The Basics of Lean Warehousing
This is the way most people look at warehouses: A truck pulls up to the dock and someone unloads product and puts it away in racks. Somebody else comes along, grabs some product, puts it on a pallet and puts it on another truck.
For those who have spent time in the warehousing industry, the process of warehouse storage is much more complex. One must have the ability to track the location of every single piece of product located throughout the facility. When a small warehouse can take up to 75,000 square feet and hold hundreds of thousands of individual pieces of hundreds, even thousands of different products, it becomes clear that maintaining a warehouse becomes a daunting task.
So how does a warehouse manager and his staff keep up with all of the products coming in and going out?
Two small phrases have revolutionized today’s storage issues: Lean manufacturing and lean storage. “Lean” is built on the concept of eliminating waste by minimizing inventory and eliminating processes that do not add value to the customer. In warehousing, this means whatever product comes in is shipped back out – whether internally or externally – within a few days. Some companies use the phrase “Just In Time Stocking” to describe this method. Using “lean” techniques requires less storage area, but requires a far greater utilization of logistics and a dedicated workforce who understands the importance of accuracy and quality.
Unlike traditional warehousing, the lean method requires more organization and a greater focus on the processes to eliminate non-essential activities,tasks and materials. When the product comes in, it must be quickly sorted, checked in, and accurately placed on shelves, racks, and sometimes even in floor locations. Accuracy is key as when the employee picking an order comes along, there can be no time wasted looking for misplaced product. Lean warehousing requires less space because there is minimal storage stock. Instead of keeping a month’s supply in the racks, only a week’s supply is kept on hand.
Likewise, warehousing logistics come into play. Every warehouse has some products that move faster than others. These faster moving products need to be organized in such a way as to minimize errors. They must also be located as close to the shipping department as possible to minimize “travel time” when picking. Think of it this way: The receiving department may put away one crate of 100 parts. The shipping department may have to make a hundred trips to that crate to empty it. Thus, in regards to man-hours, it makes sense to locate it closer to the shipping department than the receiving department.
The whole concept of “lean” is to do as much as possible with as little as possible: less space, less equipment, and fewer workers. Through all phases of lean, this requires organization, efficiency, and a dedicated and well-trained workforce to make it happen.