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Lean Manufacturing and Environment

Plymouth Tube Company

Background

Plymouth Tube Company manufactures precision tubing and extruded shapes for use in a variety of industries.  From its beginning producing tubing from one facility in 1924, Plymouth Tube has expanded to occupy 1.6 million square feet of manufacturing and office space in order to provide their metalworking products to customers across the globe.  Plymouth recognized at a corporate level that reductions of waste through Lean techniques can have a dramatic impact on profits, product consistency, and environmental sustainability.

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Key Points

  • Plymouth Tube Company uses a Manufacturing Assessment checklist that it uses to measure progress toward its  overall goal of “World Class” manufacturing
  • Environmental considerations are included in this checklist, integrating them into the pursuit of manufacturing excellence.
  • At a facility in West Monroe, LA, Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS)  and Production personnel were able to identify environmental wastes that presented opportunities for working with lean techniques to improve their processes
  • Their lean efforts reduced lubrication used at this facility by 1400 gallons, saving almost $4000 annually in lube costs and $1800 is recycling fees
  • The team was able to completely eliminate a costly hazardous waste stream of ink by changing their printing process

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Manufacturing Excellence Checklist

Plymouth Tube Company uses a rigorous assessment process to promote continual improvement at all its facilities with a goal of meeting “world class” manufacturing standards.  A corporate led assessment team conducts week-long visits at each facility annually, grading it on a variety of criteria ranging from Level One (“Mass production”) to Level Five (“World Class”).  Environmental goals are included in the criteria.  Thus, Plymouth Tube treats environmental performance as an integral part of its effort in pursuit of manufacturing excellence.  

The centerpiece of this process is Plymouth Tube’s Manufacturing Assessment checklist.  This extensive checklist reflects the key management strategies of the company, including Lean, [putting Lean in italics was a change made by Rick F, so I think we need to keep it that way] techniques.  Within the checklist is a section specifically focusing on “Environmental Impact.”  For example, the checklist defines a “level one” facility as one that “complies with known legal and regulatory requirements and reacts if issues are identified.”   At level one there is low awareness of environmental impacts, and regulatory violations may occur occasionally.   At level two, the facility takes initiative to understand impacts and establishes a formal Waste Minimization program.  To move up to level three, the facility must identify and prioritize all waste streams for minimization, with substantial improvements on the highest priority waste streams.  A facility must make further changes to be considered level four, including achieving ISO 14001 certification or participation in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP).  At the highest level, level five, the facility must take further steps, including complete elimination of landfill waste, exceeding all environmental regulations, reducing energy consumption by 11%, serving as a resource to local governments for solving environmental problems, and achieving high level recognition as an environmental leader.

Other aspects of the checklist, while not explicitly targeted at reducing environmental impact, are aimed at reducing waste and increasing efficiency in a way that will encourage sustainable operations.  For example, defects must be reduced to Six Sigma levels, reducing wasted time and materials, and Lean techniques, such as Value Stream Mapping (VSM), must be implemented by the facilities to achieve the highest rating.  When EHS staff is brought into the Lean process, these techniques can work towards sustainability.

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Lean and Environment in West Monroe, LA

One example of how Plymouth Tube Company has integrated Lean thinking with  sustainability occurred at the Plymouth Tube Company’s facility in West Monroe, LA.  The personnel at the facility identified environmental impacts that could be addressed through Lean initiatives and worked together with the Lean staff to conduct lean events to reduce their environmental wastes while reducing unnecessary costs.  The team helped identify two specific issues that the team was then able to address using lean techniques.

The first process identified for action was the system of lubrication used to draw tube through dies to adjust its diameter.  The team identified this lubricant as the facility’s single largest waste stream.  By rethinking this process, they were able to eliminate 1400 gallons of material, reducing lubrication waste by 30%.  These efforts saved the facility almost $4,000 annually in lubricant costs and an additional $1800 in waste lubricant recycling fees while improving sustainability.

The second area targeted for lean action was their printing process.  Since the ink not used in printing must be disposed of as hazardous wastes, it represented a significant opportunity.  The team was able to completely eliminate this costly hazardous waste stream by changing their printer system for one that used 100% of the purchased ink.  This saves the company on the cost of the wasted ink, as well as on the compliance costs of handling and disposing of the hazardous waste.

Plymouth Tube Company promotes environmental responsibility in all aspects of its business.  Initiatives throughout the company are being taken to reduce energy, chemicals, and water usage as well as landfill waste.  Plymouth Tube Company has found that integrating business and environmental goals just makes good business sense for today as well as for the future.

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