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When you hire a consulting firm, you expect recommendations, changes, process improvements and a healthy return on your investment. In short, you want your company to be more efficient and profitable when the consultants walk out the door than it was when they walked in. Right? That should be a given.
But, what happens when the project is finished, when the consultants are not there to guide the process going forward? The answer to that question is process improvement sustainability and is a key element USC Consulting Group specializes in.
The aftermath: Preparing clients for sustainability
At USC Consulting Group, operations consulting is what we do. Companies bring us in to look at their operations with a fresh set of eyes, leveraging best practices we’ve learned in our half century (and counting) in the business. We’re not party to office politics and other company red tape, and as such, we’re able to make recommendations for necessary changes, process improvements, and operating and management system overhauls to get the company functioning optimally.
Increasing throughput and yield, reducing excess costs, identifying and eliminating waste — these are some of our areas of expertise. But, at USC, there’s one thing we DON’T do. We do not set it and forget it.
That’s one aspect of our approach that sets us apart from our competitors out there. We play the long game. We don’t swoop in, offer solutions and swoop out, leaving clients on their own. We deliver results that our clients can maintain. We make sure the positive changes we’ve helped companies enact will stick, long after we’re not walking through the door every day. It’s the whole “give a man a fish vs. teach him how to fish” philosophy. It’s our goal to give clients the tools to keep it going. Here’s how we do it:
1. Employee involvement. This needs to start from Day One. It’s hard to overstate how critical employee involvement is while the project is happening, and after it’s complete. We use “daily huddles” with team members to engage on things like scheduling, production, maintenance, quality, project status and much more. We do best practice skills. We review KPIs. The whole idea is to give team members the tools to continue successful operations and maintain the results we’ve achieved together.
2. Action items. Throughout our process, we will regularly identify action items, steps that need to take place going forward. We’ll get agreement on these and hold people accountable for success. It helps set them up for continued success after the project is finished.
3. Managing change management. We say it often — we can effect all the change in the world. But if we don’t manage that change correctly, none of it will stick. We’ve become experts in effective change management over the years. A few pearls of wisdom we’ve picked up along the way: Operational changes require behavioral changes. Employees, especially longtime employees, don’t necessarily love that. People need reassurance their jobs aren’t disappearing. Also, it’s extremely useful to recruit “advocates” on the front lines who can champion the changes we’re implementing. And it’s vital to be clear on the “why” of any changes put forth. Read more about it in “8 Change Management Best Practices to Ensure Sustainability” on our blog.
4. General training. We develop education and training for “in the field” work for team members, supervisors, leads and managers to support the Management Operating System changes being made by the team as well as supporting behavioral change management — also a critical part of the process. People need to do their jobs differently. Sometimes radically differently. And it can be a stumbling block for employees who may be resistant to change. The training gives them the skills to keep progress going.
5. Lean Six Sigma training. It’s a pretty safe bet you don’t have a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt on your staff currently. No problem. We do. One of the most effective ways to create lasting process improvements out there, Lean Six Sigma is the combination of two manufacturing methodologies, Lean, which is focused on eliminating waste and reducing process lead times and Six Sigma, which focuses on cutting down on defects and improving quality. But it takes a lot of study to get it right. That’s why we choose team members to train in this highly effective tool so our efforts using it to increase efficiency and decrease defects are sustainable. Read all about Lean Six Sigma in our eBook, “Lean Six Sigma: Do You Really Know These Methodologies?”
6. Toolkit. This is a playbook of what we’ve done on the project, successes we have achieved, steps forward, sustainable practices and more. It’s a detailed, workable plan that outlines how to go forward and build on that success.
All of these tactics work in tandem to ensure process improvement sustainability, so companies remain firing on all cylinders now and into the future. But, that’s not all. We may not be on site every day after a project is completed, but we’re always just a phone call away. We play the long game with our clients and perform audits to ensure sustained results. Setting and forgetting isn’t part of our playbook. Never has been. Never will be.
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The material handling industry is the backbone of globalized supply chains. However, it encounters a range of challenges, both internal and external. One notable external challenge is the impact of labor shortages on transportation and logistics, which are vital components of material handling operations.
To overcome these challenges, companies are making significant investments in technology. According to the 2023 MHI Annual Industry Report, 74% of supply chain leaders are increasing technology spending.
While capitalizing on advanced supply chain technologies can offer some respite, leaders may need to take more profound measures to effectively address the emerging issues.
In light of the survey responses featured in the MHI report, this article aims to explore the three primary challenges faced by the material handling industry.
#1: Worker safety
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 5,190 fatal work injuries in 2021, with 798 attributed to exposure to harmful materials or the environment — the highest figure since the series began in 2011!
