Lean manufacturing is a common practice within manufacturing processes that systemically reduces waste and cost while increasing efficiency. While the primary focus of Lean is the production floor, many of the same principles extend beyond to the warehouse. For example, storage of raw materials,
Managing a warehouse is a complex undertaking with many moving parts, but it doesn’t have to be an uphill battle. This blog teaches you ways to implement lean principles within a warehouse to both enhance productivity and customer service while driving down costs and waste.
The “Plan – Do – Check – Act” (PDCA) model is the structure that drives lean and the framework used here to walk through the steps for designing and implementing lean practices in warehouse environments.
Step One: Plan
Whether the need is to design a brand new warehouse or upgrade an existing operation, the fundamentals of lean warehousing begin well before installing pallet racks,
Defining an objective for your warehouse is critical. Think of broader objectives you might incorporate beyond materials storage. Some additional goals you could consider include:
- Reducing cost
- Increasing efficiency
- Maximizing space, or
- Enhancing flexibility in warehouse operations
In addition, think of any secondary goals that may be impacted by your primary goals such as establishing a subcomponent kitting/assembly area, wire rack area,
Within a warehouse, a variety of data points —both large and small— exist that managers can examine to help create a lean plan. Some basic data points you could collect might include average pick ticket time, “A” versus “B” material pick locations,
That data around your processes and operations is only one piece of the equation. You’ll also need to collect data about the physical space of your warehouse, including specifications from architectural drawings that might affect storage and material handling. The details should include a physical map of the warehouse showing columns, doors, height restrictions, docks and storage racks. Any external features that could affect the receiving, storage and shipment of materials should also be noted.
Once you have gathered the data you need, you can start to weigh it against the goals you have defined to see how it supports or prevents your overall success. For example, if you find that your average daily pick rate is lower than your target goal you have a clear path that helps your next steps and action items emerge.
After the data surrounding your operations and processes has been collected and analyzed, the next step is to focus on data related to the warehouse layout. Your analysis should be a collaborative effort with your warehouse manager(s), focused on determining if the present state of the warehouse creates any obstacles that might prevent the achievement of your identified lean goals. If obstacles do exist, an action plan to mitigate them can be created. Be sure to take into consideration any operational downtime that might occur as a result.
On the other hand, if your warehouse audit shows that there are no immediate roadblocks a detailed implementation plan for your new lean processes can be created. Start by process mapping all major functions such as shipping, receiving and line delivery. This step will help provide a common understanding of how each function works across teams, enhancing communication and potentially surfacing any unneeded process steps (waste). In addition to process mapping, you might also consider conducting times studies to determine your pick, pack and ship rates. This can be supplemented with spaghetti diagrams to depict the amount of travel and the routes required to pick an order.
Step Two: Do (Implementation)
When thinking about your implementation plan, start at a high level by identifying major tasks first. Once those tasks have been organized, they can be broken down into a group of required sub-tasks unique to your operation. The implementation plan should indicate when each of these tasks
To ensure that your new strategy for warehouse layout is accomplished with minimal upset, begin your implementation so there is little to no movement of materials inside the warehouse. An ideal time for this would be during a plant shutdown or even on a weekend if your implementation is smaller in scale and your fulfillment schedule allows for it. However, in many modern warehouses that operate around the clock, implementation without any interruption might not be possible. In those instances, additional warehouse resources may be needed to maintain production and shipping schedules throughout implementation. If this is the case in your warehouse, be sure to factor additional personnel into your implementation plan in advance.
A simultaneous goal throughout implementation should be to ensure all changes being made in the warehouse are captured and replicated in your supporting warehouse management systems. A physical inventory of all products and materials in the warehouse should be carried out immediately following implementation to make sure your systems accurately reflect your stock.
Steps Three and Four: Check and Act (Post-Implementation)
After the new lean layout has been implemented, there should be a regular cadence of audits to ensure the layout is exactly as defined by the approved plan drawings. Every item should be stored according to the overall plan and this should be checked to ensure the layout is correct, particularly if there is an extended training or change management period for warehouse personnel to adopt these new lean processes.
If there are any errors, you’re at risk for picking errors or lost materials within the warehouse. Shipping could also be disrupted if warehouse systems have not been updated accurately with the correct layout information or if items are being stored in the wrong locations.
After the new layout has been implemented, regular checks should be made to ensure that the layout is working and that there aren’t any operational glitches that have occurred as a result. A period of time for the dust to settle is normal following such a major change in process, and making slight adjustments can be helpful in mitigating additional upsets.Once you have checked how well the lean plan you’ve implemented is working, it is time to act by both