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Plastic has left an indelible mark on the manufacturing industry. This ubiquitous material helps companies produce high-quality products at an inexpensive cost for both the consumers and themselves. Moreover, the chemical makeup of plastics and other polymers opens up new frontiers in manufacturing as the industry finds new and exciting ways to deploy these materials to suit its needs and those of future generations. Reducing plastic manufacturing costs can have a huge impact on society and the industry.
The Plastics Industry Trade Association places plastics manufacture as the third largest sector in the field, one capable of generating more than $380 billion in annual shipments and employing more than 885,000 employees spread across every single U.S. state. However, even titans of industry can find methods of improving operational efficiency to simplify their supply chain relationships, streamline internal processes, and manage their resources more intelligently to secure the bottom line. As big as plastics is, it fits the mold for such improvement opportunities. Where can manufacturers focus their attention if they want to see their performance prosper and plastic manufacturing costs reduced?
Energy efficiency through reverse logistics
Like many process industries relying predominantly on raw materials, plastics manufacturing expends a great deal of energy in production. Most plastics are derived from either hydrocarbon gas liquids or natural gas. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, electricity makes up a significant portion of this industry’s energy consumption, used primarily in heating, cooling, and processes like compression and injection molding, as well as thermoforming. That said, ancillary processes also take their fair share – a study published in Manufacturing Engineering found the energy costs related to additive manufacturing techniques can be anywhere between 53 to 104 times more expensive than traditional injection molding.
However, energy conservation may not necessarily be in the cards for plastics manufacturers, as usage directly correlates to the desired chemical reaction necessary for production. Instead of devoting company resources toward finding solutions for reducing energy costs on-site, plastics manufacturers should give reverse logistics prospects equal consideration. While establishing or enhancing such a program may add a level of complexity to business functionality, the rewards outweigh those concerns by a wide margin. A recent study by the U.S. Department of Energy uncovered that the industry has the potential to dramatically decrease its energy and plastic manufacturing costs by instituting robust recycling measures, especially for companies working with polyethylene. A “modest” campaign could yield as much a 17 percent energy cost reduction, but an “aggressive” one could cut energy spend by nearly a third.
Implementing dynamic reverse logistics recycling programs for reclaimed or returned goods isn’t merely a fly-by-night trend for trimming costs, but a whole new way of envisioning manufacturing. Plastics manufacturers should consider instituting or expanding these areas to push their enterprises toward peak operational efficiency, powered by an innovative approach to waste management.
Where can plastics manufacturers focus their attention if they want to see their performance prosper and operational costs reduced?
Automated, end-to-end enterprise resource planning to cover administrative duties
Apart from optimizing on the manufacturing floor, plastics also requires well-oiled administrative processes behind the scenes to ensure plant operations run smoothly and cost-effectively. Automating a number of services on the back end can eliminate deficiencies caused by clerical errors related to data entry, as well as other pertinent processes specific to plastics like tracking fluctuating resource markets to scaling and managing plastics recipes. Moreover, programming these machinations to run automatically organizes low-level tasks in a way that complements the business intelligence gleaned from them by employees, managers, and supervisors.
“Comprehensive enterprise resource planning can provide the answers plastics manufacturers are looking for.”
Comprehensive enterprise resource planning can provide the answers plastics manufacturers are looking for. For instance, a 2015 DuPont survey regarding the top concerns facing the plastics industry placed “unstable oil prices” in the third seat, a single percentage point behind “environment and sustainability” and “competitive global environment.” By adequately forecasting demand and operational costs with real-time data tracking from volatile oil markets and others, plastics manufacturers can apportion resource spend intelligently, reducing waste by way of over- and underproduction, over- and understocking inventories, meeting budgetary requirements on daily resource investments, and more.
Plastics manufacturers without ERP or with only single-tier systems should seriously consider upgrading to a two-tier deployment as they scale. As a Constellation Research survey found, nearly half of all businesses with Tier-1 ERP already in place were considering making the switch to two-tier. Respondents thinking about onboarding two-tier ERP were motivated predominantly by its low cost in comparison to their overburdened, single-tier operations and as insurance securing their competitiveness in an ever-changing global market.
Well-executed ERP management doesn’t handle small, meaningless tasks, but decidedly important ones that plastics manufacturers might not have the human capital to oversee with the intensity the 21st-century business mandates. This resource puts automation to work for the plant, providing everyone from plant managers to executives with the information necessary to consolidate operations into a simplified, data-driven workflow and make industry-leading decisions about the direction of their organization.
Manufacturers who adopt a lean operations manifesto for their business should also be willing to beef up their employee relations to attain their maximum potential. As feet on the ground, managers and supervisors must be able to place a lot of trust in their workforce to report problems and brainstorm strategies for continual improvement, or kaizen, which connects with several sets of tasks, all of which employees already perform on any given day.
But without a few considerations for their staff, a lean operations approach runs the risk of compromising their groundwork and any future endeavors. How can process industries both support their workforce while simultaneously ensuring lean business practices?
What do employees need from their employers?
To know where to start, companies will need to assess what it is exactly employees require to stay motivated and responsive. According to a study published in the International Journal of Production Research, keeping employees involved breaks down to four basic concepts:
- Contingent remuneration
Essentially, this demonstrates how a strong relationship between businesses and their staff includes both tangible, quantifiable human capital as well as small changes to managerial tone. For instance, in an examination of why employees leave businesses in the first place, the Harvard Business Review found a link between turnover and lack of training. Employers who don’t value their staff enough to devote a portion of their budgets to proper training may actually spend more money in the long run. When companies don’t put an end to the “revolving door” of employee turnover, they hemorrhage funds when they could be investing wisely in an intelligent workforce.
