When Toyota met e-commerce: Lean at Amazon | Marc Onetto

See on Scoop.itlean manufacturing
“The spirit of lean management was already at Amazon when I arrived in 2007. Since the day he created Amazon, Jeff Bezos has been totally customer-centric. He knew that customers would not pay for waste—and that focus on waste prevention is a fundamental concept of lean. The company’s information technology was always very good at understanding what the customer wanted and passing the right signal down. ”

Michel Baudin‘s comments:

Read this article for a personal account from Amazon’s vice president of worldwide operations and customer service through 2013.

The title is misleading, in that the article is not about any assessment of Amazon by Toyota, and the connection between the Amazon practices Onetto describes and TPS or Lean are tenuous.

For example, a service agent taking a product off the website based on repetitive customer complaints on quality is described as “pulling the Andon cord,” which is a far-fetched metaphor.

An Andon cord, or stop rope, is supposed to be pulled whenever an operator notices anything wrong during the production process. It is not a response to repeated customer complaints and it does not result in pulling the product off the line.

Linking Amazon’s approach to Toyota is unnecessary. Amazon has been doing a great job; it is leading the world in e-commerce, an activity that is outside Toyota’s expertise. It is Amazon’s own approach, and they might as well call it the “Amazon Production System.”

See on www.mckinsey.com

A New Approach to Materials Handling in Warehouses

In a discussion in the TPS + 1 SENSEI group on LinkedIn, Casey Ng drew my attention to a materials handling approach from Kiva Systems, a company started up in Boston in 2003 by engineer/MBA Mick Mountz with funding from Bain Capital, that is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amazon. The following is a promotional video from Youtube:

The system shown in the video is clever, and can certainly be useful in fulfilling Amazon orders or in kit picking for assembly, but it is also obviously not a panacea. It only supports a single-level of racks, and boxes or bins that can be lifted by people. If you wanted to use the overhead space for storage, you might combine it with a classical automatic storage and retrieval system, which would move the portable racks to and from from upper levels for further handling on the ground by the Kiva pods.

Bringing materials to an operator at a fixed location rather than have the operator travel to do the picking is what is also attempted by carousels, but carousels require the operator to wait up to a half-turn for the right slot to be presented, and are limited in the number of items they can carry.

Cheesecake-factory-device-in-Kiva-warehouse with highlightAs shown in the video, while the concept is innovative in terms of storage and retrieval, it does not stretch hardware technology.  As we see on the video, we see the operator who loads boxes onto racks for putaway use devices that look like the ones used in restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory or the Fish Market to notify waiting customers that their tables are ready. The pods look like giant Roombas, but move in a more restricted manner. According to Mick Mountz, the pods just move around the grid of small squares marked on the floor with optical guidance and a simple form of “after-you” system to avoid collisions. On the video, auto-ID seems to be based on plain old barcodes. There is no mention of RFID or even QR-codes. The actual transfer of boxes is manual, with a form of pick-to-light guidance. While less visible, the software that coordinates all the moving parts is clearly at the core of this system.

I learned of Kiva’s existence this morning, and have no relationship with this company.