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Guest Post: Lean Material Handling: Making Production More Efficient and Profitable

Danielle M.Today’s guest post comes from Danielle M.  She has been a dedicated student of Lean Manufacturing methodologies since 2006. It was love at first sight when she read the motto, “Everything has a place; everything in its place” in her first copy of The Toyota Way.

Lean manufacturing seeks out and eliminates waste wherever it can be found. One process that can be overlooked in a manufacturing business is the very end, where products are stacked on pallets, wrapped and shipped out. What follows are a number of ways you can reduce wasted time, effort and money by finding efficiencies in your pallet packing processes.

Material handling and lean manufacturing go hand-in-hand. Without efficient material handling processes, factories and warehouses can’t fully integrate lean manufacturing into their operations.

If you want to increase production time and reduce waste in your manufacturing business, take lean material handling practices seriously. These suggestions should inspire you to make changes in your warehouse operations.

Reduce mistakes, eliminate waste

The most basic principle of lean manufacturing is eliminating waste — wasted time, inventory, movements or processes. Your production systems should be so efficient that employees know exactly what to do with each part, how to do it and when to do it.

It’s important to remember that working faster doesn’t always mean working more efficiently. Take the time to figure out the simplest method of doing something and make that the standard of operation. Ensure that all processes are scheduled to eliminate lag time between work stations; workers shouldn’t have to wait on needed parts, and materials should be worked on immediately.

Improve efficiency with standardized routes

Material handling routes can either make or break a production line. Standardized material handling routes ensure that the appropriate parts reach their destinations on time, that there are no waiting times and that production runs smoothly. Employ standardized schedules in these areas for an efficient material handling route:

  • Deliver all components on time. This is achieved by setting up kanbans (signposts or billboards) at predetermined locations so that material handlers know exactly which components to deliver to specific work areas. Each component retrieval cycle should take the same amount of time.
  • Use the right equipment to transport components. The weight and amount of components being transported should determine the kind of equipment needed to safely and quickly move them to the designated area.
  • Set up even pulls. The amount of finished goods pulled throughout the day should be enough for each employee to manage throughout the duration of his shift, without lag time or being overwhelmed.

Invest in necessary equipment

Using the right material handling equipment to transport and store inventory increases available space and improves production time. For instance, using forklifts to carry multiple heavy items — instead of using dollies to carry a few items at a time — is safer for employees and moves inventory from point A to point B quickly.

Automated storage systems aren’t exactly necessary, but they do accurately track inventory and allow employees to quickly find necessary parts. With these systems, employees input the materials they need into the storage system, and it automatically retrieves the item, without wasted time searching each shelf.

Accurately track material handling costs

Most — if not all — pricing methods in manufacturing are estimated based on actual production time and overhead. In order to get an accurate amount of time spent on an area of production, estimators must frequently communicate with employees and managers to find out where inefficiencies exist and figure out how to eliminate them.

Systems like cost-estimating software track the efficiency and processes using existing manufacturing standards and data. This makes it possible for estimators and accountants to change their company’s processes by adding and modifying the software’s data to accommodate specific needs. Doing so provides accurate information regarding production schedules and pricing, so your company can provide clients with more accurate quotes.

Material handling processes have come a long way from the inefficient systems of decades past, but there’s always room for improvement in the production industry. Constantly examining and identifying flaws in the system is key to making your business a lean, mean manufacturing machine.

Guest Post: Eliminate Waste by Improving Pallet Packing

Danielle M.Today’s guest post comes from Danielle M.  She has been a dedicated student of Lean Manufacturing methodologies since 2006. It was love at first sight when she read the motto, “Everything has a place; everything in its place” in her first copy of The Toyota Way.

Lean manufacturing seeks out and eliminates waste wherever it can be found. One process that can be overlooked in a manufacturing business is the very end, where products are stacked on pallets, wrapped and shipped out. What follows are a number of ways you can reduce wasted time, effort and money by finding efficiencies in your pallet packing processes.

Choosing the right pallet

The first step toward more efficient palletizing is choosing the right pallet. According to a study by the Fibre Box association, a pallet can lose 20 to 40 percent of its strength if only half an inch of product is hanging over the edge of the pallet. You should be able to load your product onto a pallet without anything hanging over. Put another way, for any given package, the pallet should be equal to or larger than the products you’re putting on it.

If you’re using wooden pallets, look into the possibility of switching to plastic ones. They are generally safer and last longer, but they do have a few drawbacks. Only you know whether plastic or wooden pallets are best for your business.

