How to Operate a Lean Warehouse

A lean warehouse follows the “5S” guidelines to achieve efficiency: sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain.

The process occurs through organizing and cleaning the workspace systematically, as well as standardizing work practices and procedures. Each element plays a critical role:

  • Sort: Sorting increases a warehouse’s usable space because it removes unneeded or unnecessary items, tools, supplies and equipment from the workplace.
  • Set in order: The practice of setting things in order ensures that each work area is arranged for the greatest efficiency and convenience. Tools, supplies and the general work area should be organized to maximize productivity and reduce needless reaching or bending.
  • Shine: Employees should clean their work areas at the end of every shift. By removing clutter and debris, workers will be better able to identify and resolve potential problems. This practice also improves morale because every workday begins and ends with a clean and organized workspace.
  • Standardize: Successful improvements should be documented and shared, so they can become standardized throughout all aspects of the organization.
  • Sustain: Each of the prior steps needs to be repeated daily for a warehouse to employ lean warehousing tactics. When the 5S’s are applied, each day will see an improvement in efficiency and productivity over the prior day.

Transitioning Your Warehouse to Lean

Adopting lean warehousing best practices can help your organization perform better, save time and money, and meet the needs of your customers more effectively. With a more organized environment, you’ll also make way for new ideas and innovation to surface—a byproduct that allows greater opportunities for constant improvement in your warehouse.

Focus on these areas to transition a warehouse to a lean operating style:

  • Drive forklifts only when they are fully loaded.
  • Eliminate congested inbound and outbound areas.
  • Augment visibility of stock throughout the space.
  • Remove all obsolete stock.
  • Improve material storage and handling methods.
  • Clear bottlenecks at pick locations.
  • Facilitate shipping approvals more efficiently.
  • Phase out all over-production, over-engineering and over-processing activities.
  • Welcome new ideas and innovation.
  • Conduct regular audits to ensure standards are followed.
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