Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Energy Cost Control in a Lean Manufacturing Environment

“Lean manufacturing” is widely espoused in the manufacturing sector. However, it’s not always implemented effectively. The literature describes lean manufacturing as a continuous improvement process for reducing defects, improving product quality, and reducing costs. Naïve adoption of the “lean” concept leads to simple cost cutting and doubling-up of roles. If not done right, these cuts can actually lead to a loss of control and greater production costs. A perfect example of this comes from facilities that refuse to embrace energy management.

Energy costs are most effectively controlled by an ongoing management process that coordinates technology, behavior, and procedures. For a variety of reasons, facility managers resist this approach. Many simply assume that the cost of controlling energy waste will always exceed the value of the savings. Other managers understand the potential benefits, but know that organizational complexity gets in the way. In other words, the costs and efforts are likely to be imposed on one department while the benefits accrue to another. When costs and benefits are scattered across departments, as is often the case, there’s simply no incentive to pursue improvements even if they benefit the organization as a whole.

In the absence of a "make-or-buy" energy management strategy, a facility simply justifies one energy "project" at a time. This now invokes the cost of time, since energy waste waits for no one. In the absence of a management standard, individual initiatives must be identified, documented, promoted, and deliberated one at a time. This is demonstrated by a simple example.

Let’s say a facility has conducted an energy audit that identifies a list of potential improvements, and let’s also assume that implementation can paced in a straight-line over time. If implementation depends only on simple logistical issues, the “run rate”—that is, the monthly pace at which those improvements may be implemented—may be 33 percent. In this example that means it takes three months to implement everything, as shown in the upper part of Figure A. However, even the initiatives with low risk and quick payback can be delayed because people in the decision-chain may disagree, not understand, or otherwise need to be assured of the benefits. Deliberation stretches out implementation to six months instead of three, as shown in the lower part of Figure A. The run rate becomes a slower 17 percent.

Fig. A:

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Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. All savings identified by an energy audit are forfeited until they are implemented. “Earnings at-risk”—the dollars lost by delaying energy improvements—add up with the passage of time.

Fig. B:

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How much extra cost is imposed by delay? Refer to Figure C.

Fig. C:

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Granted, energy cost control is one of many types of investment opportunities that manufacturers have at their disposal. But energy improvements can't be categorically rejected without proper investment analysis. When “lean” manufacturing philosophies are mis-applied, such analysis may be sacrificed in favor of "rule-of-thumb" decision-making. When energy improvements are dismissed or delayed, so are opportunities to reduce expenses, increase the reliability and productivity of production processes, and ultimately, the ability to generate greater revenue.

Applied appropriately, the lean manufacturing concept actually demands that facilities create an energy management plan. Such plans are the blueprint for identifying solutions and eliminating the delays that ultimately cost money.



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