You Can’t Have Lean Logistics Without Lean Warehouse Management
As supply chains grow in complexity, logistics and warehousing operations are becoming more intertwined. Many of the functions of logistics are directly reliant on the efficiency of the warehouse and vice-versa, which is why having lean warehouse management is an absolute necessity for lean logistics management. Movement toward leaner operations in either requires an examination of processes in both.
Fortunately, most concepts related to lean logistics management and lean warehouse management overlap. They include evaluating where waste can be eliminated and implementing solutions like mobile workstations, tools for automation, and standardized processes to streamline workflow and free up resources for better productivity.
Top Concepts in Lean Warehouse Management
Warehousing refers to the where in supply chain operations. This includes the receiving, storage, and handling of goods. Picking, packing, and shipping services may also be performed by a warehousing provider, particularly in the case of 3PL providers. The lean warehouse relies on the 5S system to inform its processes.
The 5S System
The 5S system outlines principles for organizing workspaces so workers can efficiently, effectively, and safely carry out their assigned tasks. The main focus is to keep the warehouse clean and organized, thereby reducing motion waste, time spent looking for items, and accidents or injuries. The words forming the foundation are Japanese, but they are often translated as the following English words:
Sometimes, a sixth “S” is added:
Sorting is the first step to creating a lean warehouse management system. At this stage, the objective is to sort out unnecessary items, supplies, and processes. Decide what needs to stay in the workspace, what can be moved to a separate area, and what should be completely removed.
Steps to take during the Sort stage:
- Remove unnecessary, broken, and outdated inventory
- Recycle, move to storage, or throw out what isn’t needed on the floor
- Remove manual processes that require pen and paper, replacing with scanners or voice picking solutions for a more streamlined workflow
In the “Straighten” phase of the 5S system, operators carefully plan and determine the best way to organize the space to create a more efficient workspace.
Steps to take during the Straighten stage:
- Plan storage for the most efficient receiving and picking strategy
– Keep most frequently ordered items near the front
- Ensure directions are clear to workers at all times
– Warehouse management systems (WMS) with item finder and directions help eliminate wasted movement
After the work of straightening is complete, it’s time to “Shine” the workspace. Having a clean space (and a schedule to keep things clean) helps to improve safety, reduce stress, and encourage greater productivity.
Steps to take during the Shine stage:
- Keep aisles clean
- Schedule cleanup sessions after every shift
- Ensure workers always have access to basic janitorial supplies, spill kits, and trash cans
In order to maintain consistency day in and day out, processes must be standardized. Workers should be fully trained in the steps involved in their tasks, and they should be able to perform them without having to put much thought into what comes next.
Steps to take during the Standardize stage:
- Ensure each step in standardized processes is clearly outlined and available to staff
- Visual resources should be easy to understand and interpret quickly
- Implement training videos or software for more complicated tasks
Keeping up the good work and maintaining an attitude of continuous improvement is vital to the process. It doesn’t do any good to put all the work into making these operational changes only to then fall back into old habits six months later.
Steps to take during the Sustain stage:
- Perform regular audits to ensure new procedures are being followed
- Incentivize staff doing a good job
- Be open to making changes if processes are not working
Warehouses can be hazardous places to work, so health and safety should be a central focus for creating a more productive environment.
Steps to take to increase Safety in the warehouse:
- Evaluate warehouse layout, including aisles, staircases, racking, and escape routes
- Develop a fire emergency plan and post it clearly
- Implement ergonomic tools like adjustable workbenches that help prevent overuse and fatigue injuries
Top Concepts in Maintaining Lean Logistics
Logistics refers to the movement of goods from one place to another and everything involved in the process. In lean logistics, operators are also focused on reducing waste. However, rather than the concentration on having clean space and efficient storage as in lean warehouse management, lean logistics focus on processes. What is the most efficient way to perform the tasks needed to move product from one location to another?
Inventory Management for Better Space/Storage Utilization
Lean logistics starts with efficient inventory management. Ensuring a streamlined record-keeping process and accurate inventory counts are essential to reducing waste in logistics operations.
Strategies for efficient inventory management:
- Automate inventory tasks to ensure accuracy and improve fulfillment times
- Cross docking helps eliminate wasted movement from one location to another
Improving Wait Times and Reducing Bottlenecks
Getting backed up by bottlenecks and long wait times may be among the most obvious reasons that efficient logistics operations are so dependent on efficient warehouse operations. When the warehouse is not properly managed, every step from receiving to shipping can get backed up. However, lean logistics management can support leaner, more efficient warehouse operations.
Strategies to reduce wait times and bottlenecks:
- Automate load handling to speed up receiving
- Choose the right picking and packing methods to support faster fulfillment
Errors create rework waste and contribute to the greatest loss of revenue. In addition to the direct revenue loss of improper order fulfillment, providers may lose customers as a result of too many mistakes.
Strategies to reduce errors:
- Mobilize fulfillment processes, including picking and packing, by bringing printers, scanners, inventory management, and warehouse management software to the point of task
- Automate tasks to eliminate the human error element inherent in manual processes
Lean logistics and lean warehouse management go hand-in-hand. Without a lean warehouse that makes safe, streamlined use of storage and workspace, logistics providers will have difficulty managing the efficient movement of goods from one location to another.
Eliminating waste and developing simplified processes, in addition to automating and mobilizing as many tasks as possible, supports an integrated system. As a result, warehouses will experience an increase in revenue while keeping workers safer and customers happier.
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