Material handling operations often involve risky conditions for workers. From handling hazardous chemicals in facilities to lifting heavy loads in warehouses, workers in this supply chain sector regularly risk their health and lives.
Common causes of worker injuries in material handling include:
- improperly stored materials falling
- damaged storage units
- heavy manual lifting, pushing, or carrying
- exceeding loading limits on lifting equipment
- collision with materials or equipment.
Ensuring workers’ safety and security is vital and requires a multi-pronged approach. Safety negligence or violation can quickly become a compliance issue, resulting in monetary and reputational damage.
Material handling and supply chain companies address workplace safety challenges by providing personal protective equipment (PPE), delivering safety training, conducting equipment training, and performing safety audits.
Conscious companies that rely on manual labor also address the ergonomics of material handling in their safety training. Identifying ergonomic risk factors in manual or machine-supported lifting, carrying, and pushing jobs is critical for preventing fatigue and injury.
To prioritize the health and safety of their employees, conscious companies cultivate a “safety-first” culture. A prime example of a logistics company that excels in worker safety is DHL, based in Germany.
Safety is a core value for DHL, and they have implemented a holistic approach to address safety concerns through continuous training, strict compliance with regulations, and active employee engagement.
#2: Material and equipment damages
Poorly maintained equipment, untrained workers, and natural disasters can lead to expensive damages. Among these challenges, equipment damage stands out as one of the primary concerns for material handling companies, often resulting in downtime. In fact, unplanned downtime costs manufacturers a staggering $50 billion annually.
To ensure reliability and resilience, timely maintenance is crucial for all aspects of material handling operations, ranging from trucks and forklifts to pallets and sliding racks.
Similarly, it is equally important to prevent damage to the materials being handled by the equipment or workers. Well-organized warehouse loading and unloading processes, supported by well-trained workers and advanced technology, can effectively minimize material handling damages.
Many supply chain companies are leaning towards predictive maintenance solutions for equipment to ensure they are well-maintained for operations. Predictive maintenance leverages technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to predict potential problems with equipment and fleet.
In addition, these companies are minimizing accidents that result in costly damages through increased visibility. Warehouse inventory management and organization technology, for example, helps maintain optimal inventory levels, prevents overstocking, and ensures efficient use of storage space.
Gradesens, a Swiss company specializing in predictive maintenance, is helping logistics companies with very-narrow aisle warehouses proactively maintain automated systems for loading and unloading. With accurate and timely maintenance, the warehouses prevent downtime because of equipment failure.
#3: Controlling emissions
Carbon emissions are a huge problem for major industries, and material handling is no exception. With environmental organizations ringing alarm bells on rising global temperatures, material handling and supply chain leaders are paying close attention to sustainability.
Material handling operations, including warehousing, contribute to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through electricity usage, particularly natural gas. Additionally, using fossil fuel-powered vehicles and equipment contributes significantly to carbon emissions. Many material handling companies make up Scope 3 emissions for other organizations.
Fortunately, the material handling industry is adopting energy-efficient practices, thanks to environmental advocacy and pressure from governments with ambitious sustainability goals.
The MHI report revealed that organizations in material handling are investing in electrification, natural resource management, sustainable water consumption, and the transition to renewable energy.
Similarly, the European Logistics Supply Chain Sustainability Report found that 80% of surveyed companies consider sustainability a key focus area.
Material handling companies are reducing carbon footprint by investing in electric lift trucks. Electric forklifts have zero emissions compared to their counterparts powered by internal combustion engines.
Renewable energy has also been a focus for the industry, with major companies setting goals to go 100% carbon-neutral or net zero emissions. For instance, Amazon, the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy, uses clean energy in many fulfillment centers. The company plans to reach its 100% renewable energy goal by 2025.
Material handling is linked with virtually every industry, which makes its challenges essentially every industry’s challenges.
Some of the issues aren’t unique to material handling. For instance, sustainability is a global issue. The good news is that many companies are taking promising measures to combat these challenges: and technology is at the heart of these solutions.
It’s imperative for organizations in material handling to provide training and maintain equipment for better worker safety. Similarly, investing in clean energy solutions can go a long way in reducing emissions, which is good for the environment and business.
*This article is written by Matilda Odell. Matilda works as the Content Creation Specialist at the brand TAWI, a brand by Piab Group, which enables smart lifting optimized for people and businesses. Piab helps its customers to grow by transforming their businesses with increased automation. If you have any questions about lifting equipment such as vacuum lifters or other lifting devices, Matilda is the person to talk to.
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If your business is experiencing challenges with processes and operations, it isn’t as efficient as it should be, or if you are striving to increase throughput while cutting costs, it may be time to bring in an operations management consultant.
However, before you sign on the dotted line, you should know the advantages and drawbacks to hiring operations management consultants to help. Let’s take a behind-the-scenes look at operations consulting, how it can benefit your business and some pitfalls we can help you avoid.
