Much of my education at University (and I spent 10 years at University!) was focused on “Lean Systems”. The teachings all about Japanese manufacturing techniques. The thinking that looks at eliminating waste, balancing uneven demand, and focusing only on the stuff that adds value. Clearly the concepts of lean can equally apply to manufacturing, warehousing and most components of the supply chain.
One of the fundamentals of lean is the concept of continuous improvement. In a lean warehouse, you would focus every day on improving the operations and eliminating waste – often referred to as Kaizen. Great, everyone wants to be lean, eliminate waste and do things better.
However, in real life many improvements come about due to technology changes and step improvements in the way we do things. For example, if we handle goods using a wheelbarrow, no matter how efficiently you do that work, you can never compete with the guy who uses a forklift truck.
The graph below shows a typical warehouse environment. Here we see 2 distinct paths. The path of lean and continuous improvement and the path of step changes in the technology you use. Clearly the operator who embraces the good step changes is going to come out a lot better.
In my experience the successful facilities have four basic pillars in place – that is:
- Good people
- Good infrastructure
- Good systems
- Focus on customer
Martin has 40 years’ experience in the warehousing & distribution business. He is Chairman of ILS and sits on the council of many institutions.