How to Reduce Manufacturing Waste

November 17, 2021 • 6 min read

Lean manufacturing is all about boosting productivity while slashing manufacturing waste. But how can manufacturers realistically reduce waste? By getting organized, thinking ahead, and practicing inventory control.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the definition of manufacturing waste, explain lean manufacturing waste management, and reveal seven tried and true ways to reduce waste in manufacturing.


What is manufacturing waste?

In the lean manufacturing model, anything your business creates that’s unnecessary or “without value” to a customer is considered waste. That’s because these excess steps and byproducts offer no benefit to the customer.

Eight types of manufacturing waste

When learning about manufacturing waste, you may have come across the acronym DOWNTIME. It represents eight particular types of lean manufacturing waste. Here’s what it stands for:

  • Defects
  • Overproduction
  • Waiting
  • Not properly utilizing talent
  • Transportation waste 
  • Inventory excess or overordering
  • Motion waste
  • Excess processing 

These types of waste are bad for your profits, the environment, and your company’s overall health. And your customers aren’t willing to spend a dime on any of this waste. That means your business will front the costs for everything from production defects to wasted human resources.


What is manufacturing waste management?

Manufacturing waste management is the practice of controlling, limiting, auditing, and optimizing your company’s waste. Everything from wasteful production to transportation to inventory ordering can be improved upon with effective manufacturing waste management. 

Many businesses turn to resources like inventory management software, supply chain consultants, and productivity experts to reduce waste management. 

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What is manufacturing waste management?

Manufacturing waste management can look quite different from business to business. And while every manufacturer has unique needs, just about every company can benefit from implementing best practices to reduce manufacturing waste.

Here are seven of the most effective methods:

1. Rethink packaging—and go paperless

Packing supplies can get expensive. And if they don’t protect your inventory from damages or delight your customers, then you’re producing waste. 

First, ensure that all the packaging you use is as green as possible. Select boxes made from recycled materials, and air packs to provide cushioning instead of styrofoam. Or, better yet, see if there are any existing packing supplies you’ve received that could be reused.

Still, even the most environmentally-conscious packing supplies would be better left unused. Evaluate how you ship inventory and determine if there’s a less wasteful way to move products. Perhaps you send items that are already boxed in larger boxes. Could you cut out that larger box altogether? 

Finally, rethink packing slips, receipts, and printed booklets. More and more businesses are sending out packages with as little paperwork as possible, instead asking buyers to refer to information about their orders online. 

2. Reduce, reuse, recycle

Next, ensure your team does everything it can to reduce what it uses, reuse what it must use, and recycle what it reuses. 

Hazardous materials like batteries and paint can’t always be recycled, so it’s essential to order only as much of these products as you know you need. 

Many materials, like paper, plastic, and metal, can be easily recycled—but your company should still try to limit using these materials whenever possible. Some programs can help your business recycle asphalt, rubber, and wood materials. 

To make things easier on your manufacturing team, create a standard operating procedure for recycling. Have sorted bins for each kind of product, and ensure new employees are trained on recycling protocols. 

3. Get your space organized

If your warehouse, factory, or plant is disorganized, your business is almost certainly creating manufacturing waste. The more streamlined and organized your workspace is, the easier and more efficient it will be for your team to make, store, pack, and ship inventory.

Remember those eight kinds of lean manufacturing waste? Each one can be tied to some sort of disorganization. Defects, poor use of human resources, excess inventory—all of these things happen because operations aren’t running as smoothly as they could.

Getting organized isn’t easy, but it’s worth the hard work. As you clean, make sense of, organize, and rearrange your warehouse, factory, or plant, consider digitizing your inventory, too. That way, you can start keeping better inventory records—and stay organized for good. 

4. Schedule preventive maintenance

If you’re calling for service on machinery and equipment after something breaks, you’re already too late. And the waiting that happens when your equipment can’t produce inventory is wasteful, costly, and often avoidable.

Stay on top of preventative maintenance with a clear, consistent schedule. You can use an inventory app like Sortly to get alerts for key dates such as expiring warranties.

Yes, manufacturers expect wear and tear on their equipment. That’s the cost of doing business. But preventative maintenance can keep your machinery in tip-top shape for as long as possible, and that’s better for your profits and the planet. 

5. Practice inventory control—and stop over-ordering

Inventory control is the balancing act of having enough inventory to satisfy demand without wasting a single penny. And while perfect inventory control is more hypothetical, there’s no doubt that producing and carrying excess inventory is a common form of manufacturing waste.

To avoid all the waste of producing excess inventory, your business must first understand how much inventory it needs. And that can only happen when your team has accurately tracked how much inventory it’s used in the past while paying attention to how demand for that inventory might change in the future. 

6. Forecast demand accurately

Businesses cannot practice effective inventory control without properly assessing demand for the products they produce. Quite simply, a manufacturer cannot “guess” what its customers might want in the future; they’ve got to know for sure.

There are many ways to forecast demand. But however you choose to predict how much of your inventory your customers will want in the future, your company must be prepared for seasonality, competition, and unexpected global events. 

7. Conduct waste audits

Waste management is a job that’s never really done. Your business will need to constantly optimize its processes to minimize every kind of waste. And the easiest way to do that is to conduct regular waste audits. 

Talk to executives, managers, and employees about every aspect of your business. From receiving raw materials to packaging finished goods, there will always be areas where your team can improve. 

One of the best times to audit waste is during or right after a year-end inventory count. You’ll have just accounted for everything on your shelves and had a chance to get organized for the new year. So why not take the time to trim the fat around how your company receives, creates, and transports inventory.

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About Sortly

Sortly is a top-rated inventory management app that can help your business organize its inventory, master inventory control, and stop excess ordering in its tracks. With key features like low stock alerts, expiration warnings, and important date reminders, your team can manage waste reduction by ordering smarter, staying on top of preventative maintenance, and scheduling waste audits. 

Ready to get started? A free, two-week trial of Sortly is waiting for you!