Sustainable manufacturing can mean many things, from environmentally-friendly practices to operations, schedules, and people. Regardless, when planning a new manufacturing facility, sustainability must begin at the very roots of a project, says Adam Walker, senior manager of sustainability for CRB, a global design, engineering, construction, and consulting firm.
At the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) 2022 in Las Vegas, Walker explained that if sustainability is not written into the discussion early on, it tends to get value engineered out as funds become tight or are repurposed.
The best way to ensure sustainable practices are written into the plan is to get corporate board aligned, possibly hashing out a way to make sustainability goals possible. Walker said that having the concept in the corporate strategy and corporate social responsibility statement will lead to green company goals, which are far more achievable than in the past.
“A sustainable facility no longer needs to cost more,” Walker said. “Twenty years ago, it did—the materials cost a lot more—but now the return on investment is oftentimes a lot higher because of the savings sustainable manufacturing gives.”
One particular area that could improve a company’s carbon footprint is transportation efficiency through integrated project delivery. This technique involves including the construction team early in the project to plan for efficient transportation. A more efficient method of staging the project can then be agreed on so shipments come on time, with ordering done in bulk rather than in small individual loads.
“This allows you to maximize transportation loads, eliminate shipments, and reduce your carbon footprint overall,” Walker explained. It helps to avoid delays in the supply chain if you’ve planned out well in advance. If the load gets there early, you can have staging and layout areas set up onsite to store material until it is time for them to be used.”
Recycling and reusing pallets is another area also often overlooked. Pallets tend to get thrown in the landfill but other solutions could be considered, such as arranging with suppliers to send them back or reuse them at the site.
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Beyond care for the environment, the United Nations has included sustainability in diversity, equity, profit, and workforce—which can be adhered to through contributions to community, such as donating excess construction materials to local causes, but it also means ensuring the wellbeing of your workforce. Are they getting off work on time? Is the company conscientious of worker safety?
Operations within the facility also benefit from being more sustainable, including scheduling according to Renee Benson, senior packaging engineer at CRB. Because of a lack of extra space within a facility, the company might need to consider the resources operating in that space—both equipment and human—and optimize its utilization through scheduling to use resources sustainably. Some companies CRB has worked with leverage simulation software to better understand behaviors within a space and to know if resources are being used to capacity, Benson said.
Sustainable purchasing is something companies have needed to think long and hard about as just-in-time purchasing has become nearly impossible with current supply chain issues only worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Benson’s recipe for success in this area is to order early, order full truck loads, and have more than one supplier. Though many companies have relied on a tight relationship with their suppliers in the past, this can no longer be depended on to keep lines running. Have at least three qualifying vendors, she says, and consider the use of an automatic storage and retrieval system to densify storage in existing warehouse space.
When materials come in, eventually materials must also go out, which demands a waste diversion plan. Having diverts in a line in case of stoppage can allow operators to reintroduce product into the line and prevent materials from going into the landfill. Benson also emphasized the value of educating employees to not just throw everything that doesn’t meet quality standards into the trash, but rather to segregate it out, and possibly repurpose. Food products, for example, can be put into compost or used as animal feed.
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Getting product on the line as quickly as possible is essential, but start-up planning and scheduling can be time-consuming. To minimize standing around time during construction and start up, Benson suggested staging compressed air resources, for example, to avoid bringing in more diesel generators. Crane and lift activities can also be scheduled together—brought in once, used all at once, left once.
Another issue companies can face is knowing how many lines to purchase for their new facility. Simulation models of an operation can be run to project how the lines behave and determine how many are needed. It can also determine where bottlenecks will be and what maintenance could be needed to improve equipment performance and maximize the use of the equipment.
Benson gave the example of a confectionery manufacturer CRB worked with that used a simulation to determine a better use of resources. If the confectioner started producing its holiday-sized packages two weeks earlier than usual, it could eliminate an entire packaging line.
Alongside a simulation, total productive maintenance (TPM) is a sustainable method to maintain equipment. For this method, companies need to ensure that spare parts are in stock and clean throughout each shift instead of at the end of a shift, day, week, etc.
“We’ve found that if you clean throughout your shift, you will improve your changeover times because everybody doesn’t have to come in and do a major cleaning,” said Benson. “You’ve cleaned a little bit at a time. The amount and size of the surface needing cleanup isn’t as large. It also helps you mitigate some of your harborage risks. You don’t have to use as much water and chemicals to get rid of substantial buildup.”
The last sustainable practice Benson addressed was packaging. Many companies are switching to more sustainable packaging materials but there is a challenge that comes along with making the switch. Changing materials often means changing suppliers, which can be difficult. Something that might seem to meet the specs the company is looking for—even if it’s just changing suppliers for the same material—might not run the same on the line. Also part of the TPM strategy, Benson’s solution is to test new material in small batches on the line before it is rolled out across a facility.