4 tips for making your production line more sustainable
Sustainability is reflected in all steps of the production chain. What materials is the product made of? How is the product packaged and distributed? How does a company deal with corporate social responsibility? Or with renewable energy?
In this article we zoom in on one specific aspect of the chain: how do you make the production line in the factory more sustainable?
The key factors for a sustainable production line:
Sustainable production means finding the right balance for the least harmful (or even positive!) impact on the environment, economy and work environment:
- Environment: limiting wastage of materials, limiting energy consumption
- Economy: low production costs, enabling efficient and flexible production
- Work environment: happy and healthy employees
The life stages of a production line:
When implementing a sustainable production line of machine, we distinguish three life stages for the setup:
- Fabrication: the production chain of the production line itself
- Usage: required energy, maintenance and spare parts
- Discard: durability and circularity
Buy less machines
The most sustainable machine is the machine that is not purchased. But, a production line without machines is often not the most efficient. In addition, the working environment of the operators often improves greatly when deploying industrial automations. This because it takes dangerous and/or repetitive work off their hands.
Our tip is to take a critical look at what is really needed for production. Can you start producing different products on the same machine or line? For example, by using exchangeable jigs or modules and smart planning? Or can you expand the amount of production hours by introducing more shifts?
Smart planning and shift expansion are examples of working more efficiently. With improvement methods (such as LEAN, Six Sigma, Kaizen, et cetera) production efficiency can easily be improved. Setting up an extra production line may then no longer be necessary because the existing lines can achieve the desired capacity of flexibility that is desired.
Choose modular production machines with a long lifespan
A modular production machine makes production more flexible. By using (fast)change modules or jigs, a machine can be used for multiple purposes or product variants without much changeover time. In addition, it is easier to repair, overhaul or replace modules than an entire machine (see step 4).
At STT, we have built machines that are still in production 25 years later, and there is no end of life in sight yet. Of course, parts have been replaced and overhauled in the meantime, but the foundation has been the same for al those years.
Machines with a long lifespan are not always made of the most sustainable and light materials. But by using more robust materials the machine retains its lifespan. Ultimately, this can contribute to a more sustainable solution than rebuilding the machine after a certain amount of years.
Choose accuracy and inline quality control
With an accurate production machine there is less variation in the output quality. This makes it easier to supply exactly the right amount or size material, with less material wastage as a result.
Besides, accuracy ensures that fewer products are produced outside the set specifications. There are fewer rejects. This also saves materials and energy that otherwise would have been used to produce the defective product.
Inline quality control helps to maintain this accuracy. By setting up a good quality measurement system, the quality of the output can be monitored. This means that immediate action can be taken if there is a loss of quality, even before the products are found defective. Ultimately, this allows you to produce zero-defect.
Good and accurate maintenance also contributes to a longer lifespan, less loss of quality and less downtime. Besides, the working environment of the technical staff and the operators improves when they execute predictable maintenance instead of ad hoc.
Keep modules and components up-to-date
When the foundation of a production line or machine is robust and solid, it can last a long time (see tip 2). In the meantime, it is important to overhaul or upgrade the set-up when necessary. With this you do not only maintain the quality of the machine, but you can also improve the required energy consumption of the machine or line.
Electrical components, pumps and motors are major energy consumers of a production machine. Manufacturers of there parts are becoming increasingly aware of this. The new generation of components is often much more energy efficient than previous generations. By having machines checked and overhauled every few years, they can be fitted with new, more sustainable components, electric motors and modern pumps. You can also have the software en machine control checked and updated which can result is lower energy requirements.
In addition, electrification of drives, and measuring and control equipment contributes to a more sustainable machine. The use of electrical components often costs less energy than the use of components that use compressed air.
The right balance
You can get started right away with these for tips. You do not have to buy an new production machine (tip 1!) but can start by looking at maintenance plans and method for working smarter. In the end, the right balance must be found between the key factors of environment, economy and working environment. Actions that are taken must be in proportion to the gains it creates in these three areas.
Our experience is that within a well-thought-out production line, the three key benefit from each other. For example, using fewer materials and energy also leads to lower production costs. And by using industrial automation you can produce more flexibly and efficiently and the working environment becomes healthier.
A good machine-building solution provider with in-house engineering capacity can contribute ideas to possible solutions for sustainable, existing and new, production lines. A fresh pair of eyes looking at your production line will provide enough inspiration to get started.
Let start manufacturing the future!