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Making more with less: Small process efficiency improvements that could make a huge difference

Environmental business advisor Claire Scott explains how a fresh pair of eyes can uncover simple but effective ways to make huge efficiency savings in the manufacturing process.

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As businesses recover from the impacts of COVID-19, any opportunity to improve profitability, however small, should be seized with both hands. For manufacturers, process efficiency should be one of the first ports of call.

Process efficiency is the act of manufacturing a product in such a way as to avoid wasting materials, energy, effort, money and time. It’s about taking notice of more than just visible costs like labour and utilities, but digging deeper to eliminate those invisible costs that you don’t often think about, such as downtime or quality losses. Sometimes you can make a surprising amount of savings with very little effort or investment, but it requires you to step back and think about the bigger picture of your process.

Luckily, now is the perfect time. The need for split shifts, staggered start times and fewer staff on site during the pandemic means most manufacturers are having to change their standard operating procedures. If you’re writing new procedures anyway, why not link in efficiency and waste reduction? Better still, use it as an opportunity to consult your shop floor staff on any missed opportunities they may have noticed.

Here are some things to consider:

1. Machine breakdowns

Breakdowns incur unexpected capital costs, disrupt production and tend to generate scrap product and additional raw material waste. Think about what preventative maintenance steps you could integrate into your operating procedures which could extend the life of your equipment.

For example, you may have machinery that you know will go out of alignment over time. Rather than waiting for that day to come, plan in maintenance and replacement in advance to avoid any breakdowns occurring.

2. Quality losses

Quality losses are too often ignored as a necessary evil or masked by re-work that just generates additional costs. Consider adding inline quality checks to catch problems as early as possible. If you leave quality checking until the end of the line, losses that occur early on simply snowball, gathering more and more wasted value as they travel through the line and are processed and handled unnecessarily.

Another good tip is to provide staff with photos showing what ‘good’, ‘reject’ and ‘good enough’ product looks like at each stage of the process. Knowing the difference between ‘reject’ and ‘good enough’ will help prevent over-wastage.

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3. Storage and handling

Poor storage and handling techniques can lead to damage of materials or, worse still, finished product. Consider regular housekeeping checks to keep the warehouse organised and clean. Disorganised storage areas often mean that items have to be moved multiple times, increasing the risk of damage.


Make sure optimal environmental conditions are maintained. A great example of this is tea brand Typhoo. In an effort to reduce carton losses several years ago, the company added procedures to improve humidity in storage areas and prevent incoming pallets of cartons from being left outside. These measures were partly responsible for a reduction in carton waste of over 100 tonnes a year, saving the company over £100,000 annually.

4. Product giveaway

Slightly overfilled or overcounted product is easy to ignore when looked at in isolation, but over the course of a year can add up to huge wastage. Re-examine your product tolerances – if a product should weigh between 20.1-20.3 grams, for instance, aiming for 20.15g rather than 20.3g will reduce giveaway losses from 1 per cent to 0.25 per cent. That tiny adjustment could save thousands of pounds.

Romix Foods in Leigh is a perfect example of how much impact you can make by improving the efficiency of filling and measuring. Romix successfully applied for £12,500 of funding from our Energy Efficiency Grant for a new sachet filling line (pictured below). As well as filling at least twice as many sachets per minute as its predecessor, the new machine dispenses product more accurately, saving Romix 15 tonnes of raw material a year. It also means that smaller sachets can be used, saving a further 14 tonnes of plastic packaging.

5. Residue losses

Residual amounts of raw material are often left behind in packaging, especially if it’s in powder, granule or liquid form and comes in a bag or IBC. Just like unnecessary product giveaway, these residue losses are easy to ignore but can add up to a huge amount of unnecessary wastage.

Try to find ways to tilt, pump, squeeze or shake packaging to get as much out as possible before disposal. The savings could be significant: in 2012, Carlsberg UK achieved annual savings of £169,000 after installing a steel ramp to drain residual hop extract out of IBCs. The ramp cost just £300.

Another way of reducing residual waste could be to buy material in larger quantities. The larger the packaging, the less surface area there is for residue to accumulate. It will also reduce the amount of packaging waste you generate. Take it further by investing in a silo and you can eliminate residue and packaging waste altogether while also removing manual handling risks.

6. Product loss in pipes

If your process involves material travelling through pipework, there are ways to reduce the residue left inside pipes before product changeovers. For example, you may be able to use ‘pigs’ or compressed air to flush out remaining product before the cleaning process. This will also reduce your water use – the less product left in pipes, the less water is needed to clean them. Of course, ideally you would adjust production schedules so fewer changeovers are needed in the first place.

Shortening the length of pipework can also help. You may find that some pipework systems that haven’t been changed for years are unnecessarily long – longer runs of pipework mean that more product is lost to drain.

 

For more advice on maximising efficiency and environmental performance, contact our Resource Efficiency team.

Claire Scott

Claire Scott, Environmental Business Advisor

Claire has worked in environmental business advice for 15 years, supporting countless businesses through local, regional and national funded programmes and commercial consultancy work. Claire provides resource efficiency and environmental risk support to businesses, specialising in waste minimisation, packaging, energy and water efficiency and their associated business risks. Claire has a BA (Hons) in Environmental Science, is a member of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management and an Associate Member of IEMA. She is also a Chartered Environmentalist and an IEMA Registered Environmental Auditor.

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