Sustainability Is About More Than the Environment

In general, most people who talk about sustainability concentrate on the global environmental issues that make headlines, but they often overlook basic elements that drive sustainable practices in machining. This naturally includes the optimization of cutting systems for faster, more aggressive machining, but sustainability must also include the basic elements of price, cost, customer satisfaction, process knowledge and reliability. Indeed, when it comes to sustainability in machining, true success starts with simple, straightforward steps and analysis. Here are a few ways you can improve the sustainability of your processes – and boost your shop’s productivity and profitability:

Reducing Energy Consumption

Throughout history, manufacturing has found ways to accomplish greater results with less energy. For example, in the beginning of the 1980s, many workshops had machines that required 70 or more kilowatts. Today, milling machines with 7 kilowatts of power provide productivity that can be higher than those older machines. Furthermore, sustainable machining processes minimizes the energy required for material removal, and less wasted energy makes machining much more environmentally friendly.

Measurement and Sustainability

Before a shop can improve its sustainability, however, you must know exactly where wastes of time and energy occur. To accomplish this, shop personnel need to work with definite numbers and facts rather than speculation and round-number estimates. The use of modern shop floor analysis and machine monitoring can help shops identify and quantify the wide range of factors that contribute to sustainability as well as inefficiencies, bottlenecks and other areas for improvement.

Improve Process Reliability, Reduce WIP

A sustainable machining process is reliable, predictable and minimizes wasted energy. On the other hand, an unreliable process results in reworked or scrapped workpieces, wasting the raw materials, energy and labor. Similarly, from a sustainability perspective, work in process (WIP) is essentially waste. From an economic point of view, WIP represents lost money, lost time and wasted floor space. In addition, there is always the possibility that a stored semi-finished workpiece can be damaged as it moves through the logistics system. Accordingly, a shop should have as little WIP as possible at the same time it improves its process reliability.

Sustainable Pricing, Happy Customers

Every business faces the challenge of setting sustainable prices for its goods or services. The price must be high enough to cover costs and produce a profit, but low enough that it doesn’t drive customers to competitors – and to keep customers happy, it must represent an accurate promise that can be kept with easy, on-time delivery. If pressure from customers and competitors results in setting prices too low, however, profit margins suffer. If competitive pressures push the price too low, those designing and machining the product have to find ways to produce it cheaper, faster and better to cut production costs and support a sustainable profit margin.

Make Invisible Costs Visible

However, in many businesses the point where costs stop and profits start is unclear because the real costs themselves are also unclear. Hidden, ignored or unknown factors are not part of the cost calculation. Achieving a sustainable cost structure requires making the invisible visible. Manufacturing staff must examine and evaluate the machining process as well as the structure and flow of the organization’s activities overall to uncover hidden costs.

Find out more about how your shop can uncover hidden costs with the help of Seco Manufacturing Transformation at