Pros and cons of operations management consultants
Operations consulting is what USC Consulting Group has specialized in for more than half a century, and with that, we have been exposed to various situations around the world. But it’s not always easy bringing in people from the outside to tackle the challenges you’re having internally. Here are some pros and cons to consider.
Pro: Process improvement expertise. Your company is in the business of whatever it is you do. Consultants are in the business of process improvements. It’s all we do. We are experts in techniques like Lean Six Sigma (LSS) — there aren’t many companies out there with many in-house black belts in this discipline. LSS is focused on eliminating waste and improving throughput, and it takes years to become an expert in it. External consultants like USC goes beyond LSS to focus on both your people and processes.
Con: Lack of accountability. Some external consultants “fix it and forget it.” They swoop in, offer recommendations for change, hand you a file stuffed full of info about what they found and then swoop out, on to the next project. This is a serious drawback. (Note: USC does NOT work this way)
Pro: Industry expertise. At USC Consulting Group, we have 55 years of experience under our belts. We’ve seen it all. And while every situation and challenge is unique, we are coming at those challenges with decades of experience as our solid foundation for success.
Con: Learning curve. Consultants lack knowledge of in-house procedures and it takes a couple of weeks to get up to speed with a company’s specific processes. USC performs Feasibility Studies to build the business case for the project and at the same time get acquainted with the client’s facilities and operations. We start by listening, hastening that learning curve.
Pro: Training and improvement for staff. If you’re working with the right outside consultant, that is. At USC, we aren’t just about fixing challenges for companies. We coach and teach our clients on how to sustain those changes, instead of just fixing and forgetting. In other words, we provide the training and know-how for you to take it from there. The result is the upskilling of your employees as part of the bargain. That’s an added bonus not all consultants provide.
Con: Lack of sustainability. This is another potential downside of hiring the wrong consultant. Sure, it’s great to highlight challenges and offer recommendations for change, but those changes don’t stick if the consultant leaves it to you to implement them. That’s why we work with your team to implement the process improvement changes and train your people along the way so they can sustain the success long after we’ve left.
Pro: Unbiased third-party advisors. Consultants are not part of a company’s internal politics. We are above the fray. This comes in handy when recommending process changes, because who takes direction from whom can be tricky in companies. We’ve seen it time and time again: recommendations for change go down easier when they come from outside the organization, rather than from within it.
Con: Don’t know the unwritten or unspoken rules. Yes, we may be the aforementioned unbiased third-party advisors, and that’s a big advantage. But it also can be a stumbling block because we don’t know the unwritten rules in your organization. These are cultural norms, do’s and don’ts, that aren’t in any company handbook. Depending on the company, this may be good or bad.
Pro: Cost. Bringing in an outside consultant is actually less expensive than doing the project in-house. If you use an internal process improvement team made up of current employees from different departments, you’re not only paying the cost of the project itself, but the cost of lost productivity when team members are away from their usual duties. If you have a dedicated internal process improvement team, we’re talking about costs involved with salaries, benefits, perks and the whole nine yards. On top of all of that, you are risking the costs associated with failure because you don’t have experienced pros on the project. At USC, there are no net annualized costs due to the results and benefits achieved within the first year that continue for many years after.
Con: Cost. Yes, there are both pros and cons to cost. With consultants, you’ll have a large upfront investment. There’s just no getting around that. But, in the immortal words of the author Kurt Vonnegut, you get what you pay for. Hiring a consulting firm, you’re paying for process improvement expertise. At USC, we have 55+ years of it under our belts. One important thing to note: The breakeven point, when you’re reducing operating costs and improving productivity and throughput, this offsets the cost of the project and is usually realized within six months or sooner.
Pro: Fresh eyes to overcome challenges. You know what they say about forests and trees. Sometimes, internal people are simply too close to the problem to see their way out of it. We can look at the big picture and shine a light on processes and gaps that may be weighing you down.
Pro: Horsepower. USC Consulting Group empowers employees with the tools and techniques that drive optimal performance, adding “horsepower” to your teams. We can augment your team’s efforts and achieve results quicker.
So what does this all mean? Yes, there are drawbacks to be aware of when bringing in operations management consultants. However, when done right, the benefits they bring to your team and process improvement projects completely outshine those concerns.
USC Consulting Group stands ready to help you. Operations consulting is what we do. We know we can come in and get the job done, helping our clients achieve greater efficiency and throughput, improved processes and ultimately a healthier bottom line. We’ll be happy to talk with you about how we can augment your operations.
Already have an internal improvement team? Read more about both options in our article: “Operations Management Consultants vs. Internal Improvement Teams: What’s the Difference?”
