Part three of Warehousing and distribution in the lean years
A lean warehousing and distribution centre is not built in a day. It requires long-term vision and strategy, and effective use of all the tools and resources you can bring to bear. It isn’t easy or even cheap, but it can improve your real, measurable efficiency dramatically, and as overheads continue to shrink, it becomes one of the few valid strategies that will allow growth and prosperity in certain markets.
Your goal is decreased idle inventory levels, better customer fill numbers, better accuracy, and more efficient equipment and personnel utilization. You can imagine some of the problems you’ll have to solve before you start to realise these goals, but others will escape you. Complete and committed buy-in from all of your key stakeholders is absolutely vital, if you hope to make any real ground.
Toyota was an early adopter of lean warehousing & distribution processes, and we can learn from their experience
The core of the Toyota Production System, as they called their groundbreaking process, form the core of lean logistics planning today. It involves universal personnel training and motivation, standardisation of processes and equipment, waste reduction and PDCAC (the Plan, Do, Check, Act Cycle) problem solving processes.
Personnel training must start with recognising that your people are your first chance to identify any problems and craft real practical solutions to them. Make sure all of your people (not just managers or leaders) are aware of your value stream, and how they fit into it. Make sure they know that any activity that does not add value is wasted effort.
Standardisation of your processes is important because it allows for better alignment of your processes to each other, and makes planning for zero waste possible. Standard work is not the goal, but rather a baseline upon which you can build truly elegant and efficient solutions to problems.
In terms of inbound and outbound warehouse flow, you need to embrace the idea of hitting goals exactly. The perfect quantity in the perfect place at the perfect time. Visual management techniques may be helpful in this, because it allows real-time decision making and supports low-inventory flow management.