In the fast-paced, ever-changing industries that fall under the umbrella of manufacturing, warehouses are consistently under pressure for improved efficiency and performance.
As this demand continues to grow, more and more warehouses are embracing the tactics of lean manufacturing.
Lean manufacturing helps warehouses take advantage of opportunities for improvement and focus on value creation for customers. The goal of lean manufacturing is to improve warehouse processes by maximizing value and minimizing waste.
Applying lean practices in your warehouse can help your warehouse tackle frequent obstacles such as poor layout, cumbersome storage setups and inadequate processes. Transitioning your facility to these practices can help improve overall productivity and give your business a competitive advantage.
Let’s take a closer look at the top lean manufacturing principles that can help make your warehouse more productive and efficient.
Reduce Excess Inventory
When you produce more products than your customers want or faster than they need them, you get over-production waste and excess inventory.
For manufacturers, excess inventory in the warehouse can be a massive, expensive problem.
Rightsizing inventory levels can quickly free up space in your warehouse. This will not only reduce the cost of carrying so much additional inventory but also the risk of damaging products or overstocking obsolete items.
Using a lean approach to your inventory management will help organize your current products, reduce nonessential inventory and recalibrate your production depending on demand forecasts. When you are no longer producing or storing more than what the customer requires, your warehouse becomes more responsive to variations in customer demand. This also helps free up previously tied up resources, simplifies quality-control processes and reduces overstocking costs.
Optimize Picking Strategy and Technology
An often-overlooked area, but one that can benefit greatly from the application of lean principles, is your warehouse’s picking strategy. Improving order picking productivity can help increase employee productivity, streamline your warehouse operations and reduce non-value adding steps in your warehouse process flow.
Such additional steps can come from:
- Poor Warehouse Layout: This could include placing fast-moving products near the back of a facility, not placing machines used sequentially near each other or requiring employees to walk long distances to reach inventory.
- Double Handling: This could include using a buffer storage area to house new stock before it’s moved to the pick face or shuffling around inventory in an unorganized fashion to reach certain products (and not replacing it properly.)
- Large Batch Sizes: This could include batches that require multiple trips, or batches so large that they contribute to excess inventory.
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all picking solution for all companies, using the lean approach will help you analyze your facility’s layout and current process. Then, you and your team can experiment and determine the most efficient approach for your warehouse.
Adapt to New Technologies
Technology also plays a critical role in lean manufacturing operations. For the success of your warehouse, It’s crucial to invest in warehouse technology, from software to machinery to robotics, that empowers staff to do their jobs quickly and effectively.
Many warehousing operations today rely on warehouse management systems (WMS) to manage inventory and automatic identification systems and data capture technology such as bar-code scanners, mobile computers and printers, voice-directed picking (VDP) systems, and light-directed technology help efficiently monitor and enable the real-time flow of information and products.
Phase Out Paper Process
The implementation of new technology and lean manufacturing principles also helps you remove inefficient and wasteful paper-based processes such as paper pick tickets, packing slips and other paperwork. Not only are these manual paper processes slower than their digital alternatives, but they also can lead to costly errors and confusion.
For example, rather than relying on paper forms, employees can access inventory and order information in real-time via their mobile computers or scanners. This allows them to quickly confirm both the correct item and quantity for their order without being bogged down by the organizational obstacle of paperwork.
Replacing your current paper-based process with time-saving technology and warehouse management systems can improve reporting and order accuracy while cutting down on wasteful paper consumables.
Reduce Unnecessary Employee Movement
Another tactic of lean manufacturing methodology is to cut down on unnecessary employee movement. Take a moment to consider the comings and goings of employees on your floor every day. Obviously, these individuals are working incredibly hard and doing their best to complete their tasks. But oftentimes, their productivity is hindered because of factors like poor floor layout, poor organization of products and tools and limited space.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- Are there any obstacles making it difficult for your employees to do their job?
- How far are they walking each shift?
- How often do they have to repeat movements or motions?
- Where do you notice employees taking unnecessary steps to complete a task?
Your employees can provide valuable insight into what is and isn’t working to quickly identify which areas require reorganization to create an environment built around efficiency and continuous improvement. This includes investing in helpful tools like industrial manipulators.
Industrial manipulators can help your employees move products easily, allow for quicker packaging and restocking times. They’ll also be able to reach higher, which helps take advantage of more space in your warehouse for storage and organization. These machines help reduce employee movement throughout the warehouse, saving time and energy and reducing the risk of injury.
Lean into Lean Manufacturing
Lean manufacturing principles are all about identifying and eliminating waste as measured in time, inventory and cost across the complete supply chain, including warehouse management. A crucial component of the lean manufacturing methodology is the idea of continuous improvement. Your warehouse’s success depends on the continuous analysis and adaption of your process to fit the unique needs of your warehouse.
While determining opportunities to employ lean manufacturing, you may discover that industrial manipulators could be a key part of improving your overall productivity and warehouse safety. If you’re ready to discuss which material handling device could be right for you, contact us today.