The Best Ways to Reduce Waste in Automotive Manufacturing


As sustainability initiatives grow around the globe, more eyes turn to the manufacturing sector. Minimizing energy and material waste in the industry is crucial in the fight against climate change, especially in subsectors like automotive production. Thankfully, there are many opportunities to reduce waste in automotive manufacturing.

Any proponent of lean manufacturing knows waste reduction improves sustainability and increases profit margins, so it should be a priority for any automaker. The sector’s waste releases have declined by 64% since 2005, but there’s still considerable room for improvement. These five strategies that may go overlooked by lean manufacturers can help accelerate that trend and reduce waste in manufacturing.

Closed-Loop Recycling

Recycling is one of the most straightforward ways to reduce waste in manufacturing, and closed-loop systems take its benefits further. Only some products get recycled in a conventional open-loop system, as recycled parts may not go to serve the same purpose. Closed-loop approaches turn a manufacturer’s waste stream into its raw materials source.

Cars are the ideal use case for closed-loop recycling. Steel and iron components make up 65% of the average vehicle, and these metals are easily recyclable. Establishing programs to reclaim cars once they’ve reached their end of life to reuse their materials will yield impressive results.

Any lean manufacturing approach should seek to maximize value throughout the chain. Closed-loop recycling helps achieve that by extending the useful life of raw materials and reducing the need for new resources. As a result, implementing these systems helps produce more benefits with fewer materials.

Setting up a fully closed-loop system at scale is complicated and likely requires slow, marginal growth. However, the savings will eventually make up for the implementation costs.

Material Recovery Systems

Implementing material recovery solutions in factories can help reduce waste in automotive manufacturing. Processes like paint changeovers and machining often generate considerable waste.

These processes use more materials and take more time than they need. This constitutes excess processing, one of the eight wastes in lean manufacturing. Facilities that capture this extra material instead of discharging it can become far more efficient.

Using solvent to clean hoses and nozzles between paint changes instead of air can minimize changeover cycles to recover more paint and reduce energy consumption. Using magnet or vacuum systems to collect metal shavings from machining can provide a stream of new materials.

Creating these systems is a critical step toward enabling larger closed-loop recycling systems. These measures start the recycling process in-house before materials have a chance to get contaminated, increasing their reusability. Recovering resources like this will also minimize transportation costs from external raw material suppliers, addressing another of the eight lean wastes.

Predictive Maintenance

Maintenance often goes overlooked in lean manufacturing, but unnecessary repairs are a kind of excess processing and motion. Similarly, unplanned downtime creates waste from waiting. A poorly maintained machine also isn’t delivering its full value. By contrast, a well-maintained air compressor can last hundreds of thousands of operating hours, reducing the number of new tools a facility has to buy.

Predictive maintenance is the best way forward. This approach uses Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to monitor equipment health and alert workers when they’ll need maintenance. Consequently, it prevents breakdowns and unnecessary repairs, reducing waste on all fronts.

Automakers can go even further by enabling predictive maintenance for end-users. Features in the car that alert drivers when they need an oil change or similar tuneups will help extend vehicle life spans, leading to less waste.

Bio-Based Materials

Changing raw materials can also help reduce waste in manufacturing. One of the best options in this field is to use bio-based products, which have a smaller ecological footprint and are more easily recyclable. As a result, they minimize waste at the end of a vehicle’s life and maximize the value chain by the window in which materials are valuable.

Biodegradable alternatives to metals and electronic components aren’t a viable option yet, but cars have many parts that can use bio-based materials. Tire rubber, plastics and interior upholstery can all use plant-based alternatives. Switching to these options may come with higher upfront costs, but the reduced waste could help account for that over time.

Bio-based paints and coatings also yield impressive results. They reduce the need for chemical solvents, helping cut operating costs while minimizing the production process’s environmental footprint. This helps prevent overprocessing leading to too much inventory.

Error Tracking and Continuous Improvement

Regardless of what other steps automakers take, they must embrace continuous improvement, which involves tracking waste and errors. Continuous improvement is a critical part of the lean philosophy, and almost every process has room for growth. So regular review and adaptation are crucial to reducing manufacturing waste.

As many as 85% of quality issues come from processes and materials, meaning they’re measurable and preventable. Using smart technology to track these errors will reveal where waste arises, informing more effective changes. Facilities can then make whatever process-specific changes they need to become as efficient as possible.

Even straightforward quality control checks can help. Analyzing where defects come from and adjusting to avoid them in the future will reduce waste in automotive manufacturing by preventing scrap and rework, addressing the waste of defects. In some facilities, that could constitute considerable savings.

Reduce Waste in Manufacturing Through These Steps

Even facilities committed to lean principles often have room for growth that goes overlooked. Waste reduction strategies will help address these issues and make production processes leaner. They’ll also become all the more important as sustainability issues grow and the sector becomes increasingly competitive.

Every automaker faces unique challenges, but these five steps genacross the industry. Implementing these measures can help any facility minimize waste, becoming leaner, more sustainable, agile and cost-effective.

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