Lean Material handling

Increase Your Performance With Lean Material Handling


It’s increasingly popular to use lean principles inside manufacturing plants. However, broader applications exist, too. Here are some actionable strategies for using lean material handling within your operations.

Reduce Waste With Lean Material Handling


Waste reduction in the lean methodology does not only mean curbing excessive materials usage. It also extends to equipping people to make the most of their time and ensure their skills and talents are appropriately used. Implementing lean material handling practices requires scrutinizing workflows and processes to look for inefficiencies.


For example, examine the paths workers take through a warehouse and what steps they go through when completing their tasks. What are the most feasible ways to make them more streamlined?


Getting feedback from the workers themselves is an excellent waste-reduction tip. In lean principles, kaizen translates to “change for the better.” It can provide everyone in your organization with a way to give lean-centric ideas for improving your business. When workers submit kaizens to management, it means they’ve spotted waste in the organization and have a practical suggestion for improvement.


Employees will probably respond better when you let and expect them to take the initiative to make positive changes happen. Many people don’t like feeling forced to learn new processes, but they’ll probably be more receptive if they have a hand in the updates.

Collect Data About Picking Processes


Regardless of your organization’s size or the year of its establishment, data can help you confirm when things are going well and where there’s room for improvement. Another worthwhile way to reap the benefits of lean material handling is to get data about tasks that occur in the workplace. Use that information to determine how you could raise efficiency. Your picking processes are a good place to start.


Today’s order picking machines usually reach almost 400 feet high, allowing people to access merchandise above the second level of racking. Think about measuring how many items employees can pick in a certain amount of time, such as an hour. Then, examine whether you could increase those numbers by deploying different strategies.


For example, batch and cluster picking help warehouse workers make the most of their time. Batch picking allows collecting more materials at once while reducing how often someone travels between a product’s storage area and its destination.


Cluster picking involves people putting different orders into containers or bins. The main advantage of this strategy is that it cuts down on the worker’s travel time throughout the warehouse. It may take time for you to see the full benefits of a new picking process. However, you can use data to determine whether it’s working well after using it long enough for people to adjust to the changes.

Consider Implementing Advanced Technologies


Many manufacturers that use lean manufacturing aim to prioritize automation while reducing manual processes. Once a plant has reached a high maturity level regarding using lean principles, leaders may explore ways to get production alerts as efficiently as possible.


For example, Andon boards can provide data when it’s necessary to quickly verify whether production lines are operating normally. Some of them allow workers to momentarily stop production and fix problems. An Andon board may gather information from Internet of Things (IoT) sensors. That would reduce the need for workers to fill out so many details on error reports because the tech already captured them.


Another possibility is to use solutions that support workers with their tasks. In one example, Toyota Material Handling introduced a couple of new automated guided carts. They can carry up to 4,400 pounds and feature laser obstacle scanners.


Additionally, once a customer orders one of these products from an authorized dealer, they’ll consult with representatives who understand lean principles and how to apply them. They will study the space where people plan to use these carts, then offer specific advice.


For example, they’ll map the most efficient delivery routes and suggest points for loading and unloading. That way, customers have the insights they need to make the most of their automation investments for lean material handling.

Have Goals in Mind


Continuous improvement is a concept that often comes up in discussions about lean principles. That’s why it’s useful for a company’s leaders to pinpoint what they want to achieve through lean materials handling efforts. That puts them in a good position to figure out the best ways to reach those aims.


Consider the real-life example of Crossroads Community Services, which works to reduce food insecurity in areas of Texas. The organization recently expanded from 10,000 square feet to 72,000. Once the larger facility had been open for just over a year, more needed to be done to cope with the increased demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.


From there, leaders let lean principles guide their plans. They used these principles to enhance order picking, as well as the steps associated with receiving and processing incoming donations. The lean methodology also positively influenced service users’ experiences as they chose products to take home.


This food pantry got more than 2.8 million pounds of goods to people who needed them by using the lean-based approach to improve how it stored, handled and distributed items. This is a case where the people running the facility understood that one of its most pressing goals was to ramp up operations and help people in need. Focusing on the lean approach helped them do that.

Are You Ready to Practice Lean Material Handling?


It takes time and effort to put the principles of lean material handling into effect. However, these suggestions will get you off to a good start and enable visualizing how and when to make changes.

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