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Go Lean and Green

Key Points
  • Include energy in continuous improvement efforts.
  • Waste reduction efforts can save energy.
  • Integrate energy into lean tools, such as value stream mapping.

Source: iStock

Thousands of companies across North America reduce waste, cut costs and improve productivity with a continuous improvement methodology known as lean enterprise. This technology looks at the production process from the customer's perspective; any expenditure that doesn't create value for the client is considered a waste, and becomes a target for elimination.

Energy is a critical, and often costly, input into production processes and value streams, yet it is rarely considered in terms of lean activities. By thinking of unnecessary energy use as waste, lean organizations can reduce costs and improve their environmental profile.

Hidden energy benefits

Lean focuses on eliminating the seven deadly wastes in the production process. Eliminating waste in these areas reduces the costs associated with heating, cooling and lighting spaces that are unnecessary, and the energy required for operating equipment to make needless, defective or over-processed parts and products. The following describes how these wastes impact energy use:

  1. Overproduction. Operation of equipment in making unnecessary products.
  2. Inventory. Space conditioning and lighting of storage areas.
  3. Transportation. Fuel used in transport.
  4. Motion. Space conditioning and lighting demand for extra space required for work in progress.
  5. Defects. Energy is consumed while making defective products.
  6. Overprocessing. Extended equipment run time or over-sized equipment.
  7. Waiting. Space conditioning and lighting during production downtime.

Lean activities often identify equipment that is over-sized. In addition to saving space, right-sized equipment results in significant reductions in energy use per unit of production.

Lean tools and energy savings

Lowering your energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions helps to create value for your customers through lower prices and an improved environment. Actively integrating energy efficiency into your continuous process improvement efforts can yield significant benefits. The following describes how you can incorporate energy use into some of the leading lean tools:

  • Value Stream Mapping provides a visual representation of the process flow used to create a product, defining the largest sources of waste and prioritizing future improvement efforts. By adding the energy data of each process to these maps, you can spot areas of wasted energy.
  • Six Sigma tools are useful for spotting variations in energy use, particularly in energy-intense processes or where specific energy use data is available. Statistical analysis helps to identify the root causes of energy use variations and isolate areas of energy waste.
  • Kaizen is a brainstorming event in which a cross-functional team of employees identifies and implements strategies for reducing waste. An energy kaizen event focuses on eliminating energy waste with low-cost or non-capital improvements.

Lean success stories

The following examples show how several companies achieved significant energy cost savings, as well as improved productivity and reduced emissions:

  • Mission Rubber, a couplings manufacturer, conducted a five-day value stream mapping event and two kaizen events. The company saved an estimated 473,076 kWh and $40,000 in energy costs per year while increasing productivity and sales.
  • 3M launched a corporate-wide Six Sigma initiative in February 2001, which helped to reinvigorate the company's sustainability program. Energy efficiency—in terms of energy use to net sales—improved by 27 percent. Waste reductions of 30 percent were achieved and emissions were reduced by 61 percent.

Go lean with energy and improve your profitability significantly.