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The eco-conscious movement is influencing a sustainable transition for manufacturers in the industrial sector. Higher demands for green products forces companies to lower their carbon emissions and surface-level waste production. Manufacturing facilities can limit their environmental effects by adopting six sustainability-enhancing practices.
1. Installing Solar
A direct way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is by installing renewable energy systems. Nearly 81% of America’s energy supply comes from fossil fuels. During combustion, they release air pollutants, degrading the atmosphere’s natural composition.
Manufacturers can install solar panels on roofs, accessing emission-free electricity. Reducing localized air pollution supports the regional ecosystem and improves air quality. Transitioning away from fossil-fuel-derived electricity towards solar power also decreases a manufacturing facility’s utility costs.
Solar is currently the most cost-effective energy source on the market. When manufacturers cater to eco-conscious consumers’ needs using renewable energy, they increase their profits while decreasing their production costs.
2. Recycling Excess Materials
Manufacturing facilities can also decrease their environmental impacts by recycling excess materials. Many companies dispose of unused products because it is cost-effective. Though recycling comes with a small monthly fee, it significantly improves a company’s sustainability.
Recycling metals like aluminum can minimize the energy used to make new versions by 90% on average. It decreases emissions and landfill usage, preserving the environment’s natural state. Companies can also repurpose their excess materials, further reducing their ecological effects.
3. Increasing Water Efficiency
Manufacturing facilities may additionally improve their eco-friendliness by reducing freshwater exploitation. Companies can install a rainwater harvesting system to decrease their reliance on conventional water supplies. The system collects storm discharge in barrels, filters it, and pumps it into hoses, faucets, showerheads, and more.
4. Install Smart Devices
Companies can also decrease resource exploitation by installing smart devices. America uses nearly 155 billion kilowatt-hours of energy for commercial cooling alone. Manufacturing facilities can limit their electricity use by utilizing smart thermostats.
The device connects to a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, maintaining energy-efficient indoor temperatures. It gathers real-time weather predictions through a Wi-Fi connection, adjusting the thermostat to decrease emissions. Additionally, the device uses motion detection sensors, shutting the system off when a building is vacant.
5. Receive an Energy Audit
Receiving an energy audit can increase a manufacturer’s awareness of sustainability limitations. Companies now conduct audits specific to the standards of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). They assess the efficiency of devices, systems, and more, evaluating the entire facility’s emissions and eco-friendliness.
6. Use Automated Technology
More industries are using robots to increase the energy efficiency of manufacturing processes. Automated devices are more accurate than humans, decreasing error-derived material waste. Engineers also design the technology to limit electricity use, shrinking a facility’s carbon footprint.
Companies must also enhance the sustainability of their manufacturing processes to become greener. The products they use significantly affect their eco-friendliness. Some manufacturers outsource their materials from underdeveloped countries, accessing the most cost-effective versions.
These inexpensive goods are sometimes less sustainable because of their transportation footprint. International shipping practices account for 740 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Outsourcing materials can expand a manufacturer’s carbon footprint and decrease its ethical accountability.
Many cost-effective, outsourced materials come from countries with limited regulations and inadequate workers’ rights. When a company purchases products from these regions, they support unethical practices. Manufacturers can increase their sustainability by sourcing eco-conscious materials from their area, limiting emissions and regulating development.
They may also use low-emission tools and machines, further shrinking their footprints. Manufacturers can additionally collect excess materials and reuse them for future projects. Decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and material waste may significantly increase a company’s sustainability.
Implementing Change Today
Manufacturers can enhance their facility’s sustainability by installing green systems and training employees to minimize waste and emissions. Adopting eco-conscious practices may be challenging for some workers, and there are methods of increasing their willingness to take part. Employers can use sustainable change to show they care and value their employees.
Lowering emissions and eschewing environmentally degrading materials can protect workers from polluted air consumption. Using automated systems also decreases their risk of injury on the job. When employees discover the importance of enhancing sustainability, a manufacturing facility can achieve efficient changes.
*This article is written by Devin Partida. Devin is a tech writer with an interest in IIoT and manufacturing. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of ReHack.com.
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At USC Consulting Group, we are an experienced operations management firm that is proud to say we’ve been in business for more than 50 years. Not many companies like ours can say that. Here’s a look into how we work, and how we’ve stayed on top for more than five decades… and counting.
We don’t sit in the CEO’s office preaching about how you can improve your business. We work with your employees at all levels to learn the issues disrupting your operations and together we implement improvements.
Upgrade to state-of-the-art machinery? That’s a huge expense you probably don’t need. We help you get more out of your existing assets.
New safety protocols like temperature checks and physical distancing are taking everyone’s productivity down a notch. Supply chain disruptions aren’t helping, either. That’s why it’s crucial to be as efficient as possible.
