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Whether it’s eliminating waste by removing cumbersome warehouse processes or ensuring your warehouse employees are safe, lean warehousing is the solution to several different challenges in warehouse management.

Lean warehousing is an approach to warehouse management that eliminates warehouse processes or activities that use resources but do not create additional value, to help reduce waste and improve productivity.

This approach was initially developed in the manufacturing industry — in the automotive sector by Toyota — with a focus on reducing waste and improving efficiency.

Let’s take a manual picking process as an example. Manual picking requires your warehouse operators to use pick lists and navigate pick locations manually, which can be seen as wasteful, as it uses resources, such as time and labor, but it doesn’t add any value for your customer.

To resolve the wasted resources from manual picking, implementing the lean warehousing approach in this situation might mean taking advantage of automated picking solutions instead.

Lean warehousing means:

  • Improve productivity: Lean warehousing focuses on eliminating wasteful warehouse processes, such as overproduction and excess inventory storage. By identifying and eliminating non-value-added activities, productivity is improved.
  • Boost employee safety: Lean warehousing prioritizes workplace safety by utilizing automated vertical storage solutions to eliminate the need to reach high and low places, reducing both clutter and unsafe work practices.
  • Increase employee morale: Lean principles promote employee involvement and empowerment. By involving your employees in continuous improvement initiatives, you can boost retention rates and allow your employees to feel valued and motivated to contribute to the success of the warehouse.
  • Reduce downtime: By improving processes across your warehouse, you can reduce downtime and ensure your warehouse operations run smoothly.
  • Reduce the need for more storage space: Instead of moving to a bigger facility, implementing the lean approach to your existing warehouse allows you to optimize inventory levels and reduce excess stock. This, in turn, allows you to save on premium costs associated with warehouse expansion or leasing additional storage facilities.

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How To Implement Lean Warehouse Management

Once you’ve nailed down the steps to achieving a lean approach, the next step is to implement best practices into your daily warehouse operations.

To fully integrate the lean warehousing approach:

1. Audit Your Warehouse Processes

Auditing your warehouse processes is key to identifying inefficiencies and areas that need improvement in your warehouse.

  • Define your objectives: These might include improving efficiency, reducing costs, ensuring safety compliance, enhancing customer service or identifying training needs. Clear objectives will help you focus on the audit.
  • Create an audit checklist: Develop a list of areas to examine based on your objectives. This might include inventory management, order picking, packing and shipping, equipment maintenance, space utilization and employee training.
  • Gather data: Utilize different methods to collect information, such as physical inspections, staff interviews, documentation review (like shipping records or safety logs) and data analysis (like order fulfillment times or error rates).
  • Analyze the data: Look for patterns that indicate a problem. For example, if there are frequent stockouts of specific items during a certain season, this might indicate inadequate stock of fast-moving items.
  • Benchmark your performance: Compare your performance against industry standards and/or against your past performance to look for areas that need improvement.
  • Provide recommendations: Based on your findings, recommend improvements. This might include changes to procedures, equipment, warehouse layout or employee training.
  • Present your findings: Prepare a report outlining your findings and recommendations, and present this to the relevant stakeholders.

2. Implement Just-in-Time (JIT) Inventory Management

Just-in-time (JIT) is a type of inventory management that requires you to work closely with suppliers to ensure that raw goods arrive as soon as production is scheduled to begin.

Implementing JIT inventory management allows you to boost efficiency, eliminate excess inventory and reduce storage costs — goals that are in line with lean manufacturing.

To implement JIT inventory management in your warehouse:

  • Collect historical sales data at a granular level (by consumer behavior or SKU, for example) to provide a detailed outline of your demand patterns.
  • Develop strong relationships with your suppliers and involve them in your planning process. Communicate your demand forecasts with your suppliers and ensure they can meet your requirements in terms of quantity, quality and timing.
  • Implement an inventory management software that automatically triggers purchase orders when your goods reach low inventory levels, so you don’t risk stockouts.

3. Train Your Warehouse Employees

Implementing lean warehousing requires changing processes and restructuring your employees’ mindsets.

Training your warehouse employees is key to ensuring that everyone understands the principles of lean manufacturing and how to put them into practice.

To train your employees on lean warehousing practices:

  • Provide a thorough orientation program for your new employees. The program might include an introduction to the principles of lean warehousing, for example, along with an overview of your company’s specific processes and procedures and a clear explanation of employee roles and responsibilities within the warehouse.
  • Offer specific training sessions focused on lean warehousing principles and practices, such as the 5S methodology, value stream mapping, waste reduction techniques, visual management and problem-solving tools for continuous improvement.
  • Provide hands-on training opportunities for your employees to apply lean concepts, such as mock simulations, role-playing exercises or actual work assignments.

Lean warehousing

4. Utilize Warehouse Automation

Automation can significantly improve efficiency and accuracy in your warehouse — characteristics that align with the lean approach.

Automated warehouse solutions include automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), robotic picking systems, and warehouse management systems (WMS) that can boost picking accuracy and speed.

As a leader in automated storage solutions and warehouse management systems, Modula provides advanced solutions that can enhance productivity, efficiency and picking accuracy — primary goals that align with the lean warehousing approach.

5. Utilize Continuous Improvement (Kaizen)

The lean journey doesn’t end once the initial improvements have been implemented — it’s a continuous process.

You can ensure continuous improvements by holding regular team meetings to discuss ideas or hosting formal kaizen events where your team works together to solve a particular problem.

For some years Modula has decided to equip itself with a Kaizen manager to monitor and improve company processes, with a view to continuous streamlining of processes.

Modula’s advanced storage solutions and warehouse management system allow you to implement a lean approach to your warehouse operations to optimize your storage space, improve your picking accuracy and boost your employee’s productivity and efficiency.

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