Going Lean & Green
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Going Lean & Green

Its 1997 I am making technical engineered plastic moulded parts and assemblies- I am striving to be the third Company in Wales to achieve ISO14001 and shoot up the charts in the Rover supplier Association. dreams of winning exclusive rights to the MG windscreen wash system beckoned. I have no idea what ISO14001 is all about- but RG2000 stated I had to create an “Environmental Management System”….so I went on a few courses run by the local Tree Huggers and was introduced to the term Mass Balance whilst developing a taste for vegan coleslaw.

image of cloeslaw in bowl

We had previously been on a three year quest to develop a “Continuous improvement programme focusing on waste reduction with the order fulfilment process” and had wrestled with various Japanese techniques that all had acronyms and involved lots of floor marking tape, graphs, labels and taking photographs of everything. Continuous improvement had become a task something we show cased for our customers- if I am honest with myself- it looked pretty, it was safer, it ran faster, but I am not sure it was saving that much.

Mass balance talked about understanding your inputs to minimise your outputs- only use what you have to, don’t use anything unless its essential, make sure everything you use is working properly, consider all inputs – i.e. people, materials, environment etc. If you can balance these correctly you should reduce your outputs and so lessen your impact on the environment. Less cardboard in the skips, less oil in the barrel, less water down the drain etc.

Makes sense doesn’t it?  What I realised was – it doesn’t only reduce your environmental impacts it also reduces the impact on your P+L. So we had a look at our “Continuous improvement programme focusing waste reduction in the order fulfilment process” and opened it up a bit to include and “Environmental Management System”

image of injection moulding machine

Running an injection moulding machine needs the following 8 elements:

  1. A big shed to put everything in
  2. Plastic
  3. Some electricity
  4. A machine
  5. A mould to make the parts
  6. Some people
  7. Water to cool the mould
  8. Packaging to put the parts in
  9. Somewhere to store the stuff
  10. A van to deliver the stuff to the customer

Our “Continuous improvement programme focusing on waste reduction with the order fulfilment process” had focused only on making things faster (i.e. elements 4, 5, 6 above). By looking at the mass balance we developed a deeper focus on waste within the operation:

  • A big shed to put everything in – Our big shed was lit by poor lighting – which was expensive and made inspection difficult.  Working with the local government we were able to secure a grant to replace our lighting and improve our inspection. The layout in the big shed was awful – covering an area of around 4 football pitches our forklift actually managed to travel over 250 miles in one week. We improved flow and location of materials and reduced this to under 20 per week – forklift driver became our stores manager – drank more tea and built more spreadhseets- life complete
  • Plastic – Our plastic was delivered in 25kg bags – which would split and give us cleaning issues.  We changed from bags to returnable bins with our suppliers – massively reducing handling and disposal costs whilst making the process less labour reliant. Creation of kanbans, buffer stocks and training programmes enabled us to manage materials and storage far better.  We ended up buying the plastic cheaper than before – don’t tell the customer though – keep the savings for us!
  • Some electricity – Nobody looked at the electric bill – it just happened. We analysed machines and found that we could reduce heat loss by lagging barrels with jackets, running certain machines 24/7 and managing our planning better so changeovers were optimised. Also see the next point below- running the machines more efficiently took less electricity – happy days!
  • A machine – if the machine breaks down we cannot make stuff.  We developed a machine maintenance programme that ensured we had appropriate spares and that machine ran at their optimum rates. People were developed to carry out routine maintenance so enabling consistency of operation.  Machines available and running to plan – life is better!
  • A mould to make the parts – moulds were not maintained properly.  We found missing cavities, damaged cavities – average machine performance was around 55% OEE, a development programme was created looking at each machine.  An average OEE of 75% was created – Not WORLD CLASS but definitely WELSH CLASS!
  • Some people – training had been neglected.  People were operators or setters.  Operators owned production whilst setters owned moulds machines.  Operators couldn’t care less about machines and moulds setters couldn’t care about operators – so change the roles and everyone owns production – everyone owns OEE- even the English were proud to be WELSH CLASS!
  • Water to cool the mould – the water cooling system was full of leaks which endlessly had to be mopped up- what a pain!  But is worse than that, if the water is leaking it’s not doing what it should – so we set about fixing all water leaks enabling the system to run at its best. Saving water to make cash flow!
  • Packaging to put the parts in – excessive use of cardboard.  The introduction of recyclables – plastic recyclables repaying for themselves after 6 trips (2 months) – Pack up your troubles!
  • Somewhere to store the stuff – the old philosophy was ‘if its running keep it going’.  Now only make what we can sell – big cash impact and reduction in floor space required – a place for everything!
  • A van to deliver the stuff to the customer – train the van driver to talk to the customer, visit the line and understand what is happening – listen to our customers!

So by adopting a wider approach to waste management and fully understanding the wider inputs to the process savings can be made across the organisation. We probably overdid it on the input side as the ISO14001 Auditor gave us a tough time at the audit.  He wanted to see more around waste segregation, bunds and emergency response systems.  I remember debating the merits of spending our time managing waste versus segregating waste produced – unfortunately he was the auditor so we went out and bought a load of stuff.

Great story, happy ending? Yes in a way we achieved ISO14001, thought differently, saved a ton of cash but then Rover went bust – still the Medical Device boys liked what we’d done and it helped us open up that market.


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