Waste. We all know what that is. Normally, when we encounter a situation where waste has occurred, we get annoyed and think, “well, that was a waste.” Maybe the leftovers were never eaten, or maybe we spent $20 on lotto tickets without winning anything. These are typical examples of waste that immediately come to mind. However, warehouse waste comes in many shapes and sizes. It is a destructive little monster that hides in plain sight and surreptitiously rears its ugly head in the company’s bottom line.
Waste is truly all around us, but we are so accustomed to it that we simply do not see it for what it is.
There are certain things warehouse employees can look for:
Do you find yourself traveling from one end of the building to the other frequently, or even traveling to the same place repeatedly? Ask yourself, “Why?” This excess motion could be due to improper planning of work, or disorganized work flows. To alleviate wasted motion, keep tools and equipment near the places where work is performed. You can also rearrange areas to produce better flow. For instance, offices or other work areas can be located centrally as opposed to one end of the warehouse.
This is similar to motion with the exception that transportation involves transferring product. How many times are you touching the same inventory? Are you moving it more than once? Why? This could again be related to work flow or work sequencing. Once inventory is placed somewhere, is it moved again before getting shipped? Are there numerous twists and turns before you place the product where it belongs? Remember, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
This does not strictly apply to production; over processing also refers to procedures. How many steps are in your process? Are all of them needed? Take the paperwork, for example. How many people handle the same paperwork? Are there multiple checks performed? Can the process be simplified by eliminated steps or by using technology more efficiently? Try creating a basic process map. This simple tool can make waste stick out like a sore thumb.
Here’s a little hint… If you are using words beginning with ‘re’ then chances are you are experiencing waste. Rework. Repackage. Refile. Reanalyze. Rearrange. Recreate. Recertify. You see where I am going here. All of these words indicate that an action is being completed more than once. Rework is an especially horrid beast because it wastes time, increases costs, and destroys a quality culture. To eliminate rework, determine and address the root cause of an issue.
Ah yes…idle time. Employees can be waiting for trucks to arrive. Clerks can wait for paperwork. Drivers can be waiting to load or unload. These employees are waiting, but consider the fact that their equipment is also idle: forklifts, computers, and trucks. Double waste! Anything that adds value to a company is a resource, and resources need to be utilized to their fullest extent to avoid waste.
I know quite a few people will look at this and think, ‘Knowledge? Really?’ The answer is absolutely! Who knows more about your warehouse processes than the employees who perform them every day? Their knowledge is extremely valuable. Stop and think about this: if you lose a forklift, you can go and buy a new and improved version. If you lose an employee, you cannot go out and hire someone with the same level of knowledge. Sure, they may have warehouse experience, but they don’t have knowledge for your warehouse. By coaching your employees on ways to identify waste, you can leverage their knowledge and gain valuable improvement ideas.
This is by no means a complete list of waste that occurs in warehouses. There are well-known mnemonics out there which can help employees keep waste in the forefront of their minds:
TIM U WOOD - or - DOWNTIME
Under Utilization (Or Non-Utilized Talent)
Over Processing (or Extra Processing)
Once waste can be recognized, getting rid of it is a simple process. The more employees participate in identifying and eliminating waste, the more it will become engrained into their everyday routine, and before you know it, continuous improvement is born.