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Opportunities For Furniture Cleaner Production Using Process Flow Analysis

This article was aimed at identifying opportunities for cleaner production (CP) from the process flow analysis of a furniture manufacturing company located in the municipality of Palhoça in Brazil. In addition, the association of CP to process flows would be a preventive measure leads to a new connection between process optimisation and environmental performance. By Patrícia Soares Lins, Rita Dione Araujo Cunha, Asher Kiperstok and Sandro Fábio César, Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), Áurea Luiza Rosa e Silva Quixabeira Rapôso, Federal Institute of Alagoas (IFAL) 


The adaption of companies to new trends in society, as well as to new technologies, the optimisation of processes in the physical factory space, combined with the adaption to socio-environmental issues and the continuous search for a cleaner production (CP) are contemporary needs that increase competition levels, attached with social and environmental responsibilities.

Environmental issues bring great challenges to companies. These issues put pressure on companies to take into account environmental impacts in their business plans, as these impacts may have an effect on costs (reduction of time, material, and energy) and increase customer demand. 

Environmental (lack of resources), regulatory (policies and legislation), and market pressures promote production and consumption standards that have less environmental impact, bringing new business opportunities and innovation.

Besides managing resources and optimising processes, under an environmental management perspective, companies must fulfil the needs of the new profile of customers and consumers (green consumers) of products and services, who seek economic, social, and environmental responsibility. 

In addition, the priorities of the industry of the contemporary world must take into account a sustainable economy and energy, as well as digital economy, smart mobility, safety, sustainable infrastructure, and an innovative workspace, i.e., the layout of work facilities.

The productivity and efficiency of a company are based on ‘continuous internal improvements’, ranging from the increase in the productivity of workers (distribution and flow of workers throughout the production process), levels of stock control and management, better distribution of resources by departments (layout of physical facilities), and balance between production lines until internal improvements in process flows, maintenance, and productive capacity, and on the reduction of waste and emissions.


The Furniture Sector

The furniture sector, chosen for this study, is inserted in this context of continuous internal improvements. In 2017, this sector was responsible for the generation of 268,900 direct and indirect jobs in Brazil, representing 3.3 percent of workers in industrial production, thus playing a relevant role in the wood production chain, with strong social impact. 

In 2018, data from the Brazilian furniture industry identified the existence of 46 furniture production centres and 21,800 companies in the country, with greater presence of micro-enterprises (17,300) and small companies (3800).

Besides being a traditional sector, the furniture industry involves the production of durable goods, being structured on a semi-industrial manufacturing system, mainly in terms of the production of small businesses or small-scale production. 

The furniture industry uses wood as its main raw material, being one of the biggest consumers of natural resources from forests and a great waste generator. Despite this reality, Brazil still does not have any legal norms that impose the implementation of CP in companies.

A study carried out in the furniture industry in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul (RS, Brazil) concluded that most of the waste from this industry comes from sawn wood (1381.00 tonnes), as well as from chipboards (1209.11 tonnes), medium‐density fibreboards (MDF) (331.99 tonnes), plywood, primary process wood sheets, and cutting and finishing processes. These wastes can become raw materials for other processes, although they can pose great challenges to the environmental management of companies.

Data from the furniture sector show that large amounts of feedstock waste, wood, is generated, demonstrating the inefficiency of the production process to which the different systems and technologies (processes, layout design of the facilities, stock location and control, movement of people and material) are submitted to. 

The way in which these are arranged generate losses, with a negative impact on the transformation industry. Nonetheless, these losses can be analysed under a process flow analysis perspective to be reduced.

There is a considerable gap in the literature regarding approaches that consider a diagnostic analysis of process flows in the physical spaces of industrial facilities (layout design) associated to CP and aiming at generating continuous improvements to enable a gradual implementation of CP in small companies of the furniture industry.


Micro-enterprise Case Story

This research was carried out in a micro-enterprise (ME) in the furniture manufacturing and trade industry, focused on furniture for offices, with a serial and tailored production process. According to the Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service (SEBRAE), a micro-enterprise (ME) is a small business with a revenue equal to or lower than R$360,000, with up to 19 workers (Complementary Federal Law no. 123/2006).

