I’m always amazed at how the topic of lean manufacturing continues to be ultra-relevant and topical to just about every manufacturer I talk to. I think it’s because wherever you are in the “lean journey,” you can always do more. The other reason is that lean is constantly evolving via new technologies, new techniques and new angles.

One of those new angles on lean is in looking at energy consumption throughout manufacturing operations. Lean practitioners seek to eliminate the nine wastes: over production, inventory, waiting, transportation, motion, over processing, quality defects, reprioritization, and people’s skills. However, today manufacturers must also be cognizant about how they use or misuse energy to produce a product or carry out a service. This is known as the tenth waste: energy.

Energy consumption is a great area for manufacturers to focus on during a downturn, when lower electric bills can help to provide a much-needed cash infusion to operating budgets. Lean manufacturing can help identify overall requirements and align need to capacity, thus ensuring production lines are optimized, energy use is maximized and raw product fully utilized.

But in today’s era of time-dependent electricity pricing and availability, savvy manufacturers are taking this one step further, factoring in the constraint of energy in the scheduling process – changing the time of day certain equipment is used, or timing power-up sequencing for off-peak hours.

Manufacturers are also improving controls and upgrading older equipment for more efficient energy use, installing solar panels or other alternative energy systems to power manufacturing machinery; and building an entirely new, more sustainable plants that are located close to raw material sources, helping to reduce transportation costs and aid in traceability.

This isn’t a fad; this is a way of doing business that’s here to stay. The lean (and green) journey is the path that yields continuous improvement, enhanced competitiveness, and improved agility and responsiveness.