How to Reduce Waste in the Manufacturing Process

The modern consumer’s focus on how their purchases impact the environment is one of the top reasons that creators need to consider how to reduce waste in the manufacturing process. No one wants to buy a product that they know will contribute to the estimated 267.8 million tons of waste generated in the US every year. Managing that waste is more important now than it’s ever been. 

Aside from that, waste in the manufacturing process leads to increased expenses that can drive down revenue. By carefully managing material use and controlling where workers focus their efforts, creators can build better products with less overhead. 

7 Tips for How to Reduce Waste in the Manufacturing Process

Industrial waste; waste in the manufacturing process

Waste in manufacturing can be both physical and intangible. Physical waste comes from material that leaves the supply chain and winds up in a landfill while intangible stems from lost working hours and productivity. Here are seven tips for combatting both. 

#1: Adopt a circular supply chain policy

Traditional linear supply chains center on using items until the end of their useful lives and then throwing them out. Circular supply chains involve keeping as much material as possible in the chain by repurposing it. A good example would be plastic used to create a product. If there’s scrap plastic from its production, rather than throwing it away, it can be melted down and used in the future.

#2: Map production steps 

Mapping production steps is about understanding every single movement involved in the creation of a product. For example, an employee may use a thermoforming machine to create a casing for a product. Then, they walk that part to another worker in a different room to trim off the excess edges and punch holes or add details. Someone who mapped the steps would see an opportunity to reduce wasted time by eliminating the walk from the thermoforming machine to the cutter by placing the two stations closer together.

While it may not seem like a significant step, when an employee makes the same unnecessary movement hundreds of times per day, the lost time adds up. By mapping the steps, the process is made more efficient, and productivity improves. 

#3: Standardize the workflow

Variation in the process creates a difference in design. A standardized workflow eliminates variation that can lead to mistakes and wasted products. This is one of the fundamentals of lean, in that any process that can be standardized should be standardized. It also lends itself well to mapping production steps, so the two teamed together can provide many opportunities for waste reduction. 

#4: Start with a small run

Typically, creators are attracted to large manufacturing runs because, with a bulk purchase, they see a discount on the price per unit. However, that often leads to excess inventory that can quickly go to waste. Starting with a small manufacturing run allows the creator to both establish and improve the production process and gauge demand before a full market release. 

#5: Refine at the design level

Design for manufacturing is a method of product design where production is established extremely early in the process. The product designer will use future manufacturing to guide them on the machinery they use, the materials chosen, and the steps to complete the process of building a product from the ground up. This ensures that the product design is manufacturing-ready from the early stages and reduces the learning curve that can lead to errors during mass production. 

#6: Approach packaging judiciously 

One major consideration in manufacturing waste management is product packaging. In some cases, the packing of a product can be much more wasteful than the creation of the product itself. This is another thing that can be addressed at the design level. Adding components to products that make them more durable and protected can minimize the need for expensive packaging for transport. 

#7. Work with domestic companies 

Transportation is responsible for 28% of all greenhouse gas emissions and creates significant waste in both time and resources for companies. Often, creators choose to go with an overseas manufacturer because they want lower price points, but this can also lead to significant waste creation as the products require back and forth shipping before they ever even make it to consumers. Also, that third party may be a major waste contributor, and the creator has minimal control of the process. By working with a domestic manufacturing vendor, they can cut their carbon footprint and reduce waste in the supply chain. 

Working with a Lean Company for Maximum Efficiency 

Third-party waste is something that creators usually can’t control – they can only avoid it. By vetting vendors, they can better understand how those partnerships will hinder or help their own waste reduction efforts. Unfortunately, some companies may be less willing to share internal information on waste reduction. They may not even have metrics for managing it. Creators can instead ask questions about the company’s lean production policies to get insight into their waste management philosophy. 

Many of the pillars of lean center on waste reduction – both in processes and resource management. When a company follows lean protocols, they have their own waste management policies in place. Then, creators can take advantage of it in their own process.  

There are many options creators can consider when they’re weighing how to reduce waste in the manufacturing process. By mapping their production methods, scaling up manufacturing, standardizing workflows, and adopting circular policies, they can cut back on both errors and wasted time. Meanwhile, working with a local company that follows lean protocols will provide an added advantage. All these steps combined will both reduce overhead in production and instill confidence in consumers who demand responsibility from the companies they patronize.

Pacific Research Laboratories uses lean principles as a method of reducing waste in manufacturing and ensuring a streamlined process. For more information, call (206) 408-7603 or visit our contact page.