It covers a land area of 1410 sqm, in a densely occupied commercial and industrial area (347.56 inhabitants per km2). In 2015, it produced 10 different furniture lines for offices: Furniture for call centres, workstations, platforms, reception, and furniture lines with drawers, shelves, desks and archives. In 2018, the same furniture lines were still present, although there were changes in the design, with updates of the materials used and the inclusion of customised furniture.

In 2015, in its organigram, the company employed, apart from its director, 17 staff members (3 female and 14 male), with one of them being a production engineer. No quantitative record of waste of the material used was registered, such as medium-density fibreboard (MDF) or medium-density particleboard (MDP), among others. In 2018, waste (considered as by-products in this work) collection was still carried out by the same specialised company, although still without any quantitative record of the waste produced or of the respective final destination.

It was observed that the materials purchased by the company as MDF/MDP, had the Brazilian Forest Stewardship Council (FSC Brazil) seal, which ensures the ecologically correct origin of the wood used, that is, compliance with forest management norms and environmental and labour laws. 

However, the finished products did not have a seal directed to the furniture sector, being unable to attest the ecologically correct purchase of raw materials and the level of environmental performance. They did not have the proper management of industrial waste, or internal awareness and training actions related to social and environmental issues.


Methodological Approach

This work consisted of an exploratory study, using a qualitative approach, as the data presented sought to understand the meaning, interactions, and opportunities to improve systems and technologies. 

The quantitative data were presented to enhance the meanings, being a case study, which provided detailed, contextualised, and broad knowledge of a reality that was used to lead theoretical reflections to the exploration and development of theories.

The study was carried out in a micro-enterprise located in the municipality of Palhoça, in the metropolitan region of Florianópolis, in the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina (SC), close to the federal motorway BR-101, an important longitudinal axis for the country.

The study began with the preparation of a questionnaire and an integrated checklist, applied in the period between 13 and 27 April 2015, with the support of the Unit of Design Management (NGD) from the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC).

The questionnaire and integrated checklist were based on the report for the implementation of a cleaner production (CP) (Manual 4 from CNTL), as well as on the methodology developed by UNIDO/UNEP for the implementation of the CP program, on the attributes of the criterion Systems and Technologies for the implementation of CP, as pointed out by Tseng, Lin, and Chiu in 2009, combined with the factors and methodologies of the layout project (checklist).

The criteria used for analysing and identifying the opportunities for CP are related to Systems and Technologies (process analysis, layout of facilities, location and stock control, and movement of people and material), based on studies, factors, and consolidated methodologies regarding the implementation of CP and industrial layout projects. 

The resources responsible for the transformation process in a production system are called inputs, which include information, human resources, energy, supplies, and material. In turn, outputs are products or services resulting from the transformation process.

In the technical visit for diagnosing the process flows of the company in study, based on the methodology used in industrial layout projects, we obtained the qualitative input data (raw materials, products, production routes) and output data (products, waste, residue, by-products), as well as the areas, arrangement of machinery, equipment, and sectors, information regarding the relationship between the different activities, the flow of materials, people, and information for product handling, measurements of the physical space, and the location of residues and by-products in the layout. 

Two technical visits were made to the company in the study in the year of 2015 for the application of the questionnaire and the integrated checklist, aimed at observing and mapping production processes. The integrated checklist assisted in direct observations and annotations and in measurements and observations about the physical space. The production manager accompanied the work to describe the process.

In addition, methodological procedures were carried out, such as a photographic and metric survey of the architectural space and the physical arrangement of machines and equipment. The questionnaire was not applied for obtaining data on the mass or energy balance, as the company did not have this information available.

Following the application of the questionnaire and the integrated checklist (1), photographic surveys (2), mapping of the physical space (3), and a description of the data was also carried out (4), drawing the respective zoning (5) and sectorised floor plans (6), performing a study on the interactions between the areas, sectors, and flows (7), with the flow layout plan being drawn (8), followed by the creation of a flowchart of the respective processes (9) with symbols being drawn according to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Finally, analyses (10) and the creation of a list with CP opportunities integrated with the factors of the layout project (11) were carried out.

The methodology used led to a new link between the optimisation of processes and environmental performance, being also a breakthrough in comparison to the literature, as it provided guidance for the process flow analysis of the physical space of industrial facilities (layout) and contributed to the identification of CP opportunities associated to process flows.


