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Guest Editorial

Best practices

By Louis Columbus, Principal of DELMIAworks

Seven ways to improve both manufacturing sustainability and quality

FFJ 0421 guest headApril 2021 - Customers are voting with their dollars for manufacturers that make a positive impact on the environment while producing high-quality products, which proves sustainability and quality strengthen each other. In fact, Accenture found that sales increased anywhere from 4 percent to 10 percent when batch and discrete manufacturers achieved greater sustainability in their operations.

However, metal fabricators interviewed by DELMIAworks noted that a pragmatic approach to sustainability does more than make their brands more attractive to customers. Doing so also reduces costs, improves product quality and streamlines operations. It’s not surprising, then, that 71.9 percent of all North American manufacturers have a sustainability policy in place, and another 8.3 percent are developing one, according to a recent National Association of Manufacturing (NAM) survey.

Let’s look at seven practices that metal fabricators are employing today to achieve higher levels of sustainability, quality and cost savings.

Reduce waste

Besides reducing operating expenses, finding new ways to decrease electricity and water waste goes hand in hand with closing gaps in production. For example, one manufacturer trims scrap as part of its quality management process, and the scrap gets collected and recycled. The company, which previously used millions of gallons of water per month, now captures that water before it goes out to the sewer, chills it, cleans it and pumps it back into the facility, bringing consistency and cost savings. Additionally, the manufacturer’s plants get 35 percent to 40 percent of their power from solar, significantly cutting costs.

Crawl before running

Take a crawl-walk-run approach to achieve lean manufacturing objectives. Three core strategic goals that often drive lean manufacturing success and provide a strong competitive edge include the following:

•   Invest in real-time process and product monitoring to produce the data needed to drive accurate statistical process control (SPC) and Six Sigma techniques.

•   Reorder the flow of information to reduce lag time and lost productivity.

•   Create a visibility zone across all shop floors based on real-time intelligence and knowledge.

Combining the three strategies will help to lessen the effects of disruptions on any manufacturing operation and set a solid foundation for removing seven types of waste that affect resources, time and margins.

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Invest in compliance

Getting certified as meeting both environmental and industry quality standards opens the door to gaining more customers. For instance, Somaschini North America LLC maintains two certifications to compete in the automotive industry. One is ISO 14001, which the American Society of Quality explains is an international standard that specifies requirements for an effective environmental management system (EMS). Somaschini has been certified as a zero-discharge facility.

The company takes an equally rigorous approach to complying with the IATF 16949 standard maintained by the International Automotive Task Force. At its South Bend plant, quality managers regularly use statistical process control (SPC) to track and improve supplier quality from incoming inspections down to product attribute level.

Eliminate paper-based workflows

Eliminating paper-based workflows enables metal fabricators to reduce waste and makes an immediate impact on product quality by capturing all available data. For example, Northern Industrial found that automating workflows has reduced energy consumption and closed information and knowledge gaps, allowing the company to ensure quality and meet on-time deliveries.

“We used to have these pretty cumbersome sheets that said what needed to be checked,” recalls Jeff Hohlfeldt, vice president of Northern Industrial. “Tracking hundreds of thousands of dimensions in the software instead of by hand has saved quite a lot of time.”

Adopt track and trace

Supply chain track and traceability is the foundation for metal fabricators to improve their sustainability strategies while boosting product quality. This is particularly true where the products or parts must comply with standards for highly regulated industries. These include, for instance, ISO 13485, which specifies requirements for a quality management system for organizations producing medical devices; the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA), AS 9100 Rev. C standards for the aerospace and defense industry; and the IATF 16949 automotive industry standard.

Expand quality management

The best way to improve document control and reduce waste is to expand quality management work so that it tracks the entire production floor’s activity. A good example is at Northern Industrial. In the past, the manufacturer ran into errors that had nothing to do with the actual parts, including a disconnect between electronic data interchange transmissions and the packing slips, bills of lading and invoices. Since then, Northern Industrial has standardized documentation on its ERP system where quality processes are in place and everything is coordinated in a unified workflow. Now labels and packing slips consistently match EDI transactions.

Improve auditing

It is important to define an aggressive, yet realistic, roadmap for improving auditing, including final audit document retention that includes quality audit results. Metal fabricators that invest in having stronger audit workflows and retaining audit results can then analyze the accumulated results to see how and where they can improve energy efficiency, as well as achieve greater sustainability in other areas. One metal fabricator found that audits showed excessive energy costs due to metal fabrication machines running extra cycles between shifts due to incomplete work order instructions. By having all audits in a unified database, the quality management team discovered what was going on and solved the problem.

Investments in sustainability and quality can help metal fabricators to attract and grow customers while improving their bottom line. As manufacturers’ investments in these areas continue to grow, more best practices will emerge.  FFJ

Louis Columbus is principal of DELMIAworks. Previous positions include product management at Ingram Cloud, product marketing at iBASEt, Plex Systems, senior analyst at AMR Research (now Gartner), marketing and business development at Cincom Systems, Ingram Micro, and a SaaS startup. He is a member of the Enterprise Irregulars and teaches MBA courses in international business, global competitive strategies, international market research, and capstone courses in strategic planning and market research.

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