We uncover hidden opportunities for greater efficiency in your processes and transfer that knowledge to your team to ensure sustainability.
Running like that proverbial well-oiled machine will be the key to you not simply surviving, but thriving. USC Consulting can help you get there.
Watch below to see what working with USC Consulting Group looks like:
If you are in need of an experienced operations management firm to improve your business, look no further than USC Consulting Group. We will help you reduce operating costs and improve productivity across your entire supply chain. Contact us today.
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Nobody knows the job better than your frontline employees. So, when you’re instituting new efficiencies to improve the processes and procedures that they use on the job every day, one vital key to success is getting their buy-in from the get-go.
At USC Consulting Group, helping companies find process improvements is what we do. We work with companies in industries like manufacturing, mining and metals, oil and gas, food and beverage, transportation and logistics, and others to become more efficient, effective and in the end, profitable. We strive to empower your performance and help you reach your highest potential by uncovering greater operating excellence across the entire supply chain. It’s about identifying and eliminating wasteful practices and procedures.
One big difference between us and the other guys is how we go about doing that.
We sell our methodology and our process, not just a solution
Nine times out of ten, when companies come to us, they already have a pretty good idea of what their challenges are. So we don’t go into a client engagement telling them what we think they should do. We have over 50 years in this industry behind us, but all of that experience doesn’t mean we provide cookie-cutter solutions. Most of our clients are looking to us to break bottlenecks in their operation, find out if they can do more with what they have, or even do more with less. But every one of our clients is unique. Every one of those bottlenecks has a different cause. The only way to find the best road that will lead to more process efficiencies is not to rest on our laurels and do what worked for the last client, but to roll up our sleeves, get into your operation and see what’s going on.
A big part of that is listening to your frontline people.
Your frontline employees are the key to the success of the project
We don’t simply sit in your boardroom and pontificate with your C-suite about how to do things better. At USCCG, we believe it’s about effecting change at the point of execution. That means we involve your frontlines. Ferreting out new processes and solutions that can increase efficiencies starts with the people actually doing the job. It’s the only way it’s going to work. Here’s why:
A single source of truth. By talking to your frontline employees, we get the lowdown on what’s happening in your operation day to day. We hear what’s going right, and at times, what’s going wrong. They often can see what the problems are, but not know how to fix them. We can get the single source of truth from your frontlines and implement plans to fix the issues and improve productivity. It’s crucial to finding where efficiencies can happen.
From resistance to change… We get it; change is difficult to accept. More than that, it can be threatening. Frankly, it’s completely counterproductive to swoop in and tell people that the way they’ve been doing their jobs for years is inefficient at best and wrong at worst. You’ll lose their cooperation. They’ll be resistant to any new ideas, because those new ideas mean the way they’ve been working has been wrong. If you don’t get their cooperation, it can be difficult to implement any sort of process changes. And if you have their opposition, it can be downright impossible.
…to drivers of change. That’s why involving your employees in the process from the start is so important. It ensures they’ll feel listened to and respected. It won’t be something that’s happening to them. Positioning this process as a way to harvest their wealth of frontline information in order to make the company more effective and efficient is the key to making it work. We involve employees from the get-go, and time and time again, we’ve seen them become the drivers of change.
Making the changes stick. Initial buy-in is only the beginning of the importance of your employees to this process. It goes further than that. It’s about making sure those changes stick. Your employees need to feel invested in the process changes in order for them to stick to them, on the job, every day. That’s why we don’t come in and hand them a new playbook. They’ll help write it. And that’s crucial to the success of implementing change.
At USC Consulting Group, we understand how important employees are in the process of change. We will respect them, listen to their institutional knowledge that only years on the job day after day can provide, and create a collaborative approach to finding the hidden opportunities for greater efficiency in your operation.
For more information about how we work during this time of COVID, download our free eBook Times have Changed – USCCG Can Help You Adapt.
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Sustainability ranks among the most discussed concepts of the past decade — and for good reason. Everyone from the blue-collar breadwinner to the high-powered executive is grappling with going green. Their respective decisions regarding sustainability carry immense weight within the global marketplace, where demand drives operational decision-making. Businesses within numerous sectors are feeling the effects of sustainability’s emergence in consumer and enterprise circles as a consequence. Chemical industry companies are among the organizations most susceptible to this development. Why? Many depend on industrial niches that produce products at risk for reduced usage or outright elimination due to the onward march of sustainability initiatives. Approximately 60% of all ethylene, the most widely manufactured organic compound in the world, per the American Chemical Society, goes toward the creation of polyethylene, the substance used to create sustainability’s mortal enemy: plastic. Petrochemicals essential to the production of petroleum face similar fates, as both businesses and consumers turn away from traditional energy sources and embrace solar and wind power.