Pallets and weight

Pallets are designed to hold only a certain amount of weight. Put too much weight on a pallet and you risk damaging it and the products it carries and injuring anyone who might be in the area. An overloaded pallet can lead to higher shipping costs as well.

An easy way to keep weight under control is to load the pallet while it sits on your industrial scales. This simple process can eliminate a lot of waste:

  • It keeps your pallets in good working order.
  • It ensures you keep it within any weight restrictions.
  • It eliminates the time wasted packing a pallet and then weighing it, only to find that it’s too heavy and must be redone.

Packing pallets

Packing a pallet safely means considering the safety of all people who use the pallet and the overall security of the products the pallet holds. Keep safety guidelines in mind and remember these pallet-packing tips:

  • Don’t stack pallets too high. Doing so raises the load’s center of gravity, which could lead to a pallet falling over, damaging the product and potentially injuring someone.
  • Don’t risk it. If a pallet looks damaged, it probably is — have it examined more closely and either repaired or discarded.

When it comes to wrapping products on a pallet, make sure you understand the difference between shrink wrap and stretch wrap, and that you keep the correct one in stock:

  • Stretch wrap is a lot like the cellophane wrap you use in the kitchen. It stretches a little and sticks to itself and does a great job of getting in its own way.
  • Shrink wrap isn’t so stretchy, but it shrinks when you apply heat to it, creating a snugger hold on the products on your pallet.

The key to efficient, safe pallet packing, though, is making sure that everyone who deals with pallets understands the processes you have in place and follows all rules. The greatest step toward cutting waste is educating your employees.

Guest Post: Lean Logistics: Going Lean is Going Green

Danielle M.Today’s guest post comes from Danielle M.  She has been a dedicated student of Lean Manufacturing methodologies since 2006. It was love at first sight when she read the motto, “Everything has a place; everything in its place” in her first copy of The Toyota Way.

Lean logistics offer a systematic way of managing logistics from when the order is placed until it arrives on a customer’s doorstep. They include a highly detailed organizational approach to managing logistics while cutting out the fat of inventory, fuel costs and middle-man handling. However, there are challenges to this approach to logistics of real world operations with factors, such as natural disasters, social chaos and unpredictable markets, that come into play. Yet companies and technologies have put lean logistics concepts into action with great results.

Challenges in a Lean Transportation System

The transportation industry is expected to see drastic changes in the near future, with the implementation of natural gas and EOBRs. However, according to the lean system of logistics, these changes are vital to the continual operation of the trucking industry. Robert Martichenko, the CEO of the LeanCor Supply Chain Group, notes that transportation is a necessary evil. He states that looking at transportation costs as a separate entity is a fruitless effort. Instead, consider the total logistics cost, which includes purchasing, transporting, warehousing and ordering costs. Martichenko continues by identifying five guiding principles associated with lean transportation including strategy, waste, performance, cost structure and daily event management. For example, by shipping according to customer’s demand, rather than storing products in warehouses until they are requested as does Amazon, lean logistics reduces the amount of work associated with inventory control and warehousing.

Lean Technology

While most in management consider lean logistics in conjunction with manufacturing, technology used for these companies also incorporate lean concepts. For example, the supply and demand giant Amazon has created Amazon Web Services that uses cloud computing to offer infrastructure investment (IT) services and application at a low cost. More importantly, cloud computing allows even the smallest of businesses to create customizable and full-service IT departments using cloud storage and capacity. This cuts out the extra cost associated with hiring and managing an entire IT department in-house. Businesses using cloud computing can purchase only what services they need, such as secure large-scale document housing, temporarily increased bandwidth and expansion of servers. Development and implementation of applications is also streamlined when using cloud services, which allows businesses to reduce the cost and time associated with customizing technology associated with logistics management.

Green and Lean Businesses

Going green for many in the logistics industry is an overwhelming process. Combined with the aspect of keeping with lean logistics, it can seem like an impossible task. However, green and lean are actually very similar, as lean logistics reduces the ecological footprint while streamlining the logistics process. One website focused on operations research with a green and lean foundation is GreenOR. This site offers suggestions for creating greener logistics, such as through energy efficiency, green supply chains, waste flow and renewable energy. For example, through the use a fleet management system such as those offered by Omnitracs, a trucking management team and its drivers are capable of cutting down on fuel costs by creating more efficient routes and by streamlining driving habits. The lean method is evident throughout the use of sustainable logistics methods, such as with the reduction of energy use and the establishment of green supply chains that reduce the amount of waste in the system.

