Printing Lean

It's Easy Being Green

April 11, 2011

Here it is, spring, that time of year when we turn to cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning, all in an attempt to clear the winter blues from our minds and from our surroundings. Time to go from the blues to green, but why is it that we focus on being green only for one month out of the year, and why only for "spring cleaning?"

I think that, in some ways, our narrow focus on spring cleaning is a subconscious extension of our narrow focus of looking down at the bottom line, only now we're looking down at the detritus that clutters our shops and offices. Its time to look up and look around, because there are so many more ways that you can "green" your bottom line.

Audit thyself
When was the last time that you conducted an energy audit? By this I don't mean just looking at your utility bills, although that is a good place to start.

How about the source of energy itself? Are you using the most cost efficient source of potential energy, be it natural gas, electricity, coal, oil, solar, wind, etc.? Have you ever looked into the possibility of switching sources of energy and for programs that can help offset some of those costs?

Have you looked at the energy efficiencies of all of your motors, compressors or pumps? When was the last time that they were serviced? Are they in good repair? Are they right-sized for the job? Motors that are in poor operating condition can quickly become overworked and overheated, drawing more energy than what is necessary for that function.

Do you have a real Total Preventive Maintenance program that keeps equipment in peak operating condition, not only for energy efficiency but also for safe operation, for optimum quality and maximum speed?

Most people will answer yes, we do have a TPM program, but my experience has shown that many TPM programs are not Total Preventive Maintenance program but are, instead, Totally Pathetic Maintenance programs. The most common, and most egregious, signs that a company's TPM is not all that it's purported to be? Dirty equipment, clogged filters, and fluid leaks.

Heat and Dust – equipment's mortal enemies
The general industrial and manufacturing sectors of our economy use the most energy out of all of the economic sectors. The lion's share of that energy is electricity. Electricity powers our motors, and yet our motors are starving for air because they're dirty.

Filters are hardly ever cleaned and rarely ever changed. I am constantly amazed, although by now I guess that I shouldn't be, at the number of times that I see the door on an electrical panel left open "for air". Sometimes there is even a fan blowing into the cabinet! I walk over to this obvious safety violation and inevitably find that the filters on the cabinet are so dirty and clogged that they might as well not even be there. You say you have an effective TPM program? Yeah, right.

Most equipment failure is caused by heat or dust. Poor cleaning – or no cleaning – allows filters and sensitive electronics to become caked with dust. Leaking oil, coolant, or failure to lubricate leads to overheating and seizing of equipment. We run it until it breaks and when it breaks its always at the worst possible time. Let me ask you this: Do you drive your car without ever adding to or changing the oil? Of course not, so why do we do this to our equipment?

Using the 5S tool, particularly the 3rd S – Shine – is an extraordinarily inexpensive way to protect equipment from failing. Keep it clean and make sure its lubricated, and you'll eliminate most equipment failures.

Let there be light
What about lighting? Have you replaced older, far less efficient lighting with fixtures and bulbs that are far more efficient and less costly? Do you know how much coal it takes to keep a 100-Watt bulb lit for one year? More than seven hundred pounds, that's how much. How many light bulbs are constantly burning in your facility? Better check, the meter's running.

Have you measured the lumens or luxes at every work station, department and even outside your building? Most times people will add lighting to an area that really doesn't need it, because they think that brighter must be better. You might be surprised to find that you are over-illuminating some areas by multiples. Do you even know what the recommended levels are? If not, check out the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America's recommendations for different areas, and then measure those same areas in your facility. You might be surprised at what you find.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
Have you ever involved your vendors and your customers about ways to minimize waste? You should, because you're probably doing things and creating waste "just because" you think that it's the way that they want or need you to be doing things. You're probably duplicating some efforts, maybe even packaging things in ways that aren't necessary, and those things use materials and energy.

Are you using returnable pallets, not only to save a tree, but also to eliminate the dust, debris and insect infestation that are common with wood pallets? Wood pallets have nail pops that cut into your materials, and have stringers or slats that break and mar your floors. This damage costs you money, and once a wood pallet can no longer be used you probably pay for its disposal.

Are you recycling all of your waste materials? If not, why? Recycling white paper is the law in many places, and there are a growing number of firms who will take all of your waste materials and recycle them into fuel pellets. Paper and paperboard products account for one-third to one-half the volume in our landfills. This has to stop.

It's easy being green
With apologies to Kermit the Frog, it is easy to be green. You just have to know how. Here are four steps to take.

First step: Audit the workplace. Take a close, hard look at your energy consumption. Key points here are to look at electrical, mechanical and lighting efficiencies.

Second step: Clean your equipment. Use the 5S tool for what it was intended for – to find waste. Key points here are to keep dirt, dust and leaks from ruining your equipment.

Third step: Educate. Teach everyone in your organization about how to be green. Key points here are equipment maintenance and personal responsibility.

Finally, involve your supply chain. Get on board with what your vendors are doing to save some green – there may be some things that can trickle down to you. Get your clients up to speed on what you're doing and why. You might just find that that little bit extra that you've been doing just because you thought you had to isn't of any value to the client at all. Stop doing those things and you'll save money on the resources that you used to expend doing them.