Process Flow Analysis

In order to implement a CP, managers need to envisage the financial benefits which can be generated from saving resources and the environmental impacts associated to the production process, as well as the optimisation in the production and supply, which generate internal and external reuse. In addition, the elimination of waste from improved layout planning integrated with CP foments eco-innovation.

Thus, 25 opportunities (O) of CP were identified, related to the production area and the Systems and Technologies criterion, as well as the attributes tools and technologies (O-1 to O-4), process flows, production waste, by-products, layout (O-5 to O-17), stock and storage (O-18 to O-21), supply chain analysis (O-22), and packaging and dispatching (O-23 to O-25). 


The factors related to the layout project (modifications, services, equipment, material, workforce, building, and storage/waiting) were associated to all opportunities identified, being listed as the following.

CP opportunities integrated in factors of the layout project:

O-1: Update machines and equipment to comply with the work safety standards and obtain greater productivity. Replace old sliding table saw with a new one that complies with the norms and with energy efficiency label.

O-2: Create cleaning and preventive maintenance procedures in the machines and production area.

O-3: Reorganise sawdust ducts and seal the silo from its surroundings. Suggest changes to the waste collection company in terms of covering the dumpster for sawdust collection.

O-4: Set up a board at each workstation to organise the portable machines and tools. Eliminate wasted space (clearing the floor) by improving layout planning in all.

O-5: Production areas and reduce material on hold, optimising the tasks in the production centres.

O-6: Eliminate material flow crossings.

O-7: Reorganise and record the practices and procedures of each workstation, associated to CP.

O-8: Optimise the cutting plan of MDF/MDP panels to minimise amounts of by-products and waste, maximising the use of raw material.

O-9: Execute joint cutting plans to maximise the used material.Keep record of by-products generated with the respective specifications of the

O-10: Material to be used, sold or exchanged with other partner companies (Simbiose Industrial), including width and size of the material.

O-11: Place the collectors with indication of the respective material next to the production sector for selective waste collection and internal and/or external [re]cycling.

O-12: Set up shelves to accommodate any waste by-products from the selective waste collection and for previously catalogued MDF/MDP for internal and external use. Carry out a [re]layout project of each workstation considering the principles of

O-13: Optimised movement (of people and material), ergonomics, safety and flow of material.

O-14: Carry out a [re]layout project to optimise and integrate the production areas. Eliminate waste from areas and flow, and circulation crossings.

O-15: Minimise energy consumption. Promote the efficient use of natural light by using translucent roofing tiles, as well as alternative energy.

O-16: Create and execute an electric and luminotechnical project; divide the electric circuits in order to sectorise the lighting in the different spaces, reducing energy consumption.

O-17: Create flow maps of by products for the internal and external spaces.

O-18: Store material according to their characteristics and needs to avoid damage, waste and losses. And close to the production areas to avoid waste of flows.

O-19: Facilitate the entry, movement and exit of materials; and stock control and traceability processes, facilitating product Life Cycle Analysis (LCA).

O-20: Optimise the layout of storage spaces to avoid obstruction of floor areas, waste and loss of material and time; seek visual solutions which can be easily controlled.

O-21: Assign shelves for by products, in order to promote easier handling and reuse for each process, with the shelves being located within easy reach to other companies, avoiding obstruction of the floor area.

O-22: Prioritise suppliers with environmental certification and from nearby regions, avoiding the generation of gas emissions from transport.

O-23: Optimise the delivery of finished material to avoid unnecessary costs with transport and greater emissions. Use a shared cargo and route system.

O-24: Modify the entrance to the building in order to separate the access for customers from the exit of finished material. Prioritise safety, marketing and information management.

O-25: Prepare a packaging project using Ecodesign and CP principles; and project to implement an eco seal aimed at the furniture sector.


Nevertheless, the associated opportunities must be approved and detailed in conceptual plans, so that they can then be implemented through executive projects, with the respective indicators for measurements and monitoring. The flow analysis can be inserted in all stages of the layout project and, when implementing CP in an integrated manner, as an economic and environmental strategy.

The opportunities regarding tools and technologies (O-1 to O-4) promote an improvement in safety conditions and the reduction of risks for workers, minimising energy consumption, and promoting a preventive attitude of organisation and control. They also promote the reduction of time and material waste, minimising emissions of wood particles in the air, and improving working conditions.

