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Storage solutions fit for lean times

25 January 2013

Lean manufacturing has led many plants to adopt more streamlined processes, which can have an effect on the way storage systems are integrated.This includes the rise in the use of mobile storage which,says Clive Woodward,g

Lean manufacturing has led many plants to adopt more streamlined processes, which can have an effect on the way storage systems are integrated.This includes the rise in the use of mobile storage which,says Clive Woodward,group MD of Bott, can improve performance, simplify the working environment and help manage inventory

The term 'lean' was introduced to describe the production system developed by the Toyota company during the post World War II years and is based on the practice of achieving more with less resource. Today, the concept of lean is not just restricted to manufacturing but applies to an entire organisation, including the supply chain, product development and service.

Lean manufacturing essentially aims to save time and money. According to the Manufacturing Institute, if a business can quarter its leadtime, it will double productivity and reduce costs by 20%. As a result, there can also be a 30 to 50% reduction in floor space requirements. Under these circumstances, significant consideration has to be given to the types of storage systems used to ensure they meet the business' needs, while taking up as small a footprint as possible - complying with the approach to lean operations.

Fit for workflow Storage should be designed to fit operational workflows, helping businesses to get the most out of the available floor space. This means not just looking at the physical sizes of drawers and cupboards, but how they are integrated. For example, where access is an issue, some storage manufacturers offer units with roller shutter doors, providing a viable option for users to access a cupboard's contents where there isn't sufficient room to open a door.

The right storage also increases a business' performance by reducing downtime and tool loss. Tools and components must be readily at hand and easily identifiable, contributing to the workforce's efficiency - a fundamental lean principle.Mobile storage is growing in popularity for this reason, as workers are not going off to locate tools for each task but instead can take the tools with them as they move around the plant.

Safety and stability When looking for mobile storage solutions such as trolleys, cabinets, benches and workstands, safety and stability must be considerations. Make sure castors are heavy duty and fitted with foot brakes so units can be safely kept stationary. Ensure mobile drawer systems incorporate safety trigger mechanisms, so they cannot accidentally open while in transit. To prevent units from tipping over if heavily loaded drawers are all opened at the same time, Bott's units include a drawer blocking feature.

Storage systems will also ensure efficient inventory management - another factor within lean manufacturing practices. Wall boards feature silhouette shapes behind each tool hook, allowing the user to instantly see if a tool is missing.

To also aid identification, it is becoming common practice for drawers to feature foam inserts with cut-outs.

Organised tool and spare parts storage means maintenance and production staff can ensure every component is accounted for.

This is vital when working in areas such as food or medical lines, to ensure that no tools or small parts such as nuts and bolts can accidently enter food by being left within a production line, after maintenance has taken place. If this were to happen, the consequences could be costly and potentially disastrous to a company's reputation.

Well planned storage systems can also lead to cost savings. Keeping items in defined locations makes it easy for staff to keep an eye on stock levels so that new parts are only ordered when needed. In addition, formal processes can instil employee discipline in retrieving parts from, and returning to, storage locations, ultimately saving inefficient 'man miles' by avoiding staff having to search for items and reducing their productivity.

It is possible to choose the right storage by working with a team of experts who will take the time to understand the business' requirements and provide the right solution.

Getting it right can result in efficient working practices, which positively affect a company's bottom line and form part of lean manufacturing processes.