Packaging Corner: Shelf bins help kanban principles go small scale
Although the shift to lean, just-in-time practices on the assembly line is well documented, the pursuit of expense elimination in warehouses and DCs continues. “Many organizations are shifting use of the kanban principle down to smaller applications within a facility,” says Mike Ludka, product manager at LEWISBins+. “Component assembly, work-in-process and picking are now getting the lean treatment.”
Driven partly by the downturn in the economy as organizations try to reduce costs, even the smallest processes are being picked apart to uncover and eliminate hidden labor costs and losses associated with inventory shortages.
“These plants have shelves set up with hundreds of bins holding the small components needed to build a larger product, like an engine,” he explains. “Fasteners, washers and other components bought in bulk quantities to save money and pad inventory aren’t necessarily bought in the same quantities at the same time. Inevitably you run out of something.”
Running out of a lowly—but assembly-critical—washer not only costs extra to replenish inventory in a rush, but also could potentially result in the pocketbook jarring shut down of an assembly line for days.
“Companies recognize this, so they typically designate an inventory control person to physically verify on-site bulk part availability,” adds Ludka. “It’s very time consuming and manual, which is a labor cost. And, it’s not lean.”
To address the issue, LEWISBins+ recently unveiled 21 different models of injection-molded plastic shelf bins that replace the corrugated boxes typically used for bulk storage of small parts in shelving. Color coded and internally dividable, the bins can be outfitted with a special kanban divider system. Placing a moveable, bright orange divider between active and reserve inventory within the same bin gives a quick visual indication to the picker of the amount of remaining contents. When active inventory is depleted and the reserve goes into rotation, the picker moves the orange divider to the front.
“This is the cue for the inventory control person to reorder, either manually or by scanning a bar code or QR code attached to the bin,” Ludka says. “It visually communicates the need for part replenishment without the time required for a physical count, and adds a whole new level of lean to an operation.”
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