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.

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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.”

Read more Packaging Corner columns.


About the Author

Sara Pearson Specter
Sara Pearson Specter has written articles and supplements for Modern Materials Handling and Material Handling Product News as an Editor at Large since 2001. Specter has worked in the fields of graphic design, advertising, marketing, and public relations for nearly 20 years, with a special emphasis on helping business-to-business industrial and manufacturing companies. She owns her own marketing communications firm, Sara Specter, Marketing Mercenary LLC. Clients include companies in a diverse range of fields, including materials handing equipment, systems and packaging, professional and financial services, regional economic development and higher education. Specter graduated from Centre College in Danville, Ky. with a bachelor’s degree in French and history. She lives in Oregon’s Willamette Valley where she and her husband are in the process of establishing a vineyard and winery.

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