There are several different concepts that foster the Lean idea of maximising customer value while minimising waste that may help you to streamline your warehouse operations. In general, a combination of several different tools is required to achieve a truly successful Lean approach. Also, people involvement is key, since Lean won’t work if it’s just a top-down decision.
Lean concepts that lend themselves to application in a warehousing environment:
- Value-stream mapping: diagramming all the steps in the distribution process, from order to delivery.
- Team building: a bottom-up approach, involving operators and supervisors in identifying bottlenecks and kaizen (opportunities for improvement), is always a good idea.
- Problem solving: by means of root cause or fishbone analysis, for example.
- Error proofing: standardising work can be helpful, for example by providing visual instructions to operate equipment or follow a procedure.
- Kanbans: an inventory-control system to replenish consumed goods rather than maintain steady production.
- Pull systems: production based on actual demand from the market.
This video shows how a pull system can be implemented in a warehouse
- Cellular applications: often very useful to minimise labour and maximise the use of equipment and space if you do value-added activities such as kitting or assembly.
- Line balancing: levelling the workload across all processes can be applied to staffing, but also to ensure proper flow in the work cell.
- General waste reduction.
- 5S workplace organisation: sort, straighten, shine, standardise and sustain.
Companies that have switched to a Lean approach often observe that the changes that have been made not only improve total lead time, customer satisfaction and revenue, but also positively reflect on employee satisfaction and productivity.
- This slide deck features a case study of how Advent Design Corporation, a service company providing businesses with custom engineering solutions, helped a pork producer to implement Lean improvements.
- H.Essers, a Belgian third party logistics provider, decided to make their warehouse leaner. In order to reduce waste, outer packaging was removed and products are stored in a more efficient and standardized way. This resulted in an increase of 2.000 extra pallet positions and a tidier warehouse.