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Does Lean & Green Apply to Electronics Manufacturing?

Does Lean & Green Apply to Electronics Manufacturing?

A Gemba walk with Lean and Green glasses


Although Lean and Green is a relatively new concept, the customary view is that it applies to “heavyweight” manufacturing.  In other words, value streams that involve significant use of heating, cooling, power, chemicals, machining and large component manufacture. However, nearly everything we see, touch and use has electronic components in the background or at the user interface. So, can Lean and Green benefit this type of manufacturing which consists of green boards, miniature components and a bit of solder….?

Recently I had the opportunity to visit an electronics manufacturing factory. This site manufactures components for the various control and alarm systems for the automotive sector. The leadership team is considering applying for a Lean and green award. As result I had been invited to review the Lean and Green credentials of the site.

After an initial session understanding their products and manufacturing flows, we took a walk to the gemba to see the operations and review their lean deployment and their green deployment.  The purpose, to see if they were both integrated into a single management system.

Gemba walk

The first area is the use of input resources and raw materials at the site. The main inputs from raw materials are: – blank green circuit boards, electronic components, solder, packaging and labels. The main environmental inputs are power, gas, chemicals and solvents.

The main processes are:

  • Despatch area: All incoming raw materials were unpacked, re-packed and re-labelled to align with the internal systems.
  • Manufacturing: Solder printing, automated pick and place assembly – the surface mounting of components, manual assembly of components, baking – although separate these processes all took place within one machine.
  • Final assembly (covers and shrouds),
  • Packing and store

After each step, the product is moved to test stations for quality testing. In between some of the processes, intermediate packaging is needed to protect the components from transit damage. A review of the factory performance showed a stable operational base. On time delivery, with high quality is the norm and not the exception.

Lean Deployment

Regarding Lean deployment, there were about half of the structures and systems in place that would support and sustain continuous improvement in manufacturing flow. Some continuous flow existed across the value streams. However, the cells appeared to be out of balance, with bottlenecks and activities starved of parts across manufacturing. Standard work is present and followed in some cells but not others, although this is a clear focus for leadership to improve.

Daily management system

An effective tiered daily management system is place across all operations.  Cell morning-meetings (team leaders) are followed by a production morning (managers) meeting and then a cross functional leader site morning meeting. Visualisation is in place through electronic display systems, which allowed the display and interrogation of many KPIs and results.

However, as with all electronic systems, it did not promote continuous improvement through consensus or focus on the key problems for resolution. Engagement is limited to a discussion around the many graphs and tables and not on the actions to improve performance or resolve issues. In terms of the weekly continuous improvement time, none is provided or allocated to the cells or other teams. Continuous improvement time is ad-hoc and limited to completion of the spreadsheet of actions reviewed at the daily meetings.

Environmental performance

Environmental performance is driven through compliance and the enthusiasm and expertise of the local EHS manager. There is significant re-cycling of materials with a 10-way segregation – (although several containers had incorrect materials present showing poor source segregation in the factory). This is indicative of a compliance led approach to environmental deployment, effective management of materials and waste as well as some re-use of packaging materials. The site is not a heavy user of “E” flows (mass/energy/chemicals) – the main inputs centre around energy for automated component assembly and the oven.

Surprisingly, one of the other major inputs and outputs for production is packaging. Due to the sensitive nature of electronic components, every part arrived heavily protected with several layers of different types of packaging. Some of this is re-used in despatch or for intermediate transport within the factory, but the majority is either recycled externally or scrapped.


Taking a step back and looking at the production area there are some environmental contradictions built into the factory system. There is an oven in the manufacturing area producing heat. However, here, cooling is required for the production process and to provide a comfortable ambient temperature for the working environment.  The air conditioning required for production and an ambient working area is provided through nitrogen cooling. This produced a by-product of a cold air stream which is generated by the nitrogen transfer pipes and the natural thermic difference between warm and cold air.

However, this is situated outside of the factory so of no use internally. These major pieces of equipment are difficult to move but their positions and their impact on the energy demands of the site need to be added to the environmental mix.


Outside the factory, we took a walk to see the storage areas – the dark secrets of scrap, rework and waste are often hidden in corners of the yard. This is not the case for this factory. There is exemplary visual signage, waste and recycling segregation as well as secure areas for hazardous waste. The only opportunity is to investigate the contents of the containers that are used for landfill waste. Two a month were filled and on close inspection much of their contents should be re-used inside the factory or re-cycled.

Lean and Green integration

So, having taken a Lean and Green gemba walk around the factory, what are the opportunities for Lean and Green improvement?

Both the Lean and environmental streams of deployment have been deployed independently of each other. The Lean deployment has reached an intermediate stage of deployment which could be described as 2/5. There is some flow deployment and some of the required management systems in place. However, there is no employee involvement system and no practical visualisation systems in place. This means that any employee ideas did not have a route to get resolved. There is no time, structure, method nor leadership support system to enable employee involvement to work

The environmental systems deployment is a different story. It has been implemented to a very high standard and could be described as 4/5 for a factory of this type. The only areas for improvement are around packaging use/waste reduction and a reduction in the amount of waste going to landfill through better source segregation.


So, how would an integrated Lean and Green system benefit this electronics manufacturing factory?

Some way to go…

There is some way to go for this factory to achieve a level of Lean deployment. The cell, manager and leadership involvement systems although partly in place, need to be fully deployed. In addition, the work that has started on improving flow and reducing flow wastes in production needs to continue, to get to a level where the system supports continuous improvement. Once this system is mature – the employee involvement systems being key to the next steps, then the concept of the green wastes and green thinking can be introduced.

Cash savings?

The potential cash savings from improving the environmental diligence of the factory are not as significant as with other heavyweight manufacturing sites. The main operations consist of the assembly of small light products. There are no energy hungry processes like machining, casting, cutting and heating or cooling. However, the site services and packaging use are substantial environmental flows and the volume of packaging materials being sent to waste is significant.

Focus on environmental flow

The next stage for the factory is to focus on the environmental flow which was highlighted in the gemba walk – packaging. Using the Lean and Green Kaizen approach, getting together all the actors in this system in a workshop – supply chain, purchasing, logistics and manufacturing. The key objective to reduce or eliminate the volume of packaging. Analysis of value, data capture and investigation of use/recycle and waste of packaging products will surface the non-value attributes and provide a platform for improvement.   These kinds of workshops also have a habit of seeding the organisation to grow in this direction.

Lean system improvement

Improving the Lean system will embed continuous improvement into the site and create a culture of solving problems to improve flow and reduce waste. Adding in “Green” after this level of maturity has been achieved for Lean will amplify the scope of improvement activities and create a culture of green improvement. In the past, the Green motivator for team members can exceed the profit motivator as it brings a wider aspect to the workplace – the environment.

Factories can be at different levels of maturity in both Lean deployment and green deployment. Typically, they are deployed on their own with Lean being driven from operations and environment being driven by compliance. Combined and working together will have a multiplier effect. The Environmental managers are often the lone promotor of environment in a site and gaining the support of operations through a Lean and Green initiative is a way to amplify the green activity and diversity Lean deployment.

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