Guest Post: The Role of Protection in Preventing Injuries

Today’s guest post comes from Danielle M.  She has been a dedicated student of Lean Manufacturing methodologies since 2006. It was love at first sight when she read the motto, “Everything has a place; everything in its place” in her first copy of The Toyota Way.

Many businesses, factories and corporations are picking up on lean manufacturing processes. Lean manufacturing focuses on cutting waste and other unnecessary parts of production to efficiently build a product that is focused on providing value to customers. This involves looking at a product from the consumer’s perspective and removing anything that is not necessary for a good user experience.

Overall, lean manufacturing is designed to save money while still delivering a valuable final product. However, it is very important to note the difference between lean manufacturing and “cutting corners.” Lean process promotes removal of waste for the sake of efficiency; it does not promote the cutting of vital parts of production. It could be argued that the most vital part of any production line is safety. Good safety ensures the health and well being of factory workers and saves manufacturers money in the long run by preventing injuries. With a necessary investment upfront, good safety measures can become a central part of any lean operation.

Innovations

Technology continues to advance, which not only makes the work done within factories easier, but also allows factories to be safer places for employees to work. Certainly, robotics has made production quicker and safer, as robots can complete jobs that may be dangerous to humans. Protecting those human employees has become easier, as well. New developments in the equipment employees wear allow them to be kept safer on the job while improving functionality. Safety goggles are becoming increasingly stronger while still allowing clarity, and flame retardant suits are continuing to evolve in safety standards. While these innovative technologies evolve, they are not in all cases becoming more expensive. In fact, new technologies can sometimes come in the form of cheaper materials, providing greater safety at a lower price point.

Prevention

Of course, preventive measures and practices play a significant role in making a work environment safer. Having protective equipment onsite at all times is necessary to providing safety. To keep with lean practices, it may be necessary to establish a vendor-managed inventory system so that you never run out of any protective equipment you require. Once a vendor establishes the inventory system, you can implement lean 5S tactics—Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain—to keep everything in proper order. Using 5S to establish a good inventory system provides safer environments by preventing clutter and saves employees time in their search. That said, properly training employees on where to get the protective equipment and how to properly use it is also important.

Design

Lean processes put an emphasis on the streamlined design of a plant. Given the number of specific machines and other tools needed to complete projects, factories and plants can easily become cluttered and poorly designed. As employees need to move through other parts of a plant in order to complete their jobs, they are increasing the likelihood of injury. By creating a smooth transition from one piece of a job to the next and organizing each area, employees are less likely to run into hazards when on the job.

Do you have your own safety guidelines that also work to help your bottom line? Do you have questions about implementing cost-effective protection and prevention measures? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!

Managing Chemicals by Eye

Today’s guest post comes from Danielle M.  She has been a dedicated student of Lean Manufacturing methodologies since 2006. It was love at first sight when she read the motto, “Everything has a place; everything in its place” in her first copy of The Toyota Way.

My friends said I worked in the Black Hole. In the lunchroom, people moved away because of the smell of solvents in my work clothes. Let me tell you how that changed.

Working in the Black Hole a.k.a. Screen Print Prepress

We were in the business of screen printing. My job was to get the screens ready, which means cleaning off the old stencil and applying the new image. I used quite a few chemicals and yes, it did get messy.

One time I was measuring out the emulsion remover when Greg moved into the room, and I didn’t hear him until he was close. I jumped, and the solvent went all over my shoes and the floor. And the fumes were so strong!

Another time I was carting off the old ink and I realized the waste tub was outside. By this time, I had both hands full, so I ended up using my foot to open the door and nearly tripped myself.

Bad for Business

Sometimes we’d run out of a chemical and I wouldn’t be able to clean any screens until new supplies arrived. Terry, the supervisor, would complain about orders being late, but there wasn’t anything I could do.

The delivery would eventually come in (often at high shipping costs for expedited delivery), but always in barrels so big I could hardly move them. I’d have no space to put them, either, so I’d pour the chemicals into smaller bottles. That was okay, so long as I didn’t spill much, but sometimes I’d forget to write on the side what was in them.

The other problem was I couldn’t tell how much was in each bottle, so I’d run out. And sometimes I’d mix up the wrong proportions so I had to throw it away and start again.

As you can see, things were pretty disorganized.