These risks necessitate significant action. The chemicals industry should begin adjusting to these developing marketplace conditions and prepare themselves for an immediate future when the plastics and fuels that once characterized material society no longer generate the interest and related revenue they once did.
Consumers support sustainable alternatives
While marketplace variables like availability and price still carry immense importance among consumers, another factor has risen to challenge these once-bedrock value propositions: sustainability. Modern consumers are intent on preserving the environment and protecting themselves and their children against manmade ingredients and products they see as harmful. In fact, almost three-quarters would change their shopping habits to reduce their environmental footprints, while more than one-third are willing to spend more on products that deliver on claims of sustainability, according to researchers from Nielsen.
As mentioned above, discontinuing plastic use is at the center of many consumers’ personal sustainability efforts. Hundreds of millions of tons of plastic are manufactured annually, the Association of Plastics Manufacturers discovered. Food packaging manufacturers account for 40% of this material, while building materials makers produce around 20%. Organizations within the automotive, electronic, household materials, and sports and leisure markets are responsible for the rest. The plastics these businesses produce serve a purpose, of course. However, such items are not biodegradable and often find their way into natural environment, where they can do damage to animal and plant life. Additionally, some consumers wonder how plastics and the chemicals with which they are produced affect humans, particularly children. For instance, many have joined the crusade against bisphenols, or BPAs, in recent years due to preliminary medical research that indicates such plastic might cause health issues in children, per the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Consumers are similarly concerned about fossil fuel consumption and its potential impact on the natural world. In fact, more than 60% of Americans believe the widespread release of greenhouse gas is causing climate change, researchers for Yale University and George Mason University recently learned. As a result, support for environmentally friendly energy solutions, including wind and solar power, is growing, per Pew Research Center, which revealed that two-thirds of Americans support the expansion of sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel and coal. Many are taking action personally to de-emphasize fossil fuel by purchasing hybrid electrical vehicles, which have experienced significant sales growth since the early 2000s, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Businesses follow the money
With large numbers of consumers embracing sustainability, enterprises have no choice but to follow suit. More than three-quarters of consumers expect businesses to develop and deploy corporate sustainability initiatives, according to analysis from Nielsen. Even buyers from older generations — 65% of the silent generation and 72% of baby boomers, specifically — are on board with such programs.
This is why an estimated 82% of S&P 500 companies have corporate sustainability initiatives in place, per the Governance and Accountability Institute. These internal initiatives encompass a whole host of functions, including everything from back-office paper reduction to the use of biodegradable packaging. Some organizations have gone even further than this. For instance, Google, which operates numerous data centers and offices across the globe, pledged to swap all of its traditional energy sources for renewable alternatives back in 2010. The technology giant accomplished this goal in 2017. Facebook embarked on the same quest in 2013 and is expected to complete the transition to 100% renewable energy by 2020. Even oil companies are embracing sustainability due to pressure from environmentally geared investors, The Houston Chronicle reported.
Chemical companies take action
These developments have chemical companies searching for new operational strategies that will keep them solvent as consumer and enterprise attitudes toward nonsustainable materials grow more negative. How can such organizations survive without plastics and petrol? While there is no all-encompassing antidote, innovative players within the space are nearing long-term solutions by focusing on process improvement and change management.
Reporters for Bloomberg recently covered the emergence of industrial plastic recycling and the chemical industry’s role in its development. Approximately 60 chemical firms are working together to perfect a reuse workflow that allows shop floor teams to break down used plastic components — old food containers, for example — and reintroduce their molecular remnants into production processes. This closed circular strategy would not only reduce the volume of plastic material threatening the environment but also lend chemical companies invested in the production of the material new life. This is the kind of transformative process change businesses within the industry should pursue to ensure they remain viable after sustainability has transitioned from trend to status quo.
Chemical companies embarking on process improvements to address the emergence of sustainability could encounter trouble when pursuing such enhancements alone. Few operational stakeholders and executives have the bandwidth necessary to manage chemical manufacturing operations within an immensely competitive marketplace while also seeking out and implementing shop floor improvements. Fortunately, there is an effective solution to the time-management conundrum: partnering with a tried-and-true industrial consultancy like USC Consulting Group. We have been helping companies of every size, in virtually every sector, optimize their operations for decades, leveraging proven techniques and tools that ease change management and lay the foundation for growth.
Contact us today to learn more about our work.
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With approximately 765 million acres of woodland, America ranks among the most forested nations, according to research from the U.S. Forest Service. Consequently, the country boasts a healthy forestry sector. After evaluating raw data from the USFS and the Institute for Supply Management, analysts from Forest2Market found that total production is up across the industry, as lumber, paper, pulp, and wood manufacturers rush to fill increasing order volumes. However, the industry faces multiple large-scale challenges that threaten to erode recent gains. Here are some of those obstructions and how they might affect the American forestry industry:
Massive blazes have dominated the news in recent months. The Woolsey and Camp Fires together devastated more than 250,000 acres and killed 91 people throughout Southern California in October and November 2018. Unfortunately, California and other western states have grown accustomed to such disasters over the last decade or so. The total amount of acreage burned has steadily increased since 2003, according to data from the National Interagency Fire Center, compiled and published by the Insurance Information Institute.
