Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Don't ask, don't tell


Or when we throw stuff away...where is away?

One of the known unknowns (from our discussion of Rumsfeld's definition of knowledge in the last posting) is where waste goes. We all put our recycling out on the curb every week with our trash and, magically, it disappears. We feel a great sense of accomplishment when all the plastic (except for some types), cardboard, glass and cans head off to rejoin the material stream somewhere else. Or so we hope.

And we pay for this good feeling as part of our refuse fee.

But, if we have a goal of "zero waste", can we actually achieve this?

Waste has been a target of manufacturing improvement for some time. Henry Ford had as a major organizational philosophy the reduction of waste, scrap, over production, etc. since this all cost him money (materials) and wasted effort. This was discussed in one of the first postings for this blog back on July 27th 2009.

I noted that Henry Ford said over 80 years ago in his book "Today and Tomorrow" (1926) that "we will not so lightly waste material simply because we can reclaim it— for salvage involves labour. The ideal is to have nothing to salvage." Very green thinking for the time - but motivated less by the environmental concerns than a realization that waste is the result of inefficiencies in the conversion of materials to product and to be avoided.

The October 7th 2009 posting talked about the Toyota Production System (TPS) and the "original seven wastes." These were:

   1. Overproducing.
   2. Wasting time waiting.
   3. Transporting.
   4. Over-processing.
   5. Excess Inventory (WIP).
   6. Excess motion of workers, including lack of ergonomics.
   7. Scrap and rework.

These all add unnecessary time, material, resources and, ultimately, energy to manufacturing. Henry Ford would have agreed.

More recently, in 2008, Toyota announced a zero emissions goal for their production of vehicles.

In the last posting I mentioned Sony's Green Management 2015 initiative and their "Road to Zero". This includes a target of "Increase of waste recycle ratio to 99% or more" by April 2011.

GM has also announced a plan for zero waste at half of its plants (meaning 62 manufacturing facilities representing 43% of its global production). The aim is to no longer send any production waste to landfills.

If you "google" zero waste your screen lights up with other examples.

To achieve this requires efforts way beyond TPS 7 wastes or, at least, extending the definition of production to a wider set of process elements - like packaging used in transporting parts, sludge from recovery of waste materials, symbiosis with other parts of the production facility or enterprise for reuse of materials. It also includes incineration of a lot of stuff. If it is zero waste to the landfill then a lot of solutions will technically fit the need but, environmentally, not necessarily be a positive step.

It comes back to the question of where stuff goes when we dispose of it and, if we don't dispose of it, what we actually do with it - assuming we have not completely eliminated it from our process or supply chain.

Let me relate to you an interesting example of "zero waste" and "where does it go." I attended a technical conference in the midwest last week. The major focus was on retaining manufacturing capacity in the US, and extending US manufacturing into new areas/markets. One part of the program was on sustainable manufacturing and the opportunities offered in "green manufacturing".  Most of my comments would have seemed familiar to you if you've been following this blog.

During one of the coffee breaks I was talking with an old friend who works at a major multinational corporation. He is one of those clever manufacturing engineers who helps to develop new manufacturing technology for production - all the way from buying machine tools to setting up production lines to tuning lines for top performance in the face of material or product variation. The kind of person who makes manufacturing hum.

His company has embarked on a zero waste initiative. So there is an attempt to reduce the amount of "non-product" moving into and out of their production facilities. He told me that, with respect to a precision assembly that they use in some of their products, he was trying to track down contamination that seemed to be responsible for some malfunctions on the finished product or, at least, requiring additional cleaning before installation to insure no malfunction. More and more "common" products are now dependent on incredibly tight tolerances for performance so any contamination can, like in the semiconductor industry, cause part failure or malfunction.

As they were doing a value stream mapping (VSM) exercise (see the Nov. 18, 2009 post for details on VSM) to see where this part goes as it moves from the outside supply chain into the production facility, they noticed a step in the process chain consisting of an additional outside facility, not part of the company. On further investigation, they discovered that this precision assembly was shipped from the supplier to an intermediary where the part was taken out of the protective packaging (disposable packaging) and put into reusable tubs (unprotected) for transport into the production facility and to the assembly line.

This "clever move" insured that no disposable packaging material entered the factory (and subsequently had to be disposed of) and only the reusable tubs circulated into and out of the factory. No waste - at least for that part and the assembly line. The "transfer" done at the outside facility had to deal with the packaging waste of course. But that was another company.

It didn't seem as if anyone was considering the increased handling, contamination, inventory (many of the TPS wastes listed above) in the drive for zero waste here.

And, of course, all the multinational had done was "outsourced" the waste to some other entity for this particular part of the manufacturing process.

Two steps forward - one step back.

(Green-manufacturing blog is going to take a 2 week hiatus for vacation - back again in early June!)

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