When we examine the five MEP Next Generation Strategies – including Continuous Improvement, Supply Chains, Sustainability, Technology Acceleration, and Workforce – there is sometimes an attempt to categorize a project into a particular “bucket.” Is the work done with a manufacturing client focused on Sustainability, or Technology Acceleration? Is it Continuous Improvement or Workforce, and what about Supply Chains? In actuality, we find that assistance provided by MEP Centers to their manufacturing clients often stretches across multiple Strategies. In the case of E3, or Economy, Energy and Environment, all five Next Generation Strategies can come into play. In this blog, I’ll touch on the E3 connection to three of the five Next Generation Strategies, including Sustainability, Continuous Improvement, and Technology Acceleration.
Since late 2010, MEP Centers and their partners have been working to promote sustainable manufacturing and economic growth among manufacturers and communities throughout the nation with E3. This coordinated federal and local technical assistance initiative marshals the resources of federal agencies and state and local partners, to help communities work with their manufacturing base to adapt and thrive in a new business era focused on sustainability. While I think we can agree that taking a sustainable approach is the right thing to do, it is incumbent upon us to demonstrate the value proposition and return-on-investment to manufacturers and community business in order to gain buy-in and adoption of sustainable practices. To this end, E3 provides manufacturers with customized, hands-on assessments of production processes to reduce energy consumption, minimize their carbon footprint, prevent pollution, increase productivity, and drive innovation. Sustainability data collected among E3 practitioners tell the tale, as recent data show reductions of approximately 69 million kilowatt hours of energy (kWh), 17 million pounds of air emissions, 23 million pounds of solid waste, 54 million pounds of hazardous materials and 8.4 million gallons of water as a result of E3.
The hands on assessment noted above constitutes the core of the E3 process, and is driven with Lean Manufacturing tools such as Value Stream Mapping (VSM), a technique used to analyze and design the optimal flow of materials and information required to bring a product or service to the customer. Traditional VSM and Lean serve to eliminate the so-called “eight wastes” of overproduction, time/waiting, transportation, non-value-added processing, excess inventory, defects, excess motion and underutilized people. “Green” VSM and other “Lean and Clean” tools incorporate analogous green wastes of excess energy, water, materials, packaging, emissions, landfill, discharge, and imbalance. The resulting waste reduction (or “muda”, the Japanese term), cost savings and newfound capacity allow companies to grow their businesses by engaging in innovative activities such as developing new products and moving into new markets. For instance, TechSolve – the Cincinnati-based MEP Center – has identified over $5.6 million in potential Lean savings for manufacturers participating in the Columbus, Ohio E3 effort.
As I noted, by freeing capacity and reducing costs, E3 provides an excellent opportunity to help a manufacturer along the path towards innovation. In North Carolina, two E3 engagements by NCMEP with manufactures have led to the application of Technology Scouting, an MEP Technology Acceleration service. Technology Scouting offers a process to search outside normal channels to find solutions for unmet technology needs, and NCMEP has used it to help identify new process and product-based technology solutions for E3 clients. In the case of a food processor, NCMEP’s application of Green VSM assessments, including a “waste walk,” uncovered a number of opportunities to apply Technology Scouting to the client’s manufacturing processes in order to reduce product defects (nut breakage, actually) as well as standardization and regulation of product consistency. North Carolina MEP has also been working with a global appliance manufacturer that has set a corporate goal to reduce energy consumption by 20% in the near future. After getting involved in E3, NCMEP analyzed their processes, and subsequently identified a number of Tech Scouting opportunities. The manufacturer didn’t have their own internal capacity to conduct research on these opportunities, so working with Technology Scouting partner RTI International, NCMEP was able to come up with options for heat recovery operations and other innovation opportunities.
E3 is not unique among MEP programs and initiatives in that it leverages multiple Next Generation Strategies. Stay tuned for my next blog, and I’ll share how E3 also is bringing training and workforce assistance to manufacturers and the communities that they serve, and how E3 will soon be blazing a trail across the NASCAR supply chain. Meanwhile, do you have an example of an effort that cuts across multiple strategies? If so, I’d be interested to hear from you, so drop me a line.