over-processing, motion, defects, transportation and waiting. Each of these is connected either directly or indirectly to energy wastage.
According to a recent report commissioned by the government’s climate advisers, the financial benefits of millions of households and businesses taking measures to reduce energy wastage could be worth several billion pounds a year by 2030.
While in the world of big business one study describes a LCD-television manufacture where energy represented 45 percent of total production costs. Their assessments suggest that these manufacturers could reduce the amount of energy they use in production by as much as 30 percent by applying Lean principles and shifting mind-sets to focus on eliminating anything that does not add value for customers. While in the US this Operational Excellence process has already helped a global frozen foods company with over $6 billion in sales, make energy savings of $300,000 at a single facility.
So why has it taken this long? The root of these issues is often the creation of improper machine conditions, lack of standard work, excessive inventories and unnecessary processing, all issues which could be related to Leaning out processes. It is also partly due to its perceived complexity which finds it ignored, especially when related to the functionality of is measurement by front line staff. Regardless of this difficulty it is our perception of energy which truly hampers our assessment of it. Energy wastage remains unconsidered in spite of the importance of raw materials and energy input as a leading cost driver.
Simply put, Lean’s greatest obstacle is changing people’s attitudes to energy in the workplace. The global community as a whole needs to reconsider its energy use, and misuse; however the workforce is far more aware in their own homes than in the workplace, where their sense of responsibility ceases. Many consider energy as a given, a commodity that is used without thought or issue. It is not until savings are proved and the ease of the change realised, that these perceptions will be changed.
Reduction of energy wastage is just one way in which Lean has provided unexpected gains when utilised in areas formerly considered off-limits to Lean; areas in which companies have since generate rich opportunities. Perhaps what is most impressive is the enduring power of Lean principles to generate unexpected savings when companies gain greater levels of insight into their operations such as advanced analytics or profit-per-hour analyses.
By: Georgina Hurst