Lean in material handling

Lean in material handling and control, from the shop floor and out into the extended supply chain, needs to be reexamined for two reasons. First, the majority of lean efforts to date have been based on tools and their deployment. Instead, lean should be about principles, or thinking, including the constant progress toward an image of the ideal state of the process. Many companies state this in training but in practice the focus is still on the tools.

 

The second reason is that lean in material management has always been an extension of lean in manufacturing. Just copying or extending lean manufacturing can be a mistake. Instead, material-handling managers need to take a fresh look at what lean materialmanagement is all about. Five key concepts must be integrated into any lean approach to material management.

 

Lean in material handling and control, from the shop floor and out into the extended supply chain, needs to be reexamined for two reasons. First, the majority of lean efforts to date have been based on tools and their deployment. Instead, lean should be about principles, or thinking, including the constant progress toward an image of the ideal state of the process. Many companies state this in training but in practice the focus is still on the tools.

 

Concept No. 1: Avoid the information blizzard
As computing power becomes a commodity and software solutions get more press coverage, the push for more ” visibility” into every part of your system has grown. Phrases such as “real-time” and “unit-level data” appear more and more frequently in marketing material and magazine articles. The underlying theory: if you can get real-time information, you will be more capable of reacting to events faster and more effectively.

Most material management systems are similar in nature. People, companies and machines make many independent decisions. But each needs only a few critical pieces of information to make effective decisions, for example, when the person in front of them puts on their brakes.

 

Material managers should design systems that give people exactly what information they need to determine their next action and nothing more.

 

Every process in every industry has five distinct steps: queue, setup, run, wait and move. For decades we have focused a great deal on the run part of the process: running the machine, building the forecast, unloading the truck. But this is only the value-added step. It’s important but it is not the most wasteful because we have focused on it for so long, and because it lends itself most naturally to improvement. The other four steps, where we apply the least amount of attention into managing and improving, are where most of the waste lies.