9 essential tips to reduce waste in manufacturing

The amount of waste that your manufacturing facilities produce is related to the efficiency of your operations and, in turn, your profits. Here are different ways in which you can reduce waste that your manufacturing facilities produce.

recycling center repurposing waste produced from manufacturing.
Last updated: 02.12.2022

Manufacturing wastes could mean different things in different industries.

Regardless of specific definitions, reducing waste in manufacturing translates to higher efficiency. Fortunately, we have come a long way in understanding the different types of manufacturing wastes and how to reduce them.

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Lean manufacturing and perception of waste

With the introduction of lean manufacturing, the perception towards manufacturing waste management changed significantly.

Lean principles encoded the idea of eliminating waste from the process of manufacturing. The lean manufacturing principles require you to define value and then classify your processes into two depending on whether they provide value to your business and customers. This process allows you to identify and systematically reduce waste in manufacturing.

7 types of waste in lean manufacturing

Knowing and identifying the types of waste your manufacturing workflows create helps you to tackle it better.

Lean principles categorize the different types of manufacturing waste in the following way:

  1. Overproduction: Producing more than what is needed, simply to store it
  2. Waiting: Idle machines and technicians, bottlenecks in your production
  3. Transport: Moving parts and products multiple times
  4. Processing: Performing unnecessary processing steps in the production of your products
  5. Inventory: Overstocking supplies leads to manufacturing overheads in storage and inventory management
  6. Motion: Inefficient workflows and routing manufacturing lead to technicians spending energy looking for tools etc.
  7. Correction: Producing defective products or employing a process that produces a lot of scrap

Unrealized potential is often considered the eighth type of waste in lean. Underutilizing the skills of your workforce is probably the most important and, at the same time, the hardest form of waste to minimize.

How to reduce waste in manufacturing?

With the above classification, you can understand the kind of waste you generate the most regardless of your industry.

Of course, the specifics differ from industry to industry. For instance, waste can come from perishables expiring in the food manufacturing business. Whereas in textile and metal manufacturing, waste comes from scraps. However, mapping out your waste streams and classifying the type of waste you generate is the first step.

Once you have that clear, you can move on to the various things that you can do to reduce waste.

9 tips to reduce waste in manufacturing

Regardless of the sector, here are nine tips that outline how you can reduce the amount of waste from your manufacturing facilities. 

1. Set a waste management goal

Once you have defined and understood the wastes you generate, your next step should be to set a waste management goal and commit to it.

Setting a goal can help you and your team to stay on track and assess how well your company is cutting excess waste. For instance, you could set a goal of reducing waste by 25% in the upcoming quarter. Setting a goal allows you to quantify the progress that you are making towards the goal.

This step also involves getting your entire company on board with the goal and contributing enthusiastically towards it.

Can you strive for perfection in reducing waste?

Let’s use the above example, setting a goal of reducing 25% more waste every quarter. Over four quarters, your company will have produced 100% less waste.

That is like zero waste.

If only life was that simple. Certainly, you can aim to remove every wasteful thing from your production lines. Unfortunately, it’s impossible — instead, the goal is to perfect your business value continuously. 

You can read more about how to do this by checking out this article on lean manufacturing principles

2. Minimize overstocking and overproduction

The overheads that come from overstocking and overproduction can lead to a significant waste of resources.

An effective way to combat this is by establishing a pull-based system, so you only produce products that are required by the customers. The idea is to create your system to get its raw materials and produce final products in a just-in-time fashion. Such a production system allows you to focus on making your workflows efficient and producing a high-quality product.

Forecasting and production planning capabilities offered by a manufacturing ERP, like Katana, are extremely effective in reducing this type of waste.

3. Stay on top of your inventory

Eliminating excess stock can be a tough goal to achieve.

Your workflows might often require you to maintain certain levels of stock. In such cases, the next best thing you can do is complete control of your inventory. A batch of expired products can throw off your entire production schedule and delay your orders.

An effective inventory tracking system can ensure you use your products well before they go bad.

Some live inventory management software often offers end-to-end traceability features. For instance, Katana includes purchase order management, batch tracking, and expiry date tracking features, which help you streamline your inventory management.

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4. Set up a preventive maintenance schedule

Machines that break down in the middle of production add unnecessary delays in your manufacturing process and additional operating expenses in the form of repairs.

As they say, prevention is better than cure. So, a preventive maintenance schedule that allows you to perform regular maintenance activities can prevent the unexpected breakdown of your machinery — ensuring that your production process continues uninterrupted.

5. Optimize your shop floor

Imagine your shop floor not knowing about the modifications to the order that your customer requested.

In the worst case, this could mean that the product ends up in the trash, and you have to make a new one all over again. A paper-based communication system could lead to mistakes and waste like these. Or imagine a technician having to walk around the shop floor looking for a specific tool to complete a job.

This delays order fulfillment and frustrates your workforce, leading to higher attrition rates.

