I’m a designer by nature. I love to admire clean lines and functional excellence delivered in products found in market today. Fortunately, I am a manufacturer as well. I watch embroidery machines and clicker presses click and thump their way through 8 hour shifts. What I am learning to see, in much more clarity, is how our designing mind can employ our manufacturing mind and actually create a tremendous value in the reduction of waste.
Reducing waste in the manufacturing process is nothing new. Reducing waste in the design process is typically, but not always, engineered. More frequently our designers are focused on designing around the raw material presented prior to fabrication, similar to a sculptor sizing up a piece of metal scrap or a wood worker admiring a slab of walnut. In years past we may have built a bag silhouette in our head and then set out to build the design based on the design itself, and not the raw material we would make it from.
Unfortunately, this often produces a higher yield of waste, and while it may be utilized over time, it may not be addressed immediately. We must remember that waste is not only measured by the amount of scrap left on the floor, but the number of times we have to handle the material itself as well, among other things. How many times have you pushed aside a pile of still functional material with the thought you would use for a project to be named later? This is common around cut-and-sew facilities, although those days may be sunsetting. We have a responsibility to manage our waste and limit our exposure and allowance. Allowing time for active pursuit of design efficiency will make for stronger principles overall, and a more sustainable manufacturing floor.
Here are five tips to drive waste out of design:
1. Know your raw materials and how you will purchase them. Use this as a tool in the design process. Design to utilize fabric yields that promote the least amount of scrap that is unusable.
2. Don’t be afraid to challenge conventional design. Often times we design products around something already built, assuming the size or construction is ‘correct’ because it was done many times before. The beauty of design is often found in the challenging of convention.
3. Leftovers can keep your belly full. What I mean here is that we use a lot of scrap for necessary functions on the plant floor. We build strapping systems, hangers, cart ties, etc. with the material waste and never have to buy these from another source, saving money and waste disposal. You can also find many great artistic opportunities using these materials that will help define your workspace.
4. Audit your patterns. Simple review with a few folks around a table can sometimes yield amazing savings and waste control. When one person, or one group in a company, control the cutting table, often times efficiencies are overlooked and forfeited. A second set of eyes has yielded amazing results for us, and sometimes it is the least suspecting person that makes the difference.
5. Don’t be afraid of the outsider. Your local economic development council or similar manufacturing extension partnership are often free tools that can assist you with LEAN training or other educational assets that can pay big dividends. Even if there is a small investment, it will usually pay big long term to keeping your waste under control. Start this process as early as possible and consider any cost an investment in your future.