In addition to creating a serious public safety risk, wildfires especially problematic for businesses in the American forestry industry. Wildfires are among the most serious threats to forest resource supply, according to research from the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. As these blazes increase in volume and intensity, the total inventory of usable trees drops. In fact, American forestry companies on the West Coast are already grappling with operational issues linked to the recent California wildfires. Unfortunately, these disasters are likely to increase in frequency over the coming years, which means organizations in the U.S. forestry sector must take action to protect their supply chains. Increased investment in the fuel management activities is an ideal course of action, as is the introduction of supply fail-safes that kick in should a blaze destroy linchpin wood supplies.
Many companies made changes to their forest management practices in 1992 as a result of the UN introducing the Forest Principles during its conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. This document called on member nations to promote forestry practices that “meet the social, economic, ecological, cultural and spiritual needs of present and future generations.” In the years since, the concepts laid out in the Forest Principles have gained serious traction in the industry because of the emergence of various supply risks, including insect infestation and wildfire. By ensuring forest biodiversity, facilitating healthy ecosystems, and maintaining and conserving clean soil and water resources, businesses in the forestry sector can address such hazards and cultivate long-lasting supplies, according to the USFS.
However, this is difficult and expensive work. Companies pursuing the Sustainable Forestry Initiative’s certification standard often incur extra costs during the process, researchers for the North Carolina State University found. While many have the budget required to hire extra forest management staffers and implement strong sustainability programs, a similarly large number do not. Recent developments have revealed sustainable forest management to be essential today. This puts lumber producers in a tough position.
Despite recent success in the marketplace, organizations in the American forestry industry are suffering operational dysfunction linked to staffing shortages. The logging workforce is declining at an accelerated rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which estimates that the industry will be short of some 7,000 loggers by 2026.
Logging is an incredibly dangerous job and takes an immense physical toll on workers, two factors that dissuade younger U.S. residents from entering this vital profession, NPR reported. It also applies to tradesmen and engineers in the mills. Young engineers do not want to join this industry because the mills tend to be located in smaller towns and there is a belief that forestry is not “high tech.”
Additionally, training in this area is hard to come by, according to the Forest Resource Association. People who might be interested in working in the forestry industry struggle to get the education and practical instruction they need to find success out in the field. Therefore, many companies are having difficulty replacing tradesmen as they retire and, in turn, are losing all that knowledge and expertise. Businesses in the industry must address this ongoing issue to ensure they can meet customer demand and remain competitive in the marketplace. USC Consulting Group helps by providing a framework to define the skills required and “downloads” the knowledge of retiring tradesmen into solid job instructions for future maintenance work.
Together, these challenges appear daunting to even the most capable American lumber, paper, pulp, and wood manufacturers. However, these organizations have no choice but to pursue internal improvements that mitigate the impact of wildfires, promote sustainability, and address staffing shortages. Of course, companies in the sector don’t have to embark on such efforts alone. Here at USC Consulting Group, we have been assisting enterprises in the forestry industry for decades, lending them external perspective and operational expertise they need to reshape their operations in response to significant challenges.
Contact us today to learn more about our work in the forestry industry.
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Energy companies across the globe have been forced to change their operational approaches in response to an evolving energy marketplace. Crude oversaturation, along with the emergence of cost-effective alternative sources such as natural gas, has pushed per-gallon prices for gasoline and oil down considerably, according to research from the Energy Information Administration. Consequently, firms have found themselves engineering massive restructuring initiatives over the past two years, transforming their business verticals and on-the-ground workflows via mergers and acquisitions, all in an effort to remain prosperous in the low-price era, CNBC reported.
With this work completed, analysts expect more transactions to occur within the global energy space. However, this M&A activity will constitute the heart of portfolio consolidation programs aimed at catalyzing growth and bolstering production. How might this unfold?
Understanding the M&A environment
Many large oil and gas producers with balanced budgets are looking to increase efficiency at scale through tactical moves that allow them to net more acreage in high-yielding territory. At the same time, smaller organizations with considerable experience and drilling inventory seek to scale up through acquisition. This environment gives oil and gas giants such as Exxon Mobil the opportunity to acquire valuable assets located in prime drilling territory that requires little to no investment. RSP Permian, an independent driller based in Dallas, Texas, is an exemplary target for bigger producers hoping to consolidate through targeted M&A activity, according to Forbes contributor and energy journalist Claire Poole. The firm controls more than 500,000 acres of territory in the oil-rich Permian Basin, making the small yet well-established company an ideal acquisition for large organizations focused on solidifying their core operations.
