BlogSupply Chain: Lowering Your Total Cost of BusinessKaizen ideas for the warehouse are valuable to increasing efficiency.

Kaizen business strategies have come a long way since their implementation on Toyota factory floors in 1948. The company adopted kaizen as one of its principles when it established the “Toyota Way,” which most experts consider the gold standard in Lean manufacturing. Kaizen ensures businesses grow by focusing not just on eliminating waste, but also on continuous improvement. Kaizen strategies are built on the belief that no process is ever perfect, but by constantly identifying and resolving problems, employees can bring a process closer and closer to perfection.

While kaizen is used in a wide range of businesses today, such programs seem to work best for those in manufacturing and warehouse environments. Often, tasks in these environments are repetitious and can easily be broken into processes where simple tweaks can yield significant increases in productivity. A tweak like this may be a change to the way a step is performed or a change in the tools used to support those steps. In this post, we’ll talk about what kaizen is, provide some kaizen ideas for the warehouse, and discuss how a simple, system-wide change–like switching to a different type of shipping pallet–can have a positive ripple effect throughout your supply chain.

The Elements of Kaizen Business Strategies

Kaizen strategies in the warehouse can streamline processes.The word “kaizen” is Japanese for “improvement,” and it centers on a continuous philosophy. That means that kaizen is not a series of steps, but a cycle that is broken down into four stages, repeated indefinitely:

  • Plan: Review the current status and set goals, as well as suggested changes for reaching them.
  • Do: Get key stakeholders on board and put the plan into action.  
  • Check: Review the results and compare them to prior data.   
  • Act: Report results, fix problems, and return to the planning stage.

Kaizen can be invaluable for creating strategies that leverage new resources to eliminate common warehouse inefficiencies.

This cycle, often abbreviated to PDCA, ensures manufacturers can take advantage of industry innovations. Upon the introduction of a new technology or service, they can determine how it fits into their current process and whether it can be used to eliminate steps. In this way, kaizen can be invaluable for creating strategies that leverage new resources to eliminate common warehouse inefficiencies.

Warehouse Inefficiencies and Causes of Production Delays

Before implementing kaizen ideas in a warehouse, it’s important to determine where inefficiencies most commonly occur. While every warehouse is different, throughput is often affected by the following:

  • Equipment disruptions: Automation in warehouse processes is crucial to efficiency, but when these systems break down, they can create significant production delays.
  • Employee injuries: Injuries for warehouse workers are about double the national average, with one in twenty workers in 2017 suffering an event which required medical treatment. Injured employees may need to take time off work or go on light duty restrictions as they recover, which impedes productivity and hurts company culture.
  • Rejected loads: When a retailer or distributor rejects a load of product, employees must return the truck to the warehouse, repack it and send it out again, resulting in damaged inventory, higher transportation costs, and wasted working hours. When rejected goods have short shelf lives, as in dairy and produce deliveries, the entire load is often lost.
  • Conveyance: The more frequently inventory is handled, the higher the risk of product damage. Moving inventory around the warehouse due to space issues or poor planning also wastes working hours, lowering the productivity of the warehouse as a result.

Kaizen methods examine these problems, starting by scrutinizing the process that caused the issue. In many cases, it’s possible that a single step in the process is contributing to multiple problems. By changing that one factor, many inefficiencies can be reduced or eliminated. 

Kaizen Ideas for Warehouse Management: Why Focus on Your Pallets

A Kaizen warehouse in action.When doing a kaizen assessment of the warehouse, you’ll notice that often simple changes make the biggest impacts on productivity. Some changes, like switching to plastic pallet pooling, can create a noticeable improvement in all of the areas mentioned above. In pallet pooling, warehouses rent pallets from a shared pool used by other manufacturers. This eliminates the upfront cost of pallet purchase and allows warehouses to scale their programs as needed based on seasonal demand changes.

Reusable plastic pallet pooling fits into a kaizen business strategy as it uses one simple improvement to solve multiple problems.

Whether such a program works will depend on the quality of pallets in the pool. Reusable plastic pallet pooling fits into a kaizen business strategy–and a lean warehousing strategy–as it uses one simple improvement to solve multiple problems and eliminate waste. Plastic pallet pooling can reduce:

  • Equipment disruptions: Plastic pallets are gentler on equipment as they don’t leave behind wood debris which can clog or damage sensitive machines. Plastic pallets are lighter as well, which reduces overall wear and tear on the machinery. Engineered plastic pallets also offer a consistent weight and dimensions, making it easier to calibrate automated equipment.
  • Employee injuries: OSHA recommends a two-person lift on anything over 50 pounds. As high-quality plastic pallets typically weigh 50 pounds each, employees can lift them alone. Lightweight plastic pallets also reduce the risk of lifting injuries, which are common for warehouse workers.
  • Rejected loads: Retailers often reject loads shipped on wood stringer pallets because these pallets are prone to break, causing product damage. Plastic pallets, on the other hand, are accepted industry-wide because they’re durable, easy to clean, resistant to contamination, and keep products shipped on them safe and intact. In one study, product damage costs due to pallets were reduced by as much as $0.15 – 0.70 per pallet load by switching to plastic platforms.  
  • Conveyance: By using a plastic pooling provider, warehouses are able to free up floor space, which eliminates the need to shift inventory around to make room on crowded floors.

By replacing traditional wood pallets with pooled plastic pallets, warehouse managers can simultaneously address several common causes of warehouse waste. This strategy supports a kaizen philosophy of continuous improvement as it allows a warehouse to make a small change that ultimately results in significant improvements in production and efficiency. Any warehouse manager concerned with eliminating waste and continuing to improve their facility’s processes should consider switching to high-quality pooled plastic pallets.  

iGPS provides plastic pallet pooling for warehouse managers who want to improve their production by cutting out causes of waste and inefficiency in their supply chain. For more information on how our pallets support lean manufacturing and a kaizen philosophy, contact us at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.