5 Steps to Implement a Lean Material Handling System

Cellularization helps companies pursuing a lean transformation to record rapid, dramatic improvements in their processes. A lean material handling system can reduce product costs by reducing idle time and creating a conducive work environment. Many companies have recognized the benefits of lean material handling and are increasingly applying lean manufacturing policies in various production processes.

If you are looking to implement a lean material handling system, the following five steps are crucial.

1. Develop a Plan for Every Part (PfEP) Database

The journey for a lean material-handling system starts with a thorough understanding of the origin of every part, its movement and the way it is used. Establishing PfEP (plan for every part) categories should be based on the specific requirements of your business. For instance, you could include in your spreadsheet or database the lowest and highest number of containers required, supplier ratings in terms of reliability, and the cost per part.

To effectively populate the PfEP database, progressively load data from manufacturing cells, one cell at a time. This sequential development of a PfEP database helps workers to understand how the system worked before rolling it to other areas of your business.

2. Develop the Purchased-Parts Market

This step involves establishing a central storage location for purchased parts instead of having them scattered all over your facility. The storage location should be near the receiving dock to allow faster transfer of the parts to the storage racks. Considerations for purchased-parts include inventory levels for each part, establishing the maximum and minimum inventory levels to hold, space for pallets and racks, and the operating market rules.

These include regulations on how to respond to oversupply, how to handle a situation where the minimum inventory threshold is reached, and a method for loading and picking parts on a first in, first out basis.

3. Design Precise Delivery Routes

You will need efficient custom material handling solutions to deliver products from the purchased parts market to wherever they are needed. At this stage, select a conveyance method, determine route stops and delivery points, identify delivery aisles, and create appropriately sized gravity racks at each delivery stage. With gravity racks, material handlers can deliver new containers to the doorsteps of operators within the cells.

Fill the racks from the outside to avoid interrupting operators. There is a separate shelf for every part used in the cell. When empty, push the container down through a return shelf to retrieve them outside the cell.

4. Employ Pull Signals

By linking the material and information systems, you are sure that only the depleted parts are restocked. This integration or link uses a pull signal, for example, a kanban card, or an empty container. Cards used in a material-handling system are known as withdrawal kanban since they authorize parts movement from the market to cells.

You can use a decoupled delivery route instead of a coupled one. Where a coupled route is used, the tugger is loaded into the market and driven to the cells. A decoupled route involves dividing the work between a market attendant who is responsible for loading parts and the driver whose work is to deliver them. Although they require two carts, decoupled routes are labour efficient. The number of kanbans needed depends on the type of route used.

5. Continuous System Improvement and Monitoring

To keep the system running efficiently, you will need to monitor it daily and conduct periodic audits. The production control manager should spend at least an hour every day to observe the behaviour of the purchased-parts market and the routes. Staff responsible for the material-handling need to meet regularly, at least once a day, to report system hitches and recommend solutions.

Besides, every team should meet key performance metrics in delivery, safety, and productivity. Various management levels should ensure that new tools are properly maintained and that best practices are adhered to. When conducting audits, you should let the staff know that you are only auditing the processes and not individual staff members. Once you complete the audit exercise, post your results for all to see.