We often think that sustainability means placing a couple of recycling bins in our break rooms and including anecdotes in our email signatures that urge people to consider the environment before printing messages. While those things help to divert waste from our landfills and increase awareness about the use of resources, true sustainability in the manufacturing and distribution industry represents a goal – creating operations that are able to move and produce goods with minimal use of external resources while causing no negative impacts on the immediate and global environment. Getting to that point seems like a monumental task, perhaps even one only overcome in science fiction movies, but there are many things that we can do in our operations that can incrementally advance us toward this point while increasing our bottom line savings.
Facility Design and Layout
One of the biggest opportunities for savings in the design of distribution facilities continues to be energy consumption. Small updates, such as motion sensors for office and warehouse lighting, can have a huge impact on electricity use. Some warehouses are also installing energy efficient neon-style lighting as well as incorporating natural light through skylights and light tubes. Even the use of Photovoltaics (PV) has yielded higher return on investment than anticipated. For example, one of our clients installed solar panels at a larger warehouse and realized energy savings of more than 1.8 million kilowatt hours in their first year. What about your order pick path? Is your building laid out to reduce the distance traveled by pallet and forklift trucks? If not, then you have an opportunity to reduce machine travel and, in turn, energy consumption. Slotting optimization (managing the physical location of inventory) can also help present product in the least costly manner and create the shortest path by which an associate can visit a given set of locations in a warehouse.
Material Handling Equipment
Some of my colleagues wrote an excellent post on maximizing existing automation within your warehouse, which can account for much of the power consumed in an operation. These systems can automate the storage and retrieval of low-volume products, allowing operations to store more items in smaller spaces to reduce their footprint and improve efficiency. Next generation technology for pallet and forklift trucks is available and can reduce electrical consumption and demand loads. Many material handling equipment manufacturers employ regenerative braking in their electric pallet and forklift trucks to enhance battery performance and reduce brake wear. Others are using hydrogen fuel cells, which continue to improve and will eventually be a viable alternative to lead/acid batteries.
Transportation Network Optimization
As fuel costs continue to rise, any reduction in transportation distance, time, and costs for your network will not only provide savings but also a green benefit. Everything from where products are sourced from to the modes of transportation used should factor in to network analysis. Any new facilities considered should be evaluated based on the locations’ proximity to major population centers for the rapid fulfillment of orders and availability of mass/public transit to attract a plentiful workforce.
Engineered Labor Standards
An incentivized workforce can also help to improve productivity and reduce the time taken to fill orders and deliver products to customers. The reporting capabilities of many engineered labor standards (ELS) systems can also help management identify and eliminate operational inefficiencies that contribute to higher usage of resources. ELS can also be used in delivery operations to increase productivity, decrease delivery times and, therefore, reduce the amount of time that truck and refer engines are working on a daily basis.
Sustainability means being green and achieving an environmental benefit that is good for corporate social responsibility programs and branding, but it also means optimizing everything that we do in our operations to reduce the resources that are consumed and achieve savings that are vital to the ongoing success of the business.