Lean approach

25 January 2013

Many companies now follow lean manufacturing principles, adopting more streamlined processes.This has affected the way storage systems are specified and used to provide optimum benefits.Here Clive Woodward, group managing

Many companies now follow lean manufacturing principles, adopting more streamlined processes.This has affected the way storage systems are specified and used to provide optimum benefits.Here Clive Woodward, group managing director of bott, explains

Organisations used to look at storage as a solution to help keep the working environment tidy. It didn't always work, as anecdotal evidence suggests workers would often leave tools and essential equipment lying around or fail to top-up supplies. Today however, many businesses have switched on to using storage in a more efficient and productive way as 'lean' becomes the principle adopted in many manufacturing environments.

The concept of 'lean' is not just restricted to the manufacturing process but applies to an entire organisation, including supply chain, product development and service. 'Lean' encourages businesses to eliminate waste by minimising inventory and reducing processes that do not add value to the end product. As a result lean manufacturing has changed how storage is integrated into the industrial environment.

Using lean techniques can mean less storage with greater use of logistics and a dedicated workforce who buy into the importance of accuracy and quality - the 'right first time' philosophy. Unlike traditional manufacturing methods, the 'lean' approach requires greater organisation and a focus on optimised process to eliminate non-essential activities, tasks and materials - streamlined operations.

When supplies come in, they must be quickly sorted, checked-in and accurately placed in appropriate storage, often at lineside.

Storage accuracy is key so no time is wasted looking for misplaced products or tools. In a lean scenario, only necessary stocks are held. The lean approach focuses on identifying and efficiently locating fastturnover consumables, which helps to ensure that staff always have easy access to the right parts and don't run out. Every business will have some items that move faster than others, so products can be organised in such a way to ensure it is possible to identify those which fall below agreed safety stock levels, and they can be placed in the most convenient positions.

Equally equipment, tools and measurement devices need to be to hand and stored to allow rapid retrieval, while being protected/secured to avoid unplanned repairs/recalibrations and prevent theft.

There is no set rule for how storage should be integrated into the working environment.

It is more a case of identifying the way each business operates and looking for the storage solutions that will complement defined processes. There are however lean tools that can help companies make the right decisions.

For example, through flow process analysis which involves mapping out how a production line should operate and looking at the current work stations, it is possible to balance work flow. It isn't productive for one or two employees in a five station process to be taking longer to complete their part of the job, causing a bottleneck. By assessing the detail of the work for each person, work stations can be designed around specific needs to improve efficiency and line balance.

One of the seven wastes listed in the principles of 'lean' is SMED (single minute exchange of die); the idea is to get the quickest tool change possible to achieve the longest working time on the machine.

Having storage that is organised, easily accessed and perfectly suited to the job reduces downtime for machine and operator.

Tools and components must be readily at hand and easily identifiable - a fundamental lean principle. Critical items tagged with RFID readable labels can aid easy location.

Mobile storage is growing in popularity, as workers avoid the need to go off to locate tools for each task and instead take tools with them as they move around the plant.

Having storage specifically assigned to an individual makes it easier for them to find the tools and equipment they need.

As well as being specified to fit operational workflows, storage should help businesses get the most out of available floor space. This means not just looking at the physical sizes of drawers and cupboards, but how they are located and integrated. For example, where access is an issue, units with roller shutter doors, provide a viable option for users to access a cupboard's contents where there isn't sufficient room to open doors.

Whether wall storage, tool boxes, workbenches, cupboards, cabinets, trollies or assembly lines, bott has solutions within its range to suit almost all storage requirements.

In addition it offers storage with intelligent locking, which is suitable for valuable, sensitive or specifically calibrated tooling.

Access is restricted so the item should never go missing and will be fit-for-purpose as it's only available to certain users within preconfigured calibration time-frames.

Lean is a mentality adopted by an organisation and in which storage can play a part. When looking at ways to improve operational workflow, reduce footprint of equipment and increase the workforce's output, consideration must be given to selecting the correct form of storage due to the commercial benefits it can offer.