But sometimes, providing employees with an environment conducive to positive morale and lean operations resides more in a manager’s approach as opposed to dedicated resources. When supervisors understand the manner by which employees like to communicate – like through email versus face-to-face conversation – or simply tailor the rhetoric used when addressing employees, they can open lines of respect and create an atmosphere that is both professional, yet informal.
Promoting communication and responsibility among manufacturing workers makes lean operations deployment more organized and concise.
How does this factor into lean operations?
So what can these core values do to help promote lean operations for process industries? It comes down to the exact reason why any employer hires employees in the first place: trust. Workers are paid a salary to perform duties an employer trusts they will perform admirably. In many process industries, one untapped, unwritten condition within the greater pantheon of employee duties is identifying problems. When properly managed, employees should be free-thinking, independent problem solvers who have legitimate expertise completing tasks, meeting deadlines and collaborating with other workers. Armed with these characteristics, employees can become watchdogs and whistle-blowers for areas of waste and extra sets of eyes on a performance issue that just won’t go away.
Alternately, revamping employee-employer relationships can also drastically affect how quickly manufacturers will be able to implement new processes. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, kaizen hinges on a speedy turnaround once an area of inefficiency has been identified, typically a 72-hour window. Anything less runs the risk of acting as a temporary bandage to a chronic complexity, anything longer could jeopardize capabilities by having them succumb to unnecessary downtime. For truly lean operations, manufacturing employees must visualize the importance of the change, but to accomplish that, managers have to instill those principles in meaningful, resonant ways.
Lean manufacturing isn’t all about hedging costly inconsistencies, but developing the tools and resources necessary to project those values onto the people who keep the gears moving day-in and day-out. Manufacturing managers who can rise to meet this challenge stand to benefit greatly from their efforts.
An ancillary component to all mining operations, perhaps more so than any industry, is mining safety. Everything mine workers and their foremen do throughout their day-to-day itinerary should include extra attention to adhering to mining safety standards and improving on them wherever possible.
Though the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mining Safety and Health Administration reported workplace fatalities have plummeted over the last 40 years from around 250 annually in the late 1970s to under 50 in 2014, securing employees against risk protects them as much as the business itself. After all, time spent recovering from an injury chips away at a mining company’s productivity. In the end, it’s in everyone’s best interests to increase minig safety and prevent harm for both medical and financial reasons.
Taking extra precautions need not complicate the task at hand – safety and efficiency aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, foremen and managers seeking to optimize processes and improve the quality of their risk prevention can do so by simply focusing on improving efficiency in target areas.
As the first step to the mining process, fragmentation can have an incredible impact on mine development and even auxiliary operations. Proper fragmentation can align ore extraction with daily objectives, which subsequently allows workers and engineers to utilize mining and transport equipment at peak efficiency. It’s important every load sent to the surface doesn’t fall short of its predicted capacity, otherwise mine operators unnecessarily expend fuel, pay staff to work longer hours, and wear down machinery, all for a less-than-anticipated return. As such, implementing an intelligent, data-driven approach to fragmentation that consistently provides adequate resources helps everything after and beyond flow smoothly.
A clean, controlled explosion can help miners perform their duties with greater efficiency.
With all that in mind, we are talking about explosions, however controlled they may be. Luckily, some of the greatest mining safety tools also promote efficiency. According to a study by the Department of Mining Engineering at the Federal University of Technology in Akure, Nigeria, to protect workers from inefficiency, as well as safety hazards like fly rocks, miners should pay closer attention to rockmass and blast parameters. Just as a well-executed fragmentation sets up workers for ideal extraction conditions, a comprehensive assessment of rock density and placement of explosives enhance the effectiveness of the fragmentation. Additionally, competent adjustments to blast hole diameters and borehole depth reduces overburden and minimizes extraneous equipment use, which again, cuts down on energy, wear-and-tear, and time spent on-site that detracts from extraction.
When an occupation includes handling high explosives as part of the job description, it can feel as though a piece of everyday operations will be left to chance. However, mining professionals know that’s far from the truth. Businesses can takes steps toward calibrating their fragmentation, fine tuning it until it maximizes production and mining safety.
“Without ample attention paid to communication services, miners and engineers can lose productivity and decrease mining safety.”
Communication in the mining industry remains a multifaceted issue with a variety of considerations. Mining is one of the rare instances of workers performing 12 to 14 hour shifts over many consecutive days. In this business model, foremen and managers get the most out of their teams, which keeps production moving and on quota. That said, without ample attention paid to communication services, miners and engineers can lose productivity and the resources they need to stay safe.
Network communication provider Globecomm broke down mining communication into two basic hemispheres: reachback and mine site communication. Reachback communication connects the quarry with the outside world via telecommunications and Internet, typically used as a means for connecting “boots on the ground” with headquarters. However, as the Internet continues to grow in popularity as a source of entertainment, a reliable Wi-Fi or wired connection for workers to use during downtime keeps spirits high after intense physical labor. Moreover, during the workday, reliable web services and telecommunications also allow miners to perform research, supplying them with the information they need to do their jobs safely and efficiently.
To that same end, high-quality communication between workers can not only keep continuous processes in full swing, but at a blast site that uses explosives and industrial equipment to rend solid rock, it can also save lives in an industry. Workers should always have a reliable channel of communication to prevent accidental injuries. Additionally, as mining technology continues to advance, companies will also begin integrating more data-powered machinery, which will also require a strong network connection on which to transmit information.
Foremen, miners and engineers understand mining safety is not an option in their line of work, but a necessity, one that doesn’t have to be leveraged against filling orders on time and at allocation. By employing mining safety measures as a means to highlight areas of operation in need of an efficiency boost, these workers can have the best of both worlds.