Lean principles are typically associated with manufacturing operations — in fact, lean manufacturing was originally developed by engineers at automaker Toyota and helped the company become one of the most efficient manufacturers on the planet. But lean manufacturing approaches can also be adopted effectively in the warehouse.

A lean approach focuses on the elimination of waste: wasted employee motion, excessive inventories, unnecessary transportation, material waste, etc. In the warehouse, these concepts can be applied to help reduce inventory expenses and create new operational efficiencies.

Below are five ways that lean manufacturing principles can help reduce waste in the warehouse.

  1. Eliminate unnecessary inventory movement. The lean approach calls for demand-based flow so that inventory is only moving forward in response to customer orders. Evaluate where your inventory is and how it moves in response to orders. You should work to reduce the amount of time and steps required to take inventory out of storage and into the packing/shipping process, as well as reduce the amount of time inventory sits on the shelf. You can also utilize preprinted labels to eliminate redundant labeling practices. A lean approach requires accurate demand signals and real-time communication. Adjusting flows to make this possible can reduce your overall inventory investment and advance orders more quickly.
  2. Reduce excess inventory. Right-sizing your inventory levels will free up space in your warehouse, reduce the cost of carrying that inventory, and reduce the risk of damage or obsolescence. Using a lean approach enabled by real-time inventory visibility, you can better match on-hand inventory to demand forecasts. Better demand management will make your warehouse more responsive to customer requests and reduce out-of-stocks as well as reduce costs through reduced obsolescence and overstocking.
  3. Reduce wasted employee motion. Minimize the time it takes for your employees to accomplish picking, packing, and shipping tasks via lean manufacturing methodologies. Look at the movement of employees through your facility. How often are they doubling back when picking orders? How far are they walking each shift? Adjust the way pick orders are presented. Re-arrange inventory so that fast moving items are positioned closer to the shipping area and items that are frequently ordered together are co-located in the aisle. Even with inventory moved closer together, you can reduce wasted motion even more by utilizing a mobile powered workstation so employees can bring job-specific toolkits to any given task!  This will reduce the time it takes for each order to be picked. It also helps employees complete more work per shift, while reducing fatigue and the risk of injury.
  1. Eliminate manual processes. Automation can play an important role in a lean manufacturing initiative. Deploying automated picking systems and material handling equipment as well as utilizing automatic identification technology (including barcode scanners, RFID, mobile computers and voice enablement technologies) will make it easier for employees to locate stock, pick or put it away, and transport it through the warehouse. Automation also helps reduce potential picking and shipping errors and can increase the velocity of inventory through the warehouse.
  2. Reduce paper waste. Utilizing lean principles in conjunction with technology not only makes your warehouse more efficient, it can also help you create a nearly paperless warehouse by eliminating paper pick tickets, packing slips, and other paperwork. Workers can access orders in real-time on their mobile computers or via their mobile workstations, scan the items and confirm that they pick the right items in the right quantities without ever picking up a pencil. Eliminating paper forms can add up to substantial savings over time, in addition to making your operation greener. By automating your label printing needs from mobile devices and workstations, you can drastically cut down on the amount of errors made per workday as well as eliminate excess paperwork.  

Lean manufacturing principles can reduce costs and improve productivity and efficiency. Making your warehouse a lean operation can eliminate a number of types of waste — wasted labor, wasted paper, and wasted inventory expenses among them. More importantly, a lean approach avoids wasted time, which not only improves your warehouse operations but also your customer service.

If you are a business owner who is grappling with how to streamline your business processes and reduce various forms of waste, contact Peak Technologies directly for a consultation with our friendly, knowledgeable staff. Together, we can make your business as efficient and lean as possible.