In turn, the opportunities related to process flows, production losses, by products, and layout (O-5 to O-17) promote a decrease in production time, as well as fewer accidents, minimising the waste of materials and components and eliminating waste of flow, as well as reducing the consumption of materials and energy and setting out the appropriate setup for selective waste collection. 

The strategy of using a flowchart map of by-products for internal and external use (opportunity O-17) proves to be a form of technological innovation that contributes to better financial performance, as well as greater production and environmental performance of small-scale production.

Finally, the opportunities regarding stock and storage (O-18 to O-21) and suppliers (O-22) help to reduce losses and risks, promoting greater control, enabling breakthroughs for circular economy, as well as promoting and increasing the environmental performance with suppliers and increasing the production capacity. In addition, the opportunities regarding packaging and dispatching (O-23 to O-25) provide a positive environmental position to a company in the market.


Waste & Emissions Minimisation

With the zoning and sectorisation analysis of the existing production area in the company in study, 10 wasted or underused areas were identified, which represented a total of 107.24 sqm, of which 35.79 sqm referred to the area assigned to by-products for disposal, 45.79 sqm for stock not close to the respective process, and 25.66 sqm for circulation areas.

Twelve floor obstruction areas were also identified (39.45 sqm), as well as a fragmentation of the storage area, with 15 stock areas for processing material (56.09 sqm) and the lack of control regarding the movement of material, which obstructed the circulation and interrupted the flow of material. The rearrangement of the layout areas and flows promotes a reduction of production losses and waste caused by the movement of material and people, as well as improving the production capacity.

Furthermore, it is possible to reduce the stock area from 273.66 sqm to 188.42 sqm. The reduction of 85.24 sqm represents 33.15 percent of the existing storage area and 6.55 percent of the total floor area of the current layout. This approximation is based on the elimination of the existing fragmentation of the stock areas, clearing the floor areas, and bringing inter-related areas close to one another.

The reduction of production flow lines from 333.30 m to 266.37 m, by removing 66.93 m of return and crossing flow lines in the circulation area, represents a reduction of up to 20.09 percent, contributing to a greater optimisation of the movement of material and people during the production process, increasing productivity.

Moreover, 396.37 m of flow lines were used for supplying the company, with 161.43 m as a result of the stock being located far away from the respective processes. The reduction of these lines represents 40.73 percent less in material and human displacements.

The total flow lines identified in the company's layout was of 775.58 m, with process flow analysis enabling us to reduce these lines from 775.58 m to 547.22 m. The reduction of 228.36 m of these flow lines represent 29.45 percent of the total flow, rationalising the physical space, and enabling future expansions and gains in productivity. The reduction of flows leads to greater production controls, which enable reduction of the generation of by-products and waste.

The study showed the need of rearranging workstations, as well as of inserting areas for selective waste collection, with the internal and external reutilisation of the material, thus, maximising resources, by-products, and physical spaces. These changes promote reductions of costs, waste, and production losses, as well as less environmental impact.

The diagnostic process flow analysis associated to CP and applied in the context of a small furniture company demonstrated that the possibility of implementing continuous improvements that promote less waste, applying a CP strategy. The analyses showed that the association of CP to process flows as a preventive strategy leads to a new link between process optimisation and environmental performance.

The analyses showed the differentiated positioning of the company management for the systems and technologies, both when monitoring and releasing of information and in positioning the roles of each employee in the production process, highlighting the importance of each person, as well as the skills and characteristics.

People’s relationships with physical space and process flows were associated with the attributes of the criterion systems and technologies as a new element that surpassed technical aspects and this application, and demonstrated relationships of belonging and cooperation in relation to the physical space, process flows, and management. 

These relationships indicated the existence of a link between people, CP, and process flows in the physical space capable of promoting change. It also demonstrated that identifying CP opportunities from process flow analysis can lead to greater engagements, facilitating changes in environmental positioning, and contributing to the reduction of waste and the continuous minimisation of waste and emissions.

As there are no legal requirements that oblige small furniture companies to implement a CP strategy, the present study contributed to a change of perception regarding systems and technologies (processes, layout, stock location and control, and movement of people and material) associated to the consumption of raw material and to the generation of waste and by-products, demonstrating that continuous and gradual improvements in process flow performance related to systems and technologies can lead to a more efficient production, generating less waste, and can represent a way of implementing CP in small enterprises.

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  • Last modified on Monday, 30 March 2020 08:28
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