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  Manufacturing Insights   |   November, 2007
Lean Automation Optimization Found in the Mobile Warehouse
by Thomas R. Cutler
 

While change is often difficult, a change in technology systems, processes, and culture need not difficult for employees. Adoption of new lean solutions must be a central element of strategic planning and operations automation excellence. By minimizing the learning curve on new processes and technologies employees will adopt to the new culture more easily and rapidly, thus increasing the return on investment of the new application. Evan Garber, President of Escape Velocity System suggests, “Effective warehouse automation systems can navigate, lookup, and validate entries with the scan of a single barcode. Warehouse and plant functions handled by these mobile technologies eliminate the need for employees to hit a series of keys and commands to get to a function within the system, lookup selected data, and risk putting the correct information in the wrong field.” No longer will the lot number accidentally end up in the location field. By Increasing the visibility and accuracy of warehouse operations lean efficiencies are realized.

Modules that should be included with the Mobile Warehouse Optimization Technology
  • Purchase order receiving
  • Bin / location moves
  • Process manufacturing
  • Quality control
  • Sales order shipping
  • Physical count


  • Purchase Order Receiving:

    Increase the accuracy, speed, and effectiveness of the receiving department with a Mobile Warehouse Smart-Barcode technology quickly teaches employees how to perform the receiving function. With a couple scans from a barcode reader, inventory is received, compared to the purchase order, and validated against the receiving rules that have been clearly defined; labels are then printed with desired information. By empowering receiving personnel to enter inventory receipts at the dock, the following lean efficiencies are realized:
  • Faster and more accurate inventory information of raw materials
  • Better communication with production planning and scheduling functions
  • More timely information for material purchase planning



  • Increased Accuracy = Elimination of Waste

    Since the core premise of Lean manufacturing is continued process improvement, the ability to increase control of inventory with time-tested accuracy of bar coding generates increased accuracy, decreased errors, and therefore the elimination of waste.

    Real-Time Data Entry

    According to Garber, “The benefits of real time data entry with a Mobile Warehouse, empowers employees to capture data at the point of origination providing faster and more accurate inventory reporting.”

    Value Add Matrix

    While not part of any specific technology a Value Add Matrix will allow recognition of the current state of a warehouse operation as well as the a plan to reach a lean state. Detailed Process steps are categorized as either value added or non-value added. Non-value added items include inventory (WIP and backlog), delays (operate based), duplication, movement, defects, rework, checking, and lost opportunities.

    Maximizing Flow eliminates waste in the value stream and only values work that adds value to the end product. The goal is to continuously increase the velocity with which value-added work flows through an enterprise by reducing delays, reducing setup time (context switch) and eliminating complexity. Lean optimized environments will always be simpler after the application of lean concepts than it was before.

    Creating a Pull environment – caps the amount of WIP in the system, and ensures that processes are driven by actual demand. In a near to overcapacity environment, controlling the release of work into a work queue is equivalent to controlling the “gas pedal” on the lead time of a process. Garber suggests, “By regulating how work is released into job-specific work queues, companies can greatly reduce lead time variability, which is shown to lead to higher work efficiency in a near capacity environment. The relationship between amount of WIP and lead time is described by “Little’s Law”, a cornerstone of Lean understanding. Controlling WIP can also can increase velocity of cash flow by prioritizing inputs, and making sure that the higher value processes get priority.”

    Warehouse management often serves as one of the most costly components of a growing organization. Centrally managing orders to reduce costs, automating the receiving and put-away process to improve productivity, achieving optimal inventory control, keeping customer commitments with error-free order fulfillment, integrating shipping operations, and increasing productivity with mobile computing are central to cost-containment and short-term ROI of mobile warehouse technology investments.



    Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based TR Cutler, Inc., the largest manufacturing marketing firm worldwide – www.trcutlerinc.com. Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium of twenty seven hundred journalists and editors writing about trends in manufacturing. Cutler is also the author of the Manufacturers’ Public Relations and Media Guide. Cutler is a frequently published author within the manufacturing sector with more than 300 feature articles authored annually; he can be contacted at trcutler@trcutlerinc.com..... See More Details.

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