Of course, RSP Permian is not the only viable asset on the market. A handful of other hardy entities are available for purchase. As a result, a significant number of transactions are likely to occur over the next seven months. By year end, the upstream transaction total may eclipse the $64 billion recorded in 2017, according to analysts at the oil and gas research firm 1Derrick.
Grasping the production impact
How will increased M&A activity affect production? Last year’s figures suggest improvement. Even as oil and gas companies swapped assets in 2017, crude production moved upward, especially in the U.S. market where companies exported record amounts of crude oil and petroleum products, the EIA reported. In short, a repeat performance is to be expected during this year of consolidation through M&A.
Oil and gas enterprises navigating this transaction-heavy territory should consider connecting with the industry experts at USC Consulting Group. With 50 years of experience, our consultants can help energy producers on both sides of the M&A equation achieve ideal outcomes. Not only will USC help streamline the M&A process, but they can help improve overall production and process efficiency focusing on areas such as asset performance management, predictive and preventative maintenance, throughput, reliability and sustainability, and inventory control. Contact us today to learn more.
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What challenges do food and beverage companies face when integrating high-pressure processing equipment?
At first glance, high-pressure processing – or HPP – appears to be the answer to a question the food and beverage industry has long sought: What is the best way to process goods based on consumer interest?
HPP technology replicates extremely pressurized environments, thereby eliminating viral or bacterial growth as well as other such biota without introducing goods to high heat or infusing them with additives. This innovation marks a turning point in the industry at a time when an increasingly discerning consumer base has its eyes on how brands process their foods and drinks safely and sustainably.
However, integrating high-pressure processing technology into plant operations can’t be done overnight. In some instances, many internal factors must be accounted for before installing the equipment. Otherwise, businesses run the risk of hurting process efficiency, compromising quality, and creating a wasteful production system.
Process validation always difficult for new technologies
When engineers and food scientists develop breakthroughs in processing goods, validation teams must intervene and ensure these methods or machines act how they were designed to – not just once, but at every unique application. These days, many regulators have their sights on HPP, and for good reason.
According to Food Safety Magazine, HPP processes represent one of several non-thermal approaches to quality control, including cold plasma and high-intensity pulsed light technology, still heavily scrutinized by validating regulators. Not because the process itself is flawed, but rather because it is so new validation specialists still need to compile knowledge before easing up on validation measures across all applications.
To accomplish this, regulators require a lot of operational data to validate HPP processes, perhaps more so than would be necessary if a business simply installed familiar equipment with a more easily verifiable history. For businesses hoping to integrate HPP quickly, advanced data management strategies could provide regulators with the necessary information as completely as possible and at a faster clip. Before high-pressure processing integration, they must be sure the operational data management processes in place are capable of demonstrating the equipment’s potential so lag does not occur.
Possible changes to packaging materials may be necessary
One of the beauties of HPP technology is its ability to process goods after they’ve been packaged. This both enhances the quality of the foods and beverages right up to distribution and has the potential to accelerate cycle times along the way thanks to its instantaneous application of pressure.
That said, certain food and beverage packaging cannot withstand HPP treatment, according to a study by the National Food Lab. Metal and glass, for instance, would break under the intense conditions. Additionally, the National Food Lab specifies any flexible packaging like vacuum seals or plastics must “be compressed by about 15 percent without suffering structural damage and […] return to its original shape upon pressure release” to be considered safe in the long term.
Businesses should therefore research in advance of high-pressure processing technology investment as to whether their current packaging strategy will hold up or need a complete overhaul. Knowing one way or the other could factor into asset purchase and future training courses on new HPP equipment, as well as any new operational requirements for packaging necessary to supplement changes to product processing.
Consider how to maintain product uniformity throughout HPP equipment life cycle
Over time all equipment malfunctions, and HPP assets are no different. For instance, pistons creating the pressurized environment may do so unevenly when not calibrated properly, causing ruptured packages and destroyed goods when too high or potentially passing contaminated products when too low. Food and beverage businesses can look for these effects as signs their HPP machinery might be on the fritz, but by then it may be too late to continue production on time and at volume. Due to the high costs of HPP equipment and their importance to quality control, businesses may only rely on a few machines for their entire operation.
So, what should happen when HPP equipment is found to be technically deficient? Like all other capital-intensive assets on a production line, it needs to be serviced. However, reactive maintenance strategies will only exacerbate issues by bottlenecking production when machinery breaks down. Instead, businesses should establish predictive and proactive maintenance standards, as well as a system for ranking internal assets. That way, maintenance specialists can prioritize HPP repairs over less vital work orders.