There’s a big push to be green. Though we want to be green, we’re not sure how to get there. We’ve got high-level metrics, but they’re not actionable. It’s time to figure out what we can change to be green.
One way manufacturers can be green is to reduce their carbon footprint. That’s one level deeper than simply “being green,” but it’s not actionable either. Digging deeper, manufacturers can reduce their carbon footprint by generating less greenhouse gases, specifically carbon dioxide. Reducing carbon dioxide production is a good goal, but it’s still not actionable.
Looking deeper, carbon dioxide is the result of burning fossil fuels, and the two biggest consumers of fossil fuel are electricity to run our factories and transportation to move what we make and sell. If we reduce electricity and fuel consumption, we will be greener. That’s almost actionable, but we need to go deeper still. We can’t design out electricity and fuel until we know where it’s consumed. We’ve got to drill down to the part level.
Our supply chains move parts to our factories; our factories use electricity to convert parts into product; and our distribution engines move parts (in the form of finished products) to customers. It’s all about our parts-they’re what consume electricity and fuel. Therefore, to be green, we must change our parts.
Our supply chains consume fuel to move parts to our factories, but some parts consume more than others. Make a Pareto chart of transportation cost by part number, and give it to your engineering team. Ask them to design out the high-consuming parts (the ones on the left of the Pareto chart). Make the remaining parts smaller and lighter. (Smaller, lighter parts require less fossil fuel to move.)
Our factories consume electricity to convert parts into product, but some parts consume more than others. Make a Pareto chart of electricity cost by process step, and then map the parts to the process steps to make a Pareto chart of electricity cost by part number. Give it to your engineering team, and ask them to design out the biggest consumers. Make the remaining parts smaller and lighter.
Our distribution engines consume fuel to move finished products to customers, but some products consume more than others. Make a Pareto chart of transportation cost by product. Then, for the products with highest cost, drill down and make two more Paretos: weight by part number and size (in cubic millimeters) by part number. Give the Paretos to your engineering team, and ask them to design out the biggest and heaviest parts. Make the remaining parts smaller and lighter.
Fossil fuel and electricity are consumed by our processes, but caused by our products, so it’s vital to understand green from a product framework since that’s what we, as engineers, can influence. Process owners must translate from a process framework to a product framework, and help engineering understand which elements of the product consume the most fuel and electricity. When engineering knows what to change, green programs become actionable.
There’s good reason to be green; it’s good for the planet and good for profits. With radical reductions in fossil fuel and electricity, companies become greener and profits increase. Redesigning our products to be smaller, lighter and simpler yields direct, one-for-one increases in profits from savings in transportation and electricity costs.
Though meaningful, these profit increases are just a side benefit of product simplification. With half the parts, factory throughput doubles (one factory performs like two), and material costs are reduced by half (and hit the bottom line as profit).
Whether you want to save the planet and make money along the way, or vice versa, your task is the same: change your product.