GKN’s Global Lean & Green Project

Many sustainability practices have tried to reform manufacturing practices. A new Kaizen model based on Lean & Green principles demonstrates the case for a new and innovative approach to the development of sustainable business, says Andrea Pampanelli, Driveline CI Leaders and Environmental Specialist at the company. Here Pampanell, who is doing her PHD on the subject, argues the case for a Lean and Green approach to manufacturing.

Growing concern about the environment has lead to support for the development of a number of
environmentally sustainable practices, such as cleaner production, industrial ecology, ISO 14001, etc.Although all these practices together have contributed to creating a new world paradigm, proposing different sustainability alternatives for society, not many have really explored the sustainability side of existing manufacturing strategies.
In other words, it's a paradigm shift which means looking at environmental issues the other way around: not saying to manufacturing how to behave to be sustainable - to respect the environment - but to really understand how existing manufacturing practices can be adapted and used to support sustainable business. In this context that lean thinking is explored in this project.

The GKN Lean & Green Kaizen model for a production cell

GKN, a global engineering and manufacturing firm, began its Lean & Green project in 2010.The work I’m doing is supported by the Lean Enterprise Research Centre from Cardiff University in the UK and UFRGS University in Brazil and is investigating the application of lean and sustainability concepts by developing a Lean & Green Business Model for integrating environmental concerns and business needs.

The project is also looking at how a new Lean and Green model can be applied globally to the different business units within GKN (Driveline, Land systems, Powder Metallurgy and Aerospace) in its operations in Brazil, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

I’ve also been working to identify where existing environmental sustainable practices and Lean are complimentary, understand the gaps between them, and realize the benefits of achieving sustainability, while still taking into account people and cultural issues, profit and costs results, and environmental performance.

Sustainability, like Lean, has a good track record of improving the profitability of a business because of its emphasis on eliminating waste. Extensive opportunities exist to save resources and money. In this sense, GKN already started its journey by developing a Lean & Green Kaizen Model, taking a Kaizen approach at the level of a production cell (i.e. a multi-skilled team that works to produce an output – or product - of some sort).

The main objective of a cell environmental Kaizen is to improve the performance of its supporting flows (e.g. the materials and energy consumed and waste generated) while reducing overall waste. This includes what we would classify as environmental wastes.

In the Lean and Green Kaizen model, therefore, we focus on the mass-energy flows of the cell. The expected output of a Kaizen is the improvement of these thermodynamic flows (Materials, Chemicals, Water, Waste, Effluent, Energy), and an overall improvement in cell performance.

There are, of course, many potential cost savings associated with reducing the environmental impact of a business. For example, reducing the consumption of harmful chemicals and energy will impact directly on overheads, as well as reducing risk to the employees and the surrounding area.

At GKN, the Kaizen events were run pilot cells in Brazil and the UK in 2009. After identifying the need for improvement, a period of data collection took place with support of facilities and environmental specialists. With the data, the Kaizen structure was organized in order to analyze and review the actual state for the mass and energy flows of the studied cells. All Kaizen events were developed involving from 20 to 30 people, including all cell operators, leaders and managers, maintenance people, as well as environmental and lean specialists.

The most important tenet of the Lean and Green Kaizen Model is that Lean and Green approaches are integrated as part of the continuous improvement process where the lean philosophy and ways of working were already in place.

We use the following criteria to assess whether a production cell is ready for the Lean and Green Kaizen Model:

• A manufacturing cell that has a mature deployment level in using and applying lean tools (operators already know and apply the most common lean tools, such as 5S, Visual Management, Autonomous Maintenance, Lost Time Analysis, etc);

• A cell that has a stable process, with delivery records over a 90%;

• A cell that has already applied Employee Involvement systems (operators already know and apply the most common Employee Involvement tools, such as Daily Meeting, Primary Visual Display, etc, );

• A cell Manager that is supporting the Lean and Green Kaizen initiative;

• A cell where a level of environmental awareness/concern exists (operators have already been trained related environment at issues);

• A cell that makes significant use of resources (Materials, Chemicals, Water, Waste, Effluent, Energy);

In fact, integrating Lean and Green is considered the second step of a cell’s continuous improvement process because a stable production flow is a necessary first step towards achieving a green enterprise. Leadership is fundamental for this; the Kaizen initiative needs to be approved by cell manager, requiring the complete commitment of Team Leaders and Team Members in order to develop it properly.

When applied successfully, the savings can be large. Our initial experience applying the Lean & Green Kaizen Model shows that in cell Kaizen exercises - combining both operators’ and leaders’ ideas and experience, and using the appropriate lean tools and techniques for identifying waste - created an opportunity of operational cost savings of about 274,000.00 GBP per year in the operational cells where we tested the model.

In a world of uncertainty about the economy and environment, where many environmentally sustainable alternatives have failed when we try to integrate them into the world of manufacturing, the Lean & Green Kaizen Model demonstrates what can happen when we take new and innovative approaches to support the development of sustainable business.