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Five Tips for Implementing Lean Warehouse Practices

Have you ever thought your warehouse could run more efficiently?

Now that the peak season has passed, businesses may be starting to consider improvements for their warehouses. How can things run more smoothly? What about increasing efficiency? Can the customer experience be improved?  

As we get into the stride of 2023, planning for success is vital to achieving it. This is where "lean” principles come into play.  

The “Lean” model is a practice borrowed from the vehicle manufacturing industry which emphasizes finding a balance between cost and efficiency. It’s an obvious approach and can be adopted to the warehousing, fulfillment, and eCommerce industries. In this article we’ll discuss what lean warehousing is and give five tips for implementing lean warehousing practices.  

What is lean warehousing?

A lean warehouse can be achieved by applying the lean practices in a warehouse’s operations. Lean business models were originally coined by Toyota for vehicle manufacturing lines. The basic objective is to make the vehicles ordered the quickest and most efficient way possible without sacrificing company standards.  

Lean warehousing is a management approach that focuses on the same premise. Reduce resource consumption and lower processing times without jeopardizing quality.  

On paper, it’s all very simple. In the real-world, we know it can be more complicated. Let’s talk about strategy.  

Optimized inventory management  

This may seem obvious, but a meticulously organized inventory (both virtually and physically) can transform the efficiency of a warehouse. Accurate inventory data allows businesses to better utilize virtual warehouses, create more accurate projections, and avoid inefficiencies like overstocking and instances of out-of-stock inventory. A WMS or ERP is a software program that can help businesses keep accurate counts of their inventory and maintain real-time records of movement.  

Flow of Movement  

Rethink warehouse movement. Unnecessary movement can take a toll on employees and increase processing time. Set-in-order is a layout strategy that organizes tasks and products in the order that they are used with the most common tasks and items in a space that is easy to use. Another warehouse tool some WMS systems offer is turn-by-turn directions. This can help your employees move through the warehouse on the most efficient pathways possible.  

Minimize Mispacking

Mispacking or overpacking can seem like a non-issue but take a closer look before dismissing this practice. The weight difference between one packing material and another, while only ounces, directly impacts the way the carriers use dimensional weight or volumetric weight to determine the price of shipping your parcels. This means shaving off inches and ounces leads to big savings, especially when every package can be reduced.  

Businesses should right-size their packaging. If an envelope rather than a box can be used it is a great option for non-fragile items. For packages that must be shipped in boxes, businesses should re-evaluate the shipping material and sizes of boxes being used. There are a lot of packing materials on the market and businesses should shop around for the cheapest option that still offers the protection their product needs.  

Standardize and Train  

Once processes are put into place, they should be standardized. This means how an order is picked from the shelves, packed into boxes, and staged for shipment should be the same every time. Once all employees are following the same processes it becomes much easier to identify issues that exist. This universality will only be achieved if all employees are trained and understand the procedures a business uses that they interact with.  

Respect and Empower Employees  

This practice refers to allowing all employees, regardless of position, to bring up efficiency or quality issues. This management approach allows for a continual improvement cycle to go into effect which emphasizes the issues the warehouse workers identify. They are the best positioned employees to identify quality and efficiency issues before they make a big impact.  

We all know New Year’s Resolutions stick better when they’re taken on in a slow progression. As our last piece of advice, we recommend taking one step at a time. The ‘lean’ model should be taken on like a New Year’s resolution. Gradual improvement will be more likely to stick and make the long-term change, as well as allow for an environment of continual improvement to be adopted.  

ShipCaddie TWMS can help a warehouse improve and implement lean principles. If you would like to learn more, request a free demo today!

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