Article on “Lean warehouse” off the mark

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“Lean is not just for manufacturing […]; its techniques and tools can be adapted to almost any type of operation. In warehouses and DCs, it can improve efficiency, inventory, safety, and costs, say experts in the discipline. And because Lean changes the way people think about processes and communication, it can be especially effective in helping facilities use warehouse labor more efficiently and cost-effectively. It’s a complex subject that requires formal training to master, but the following will provide a general idea of how lean principles can have a huge impact on warehouse labor.”


Michel Baudin‘s insight:

This article is all about the efficiency of warehouse operations and the way “Lean” can reduce warehouse labor. It says almost nothing about the effectiveness of warehouse operations. From this article’s perspective, driving an empty forklift is a waste to be eliminated, but there is not a word about using other means than forklifts to move goods, in perhaps less than pallet quantities, such as carts or small trains. There is not a word either about locating frequently used items in the locations that are easiest to reach, or collocating items that are frequently used together…

At least in manufacturing operations, the number of people used in warehouse operations is a tiny fraction of the number used in production, and increasing their productivity is not the issue. A Lean implementation may instead increase their numbers to improve service and achieve much larger productivity gains in production.

The pursuit of fully loaded forklifts and trucks may increase the efficiency of storage, retrieval, and transportation operations, but also delay e deliveries and hurt the performance of the business as a whole. This is not just my own observations. It has been described as a systematic phenomenon by researchers like Hau Lee.

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