How to Improve Your Warehouse Operations Using Lean Six Sigma
Every industry faces pressure to increase outputs and profits. In an economic climate marked by labor shortages and supply chain disruptions, companies are taking a Lean Six Sigma approach to improve warehouse operations. While these proven processes are not new, their focus on identifying areas in need of improvement and reducing operational waste resonates with supply chain leaders. Let’s face it: mistakes cost time and money; it makes sense to aim for defect-free operations. Lean manufacturing began with the simple idea of creating value with fewer resources while minimizing waste, which is the ultimate aim of any manufacturer. Six Sigma takes this concept even further by emphasizing the importance of maintaining quality standards while also doing lean practices.
A Lean Six Sigma process begins with a thorough inventory of warehouse assets and workflows to begin identifying and reducing operational waste. This waste isn’t always tangible. It could be wasted time created by repetitive tasks or wasted footsteps of workers going back and forth to shipping and receiving areas. In fact, many companies have found their greatest waste is the constant movement of labor between receiving docks and workstations. Reducing these wasted steps has a direct impact on their bottom lines, bringing them closer to the ultimate aim of Lean Six Sigma: achieving a 99.99966 percent defect-free warehouse environment.
Let’s look at how adding Lean Six Sigma processes can help your organization eliminate waste from the distribution process.
Start to Incorporate Lean Six Sigma Processes into Warehouse Operations
Lean methodologies focus on doing more with less. Any effort, no matter how small, that reduces waste and improves efficiency, will drive profit and productivity. Going lean means focusing on keeping material flowing with the fewest possible touches or wasted efforts, from order picking to packing and shipping. Lean tools simplify every aspect of production, streamlining workflows, reducing errors and improving inventory management. Lean workers constantly think about how to make their daily tasks more efficient and easier. Even a simple change in process that saves one minute per task can have a huge impact when implemented across 40 warehouse workers.
Six Sigma is all about increasing quality. Combining Lean with Six Sigma helps companies drive continuous process improvement by examining and fine tuning every moving part of their operations. By aiming for an ideal of ultimate quality, leaders can use this approach to establish a company culture that values these principles. Warehouses that add Lean Six Sigma principles recognize these processes are more of a journey than a destination and that participants all play a part in creating value and driving process improvement.
Reduce Waste to Improve Warehouse Operations
Motion waste is a common bottleneck for warehouse operators and occurs when workers waste valuable time retracing steps. Transportation waste, another common warehouse issue, may occur in multiple locations, such as stock rotations or when products are moved around a warehouse for no apparent reason other than an inventory check or reorganization. Mobile workstation carts have measurably reduced motion and transportation waste by putting computers and networked tools within easy reach of workers. This increased mobility means workers can perform their jobs at point of task instead of traveling to fixed workstations.
By applying a lean analysis, a leading ecommerce provider found motion waste was a major inhibitor of agile, accurate operations in its distribution centers. The company subsequently invested in mobile computing power to allow employees to process, receive, pick, pack, and ship orders with fewer steps and errors on the distribution floor. This investment also reduced transportation waste by allowing mobilized employees to perform tasks directly where products were located, for greater accuracy and efficiency.
Empower Employees and Limit Rework Waste
From a managerial perspective, limiting repetitive tasks and unnecessary processes are essential to ensuring labor costs and productivity. With labor shortages impacting warehouse workers, it is important now more than ever to optimize the performance of the existing workers. Manual inventory cycle counting that involves writing data and entering it into a computer later in a shift, is a common source of errors and motion waste.
Battery systems for mobile workstation carts are another critical component in a warehouse operation. Batteries that require a charge halfway through a shift can impact workflow. Investing in long-life, hot-swappable batteries will keep mobile workers and their warehouse computer carts productive, efficient, and enable warehouse operations to function 24 hours a day through multiple shifts with limited or no downtime for recharging or battery outages.
With the right advanced battery technology, it may not be necessary to invest in a new mobile workstation cart. Advanced batteries can deliver 100 percent uptime to legacy workstations with internal batteries that instantly activate when a swappable battery loses power, which also protects workers from losing unsaved work caused by a sudden power outage.
Maximize Your Technology Investments
Combining Lean Six Sigma principles with a WMS system can enable managers to track and automate data collection and measure process efficiencies and labor performance. These capabilities help managers identify all types of waste impacting productivity and make better decisions on product locations based on order frequency and picking difficulty. As managers continually assess technologies, Lean Six Sigma provides a framework for boosting efficiency by keeping workers focused on completing more tasks per shift with fewer errors.
Mobile solutions have been helping distribution centers increase efficiency for decades, delivering a fast ROI to companies that invest in these systems. These systems are built to last and can benefit by a simple battery upgrade to meet today’s exacting performance standards. If you are experiencing efficiency limitations with your warehouse computer carts, it most likely involves recharging downtime or inflated IT infrastructures designed to support lost work when batteries die. Fortunately, these issues can be solved with a battery upgrade.
Integrating lean practices into your improvement plans will enable you to identify, define, and measure the root causes of your process pain points, evaluate options, and systematically create solutions that can boost production and efficiency, especially during a time of ecommerce overload, labor shortages and supply-chain disruptions. As a Lean Six Sigma black belt at DTG, I can help evaluate your warehouse operations with a free, comprehensive analysis, to determine where waste is occurring and uncover operational bottlenecks that your managers may not have considered.
What processes in your distribution center are inhibiting workflow efficiency? Is your technical infrastructure ready and able to support the needs of your operation and workforce? A DTG Lean Six Sigma evaluation can answer these questions and more.
Definitive Technology Group has a workstation on wheels and mobile power solution for every industry. Visit our industry overview page to learn how we offer powerful solutions with powerful ROI to every industry we serve.
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Cameron Shaheen, a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and Strategic Product Manager at Definitive Technology Group (DTG), leads the development of custom-engineered solutions for prospects and customers in the aviation, manufacturing, bio-pharmaceutical, supply chain/logistics and food/beverage industries. He also trains staff and partners on lean Six Sigma principles and use cases in new markets.