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6 of the Best Ways to Make Manufacturing Processes Greener & Energy Efficient

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Emily Newton's picture
Editor-In-Chief Revolutionized Magazine

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief at Revolutionized Magazine. She enjoys writing articles in the energy industry as well as other industrial sectors.

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  • Aug 11, 2022
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Green or eco-friendly operations are no longer optional. Not that they ever should have been, but for the survival of the planet, every industry – including manufacturing – needs to focus on becoming more sustainable. But while there’s a lot of talk about improving and “going green,” it’s reasonable to ask: how should that actually be happening? What are some of the best ways to make manufacturing processes greener and more sustainable, primarily through more energy-efficient operations?

Why Make Manufacturing Processes Greener?

First, let’s briefly discuss why sustainable manufacturing processes are beneficial, not just for the environment and community, but also for the business. In other words, why bother?

Manufacturers that focus on green initiatives and create a more sustainable business will realize many of the following:

  • Reduced operating costs

  • Less waste and better use of resources

  • Tax incentives like credits

  • A boost in brand loyalty and recognition

  • More desirable opportunities for new and potential employees

  • A wave of community support

Most importantly, sustainability increases will reduce detrimental impacts on the environment and surrounding communities, which is more valuable than anything else on this list. That’s especially true since manufacturing is one of the most wasteful industries.

Tempering Energy Usage

One of the best places to start to make manufacturing processes greener is to decrease energy consumption as much as possible because it’s so influential on both manufacturing operations and the environment.

There are many ways to achieve this, but one of the more immediate changes should be upgrading the equipment and hardware in use on the factory floor. Legacy machines, outdated picking and production lines, and power-hungry tools of old can contribute to a higher, more wasteful energy bill. Today’s products are often designed to be more energy-efficient, while also reducing the amount of energy they consume, regardless of whether they’re powered on or off.

Eventually, the entire facility should be considered. Cooling and heating, refrigerated supplies, lighting, and electronics are just a few examples of auxiliary systems teams might make more efficient use of. Something as simple as turning off work computers when they’re not actively used can conserve a lot of energy. Installing smart lighting solutions is another great example, which can be automated so they turn off when no one is in the room, cutting their power consumption, as opposed to just leaving lights on all day and night.

How to Get There

Administrators must think about how they’re using energy first, and then how much is dedicated to each element of the operation. An energy audit is critical to understanding those patterns, including power requirements, usage, and habits. The information gleaned can then be applied to improve the operation, whether that means replacing equipment, installing renewable energy solutions – like solar panels or wind generators – or just being more conscious about the energy that is being depleted.

Becoming Energy-Efficient

Reducing usage is step one, but taking full advantage of the power consumed is the next stage. Although it was mentioned previously, upgrading power-hungry equipment can contribute to a more optimized operation. It also highlights the importance of thinking about power conservation and efficiency in more practical ways. What are some techniques that would ultimately create a less demanding, more efficient manufacturing facility?

Proactive maintenance is a good call-out, as keeping equipment running optimally prevents it from being more wasteful of fuel and power. It involves monitoring systems, often in real-time, to make minor adjustments, preventively as opposed to reactively. There are many benefits of doing this, including increased life spans for the hardware, reduced costs, and better worker safety. It also helps avoid major disruptions or costly failures.

This is where lean is critical. By making a leaner, more direct system, it cuts the most wasteful elements of the business.

Implement Renewable Energy Solutions

Swapping to renewable energy is imperative. Although it would certainly make manufacturing processes greener, it’s not possible to go entirely off-grid – but energy usage and reliance can still be offset with renewables.

Introducing sustainable, renewable energy solutions achieves two things: it reduces dependency on the standard power grid but also eliminates the waste produced by fossil fuels.

Moreover, manufacturing facilities are often expansive, with so many empty and open areas – like the roof of a plant. There’s no need to build new infrastructure to support renewables. Solar panels can be installed on the roof of a facility, for example, or on an unused part of the company’s property. The same can be done with wind turbines or even hydro solutions.

Additional Measures to Improve Sustainability

Beyond reducing energy consumption and creating more efficient processes, there are certainly other areas of the manufacturing world that could benefit from sustainability initiatives.

Improving Wasteful Processes

If a business adopts lean methodologies, the prevailing idea is to continually improve processes or tasks in order to trim unnecessary waste.

While lean is heavily focused on practical action, like reducing time spent and resources expended, in manufacturing the emphasis should be on general waste, like wasted parts and materials and over-consumption.

It requires a top-down approach, and much like the tip about reducing energy usage, it should start with an audit of some kind. Only when there’s a clear picture of the resources in use, how they’re being used, and how much waste is being left on the table, can teams start to make positive changes.

It will require a lot of change and is very involved. For instance, reducing the amount of waste used to produce goods requires improving the machinery, cutting down on the supplies used, and optimizing everything production-related, even down to how those supplies are being fed into the system. In other words, it’s a tiered approach.

Curbing Total Impact

Being eco-friendly also means understanding the impact actions have on the world.

Select materials may introduce harmful chemicals or toxic compounds into the surrounding community. It may require a conscious effort to avoid or seek out alternatives.  

As a real-world example, abrasive blasting can introduce harmful emissions over time. But there are several particulate control techniques manufacturers can follow to reduce the total impact and lessen the dangers it poses to the environment.

Honoring Conservation

The use of natural resources is another consideration when making manufacturing processes greener. Conservation is of the utmost importance.

Conserving water is a common strategy. Consider not just general usage – for drinking, cleaning, etc. – but also wastewater and waste-discharge methods. From there, improve and tighten many processes, including how equipment and machinery might be using water, where waste pools are kept and how they’re maintained, and where the water is coming from. Swapping to a reclaimed water source, when the supply is not being ingested, would conserve a lot of fresh water.

Buy Locally Sourced Goods

Believe it or not, manufacturers can create a sustainable operation by sourcing materials, goods, parts, and other necessities from local vendors.

Economically, this gives back to local businesses and strengthens the community. It also allows businesses an opportunity to engage with their peers and possibly even gather more affordable or premium materials.

Go Above and Beyond: Make Manufacturing Processes Greener and More Energy-Efficient

While these are some of the best ways to make manufacturing processes more sustainable and eco-friendly, it’s not a comprehensive list by any means. Recycling is another great initiative to employ, along with upgrading fleets – going all-electric, for example – installing more energy-efficient appliances and electronics, and much more.

It has to start somewhere, however. What better way than with the steps outlined above? Reducing energy usage and waste, conserving natural resources, curbing environmental and communal impact, and buying locally sourced supplies are all excellent ideas. From there, it’s up to you and your team.

Emily Newton's picture
Thank Emily for the Post!
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