Having effective and fast communication on the shop floor can unlock value and prevent waste.

With the Katana Shop Floor App, you can add notes to manufacturing orders and track time spent on tasks to optimize the shop floor processes.

6. Reduce packaging

Revisiting how you pack and ship your products could lead you to reduce waste significantly as well.

For example, Apple decided to ship only a cable but not the adapter with its iPhones, starting with the iPhone 12. This allowed it to pack the new iPhones in smaller boxes. This controversial move reduced packaging waste significantly and reportedly increased Apple’s profits by a whopping $6.5 billion.

This shows that at large volumes, even small changes could lead to immense gains in terms of profit and sustainability. So, simple tweaks like switching to recyclable materials or reducing packaging can go a long way. 

7. Perform a professional waste audit

A waste audit allows you to analyze your waste streams and find different ways in which you can reduce waste.

Although you can do it yourself, an external audit can set you on a path toward obtaining green certification. So, hiring a professional waste auditing firm might be a worthwhile investment if you get green certification.

8. Invest in processes that can bring about a circular economy

There is a growing movement toward designing eco-friendly products and processes with a large focus on reuse, repair, refurbishing, and recycling. This ensures that your products have a long lifecycle, at the end of which they can be repurposed — preventing them from ending up in a landfill.

You could aim high and invest in production processes that produce zero waste and promote this idea of a circular economy.

9. Get creative

Some byproducts of your manufacturing process that you might deem a waste are probably still valuable. There could be an opportunity to repurpose waste — let’s take a look at an example.

The dairy and cheese industry used to consider whey to be a waste product up until the 1950s. Often large dairy processing plants would pay to dispose of the excess whey. Then along came whey protein, the boom of weight-lifting as a sport, and large-scale market adoption. So, what was earlier considered a waste product is now the raw material for a multi-billion dollar protein supplement industry.

And watch out for holiday wastage 

While considering the nine items in our list above, it’s also crucial to consider moments in the year when your business is most at risk of higher wastage – the holidays. These are the big sale events where you’ll see rapidly increasing orders and sky-high demand for faster service at a cheaper price. If you’ve got your waste management in order, you’ll be off to a good start, but if you’re not well-prepared, the sales might hurt your bottom line instead of helping it. Let’s look at the different phases of the year when the holidays come along. 

Early year holidays 

Beyond potential New Year sales, Valentine’s Day, and days related to your parents, there aren’t so many big banner sale moments in the first part of the year. For some businesses, these won’t even make a dent in day to day life, but if you’re making greetings cards or novelty gifts, they’re big moments.  

Make sure you have waste goals set, and look at trends from previous years to help predict your requirements for stock and production so you don’t over-do it, but you’re not hit by a dreaded stock-out either. 

Black Friday 

It comes a month before perhaps the biggest shopping event of the year, but Black Friday is starting to give Christmas a run for its money. With huge sales across nearly every industry, Black Friday is a moment that shoppers wait for with anticipation. It’s a moment when items hit a great price, and people are ready to yell “Shut up and take my money!” But for manufacturers, Black Friday is a big waste risk.

Get more Black Friday tips and insights

Katana is helping businesses prepare for the holiday season, and breeze through Black Friday, Christmas, and into the new year with awesome order organization and excellent waste management.

If you’re not fully prepared for Black Friday, it can be a chaotic and hectic time of year, and you might look to produce enough stock to meet demand, and accidentally overshoot this. Or perhaps worse, undershoot and be frantically reordering to meet awaiting orders. Either way, you’re in a mess. This is where we come back to forecasting for demand, and optimizing your shop floor to meet orders in good time. It’s crucial to make a surplus of popular products before Black Friday, but not to go overboard so you’re left holding stock that may never sell. 

And a final consideration, which could bring an advantage, is the proximity to Christmas. A month after Black Friday, you do have an opportunity to sell some of that excess stock, and using kitting to create attractive holiday gift boxes, or further reductions could help clean your storage space and reduce stock to a normal level. 


It’s worth also touching on Christmas specifically, as arguably the biggest annual holiday we have globally. Planning ahead for Christmas should start months in advance, and with smart waste planning you can make it run smoothly for you and your business. It’s a moment when it’s almost a necessity for people to buy, and meeting people at the right price can see products soar off the shelves. 

Perhaps it’s worth planning your waste audit for early January to reflect on your holiday performance and prepare well for the year ahead. And make sure when Christmas comes around, you aren’t wasting precious time on waste that should be for important work, and wonderful family time. 

ERP systems like Katana can help you reduce waste in multiple ways. With features like inventory control and end-to-end traceability, Katana can take the ick out of your journey to reduce waste. Get a 14-day free trial and find out how thousands of manufacturers use Katana to optimize their business operations. 

Tejas Shah

Tejas Shah

Freelance copywriter

Tejas is one of those rare developers who loves to write. He has a penchant for researching topics in depth and weaving words creatively.

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