Visual management

Terry had been taking a Lean Manufacturing training course when he came in and said, “Danielle, we need to make you lean.”

Well I knew I was carrying a few pounds, but really! Terry explained that if we organized the chemicals I use there’d be fewer stoppages, less waste, and I’d find the Black Hole a nicer place to work. He called it “visual management.” Here’s what we did:

  • Installed a yellow “Point-of-Use Storage” cabinet. (The EPA has a lot of information about POUS on their website.)
  • Labeled the POUS shelves so there’s “a place for everything, and everything in its place.”
  • Stopped buying big barrels once in a great while and arranged for smaller, 1 gallon deliveries more frequently. This is called vendor-managed inventory, or a “milk run”.
  • Used clear containers so I could see how much was left.
  • John got special diamond pattern labels for the containers and showed me how to fill them in with the chemical name and date.
  • Terry bought mixing jugs and put lines on them showing the appropriate fill level.
  •  John also set up a Safety Point. This has all the Material Safety Data Sheets in a binder along with a cabinet for safety equipment like goggles, a lab coat and gloves.
  •  We had the floor marked out to show where the waste containers should be. Now I can see at glance if they’re missing.

No more Black Hole

It took a while to get used to things, but it’s so much better. I don’t waste time looking for various chemicals. We never run out, so there are no stoppages. I don’t spill solvents and there’s less waste. Best of all, people don’t wrinkle their nose when I sit near them in the lunch room!

Guest Post: My First Kaizen Event

Today’s guest post comes from Danielle M.  She has been a dedicated student of Lean Manufacturing methodologies since 2006. It was love at first sight when she read the motto, “Everything has a place; everything in its place” in her first copy of The Toyota Way.

As an inspector at the end of a screen printing process, I’m was in charge of making sure we didn’t ship bad products. I had always enjoyed my job, but after taking part in a kaizen event I went home less tired and made fewer mistakes, ultimately making the customers happier and saving my employer money. Best of all, it felt like I actually made a difference.

Five days of improvement

We started with a training day. Jose, our Lean Director, asked six of us to meet in a conference room: Maria from engineering, A’isha from purchasing, Pete the controller, Ted from maintenance and Gerry, who ran the press that sent me finished parts.

Jose explained that a kaizen event is a concentrated five day effort to improve a factory process. A’isha said she didn’t know anything about the factory, but Jose said the point was to get new ideas from people who didn’t know the area. He called this being outside looking in.

Once we understood our goal – to improve my inspection operation – Jose had us make a plan. We decided to spend our first day gathering data. Then we’d go to the inspection area, ask questions and capture our ideas on flipcharts. At the end of day two, we’d put together a list of the ideas we wanted to try, then we’d implement as many as possible.

As-Is data

Between us we found out how many customer complaints came in each month, how many pieces were scrapped, the number of bad parts caught and our delivery performance. None of them were very good.

Generating ideas

Gerry and I showed the team how we did things on the press line, then people asked questions and made suggestions. Pretty quickly we’d filled a whole flipchart pad!

Back in the conference room we stuck the pages on the walls and made a list of the changes we could make. The quick and easy ideas we tried straight away; Maria worked on the harder ones with Ted.

We used the 5S system to arrange my tools on a shadow board so I knew where to find everything and to see if anything was missing. We labeled everything and cleaned up the area so was a nicer place to work.

One thing I asked for was to raise the inspection table. As it was, I had to bend over, which made my back ache, and I was putting a shadow over the piece I was looking at. Ted made the change in a couple of hours, and it makes such a difference!

Ted also installed a track lighting system over the top of the bench. This was really clever because it gave me the ability to vary the light, which helped me find the defects much more easily.

Gerry suggested I turn on a light whenever I find a defect. This would be his signal to stop the press and he’d be able to fix the problem right away. Jose called this an andon light.

The presentation

When we’d finished, Jose had us present everything to management. I was worried our ideas were too simple but they seemed impressed. Arnie, the Quality Manager, did say though that the proof would be in the numbers.

Afterwards

A month later we got new data and compared it with our “As-is” numbers. Complaints were down, we were scrapping almost nothing, I was finding more defects and our delivery performance was up.

Little did I know that Jose was so impressed with my performance on the kaizen team that he would ask me three months later to consider joining him as the Lean Coordinator in the company’s transformation process. I took his recommendation to apply for the position when it opened up and soon began my own transformation process into becoming a student of The Toyota Way.

Stay tuned to learn more about my personal journey in lean manufacturing!