Kanban and Maintenance Planning: Even Lean advocates are begging for a solution to Kanban Cards and Maintenance. Anyone who has calculated Kanban circuit sizes and printed and unfolded cards knows that this is no easy task. And those who have had the misfortune of running out of a Kanban item can attest to the feeling that you really don’t know why. Creating a Kanban system for a distribution center with tens of thousands of items makes an assembly plant with a few thousand look like a piece of cake.
IT solutions will not only determine the number of kanbans, but will also monitor operations and determine when the number of kanbans should be adjusted. Reducing the amount of materials when appropriate will be where IT can be harnessed to reach new levels in Lean. The systems will also transmit kanbans in an appropriate format to those not in the loop and put an end to the work of checking and routing at the docks. For all those who are looking for the standard format for Kanban, before long it won’t exist or won’t need to exist.
Operations Planning and Control: Mr. F. Cho when he was the President of Toyota Motor Corporation once said that Lean in the assembly plant was easy compared to a Distribution Center. The plant has a chained conveyor belt that presents a job every 60 seconds; the operator is prevented from advancing or delaying the job. In the Distribution Center there is no set rhythm. Just ask them if they are early or late. To a man, they’ll say they’re late or will be late if they don’t collect as quickly as possible. Even in automated warehouses, there is no rhythm. It seems that automation supports larger and larger picking batches by optimizing picking, while getting worse at sorting and packing. (For all the Taylorians who believe that reducing waves is the way to be more efficient; we ask: why not one wave a day or one a week? Why not one wave per month?).
IT will support the Lean Supply Chain by dramatically improving Distribution Center operations through more frequent ordering and replenishment. What we expect is that systems solutions will analyze the level of work for the day, establishing a number of pickups and receipts of requisitioned batches to maintain performance objectives, establishing TAKT time according to the normal work window, determining operator numbers according to the cycle times of standard work batches and notifying supervisors if overtime is required. When operators are available, supervisors will be given a selection of inventory, cleaning or other batch types for the system to dispatch. Operators will be reserved for problem-solving projects according to the Distribution Center’s objectives. Every time the system creates a plan, it will automatically level out waves of picking versus sorting and packing based on the content of the job.
Expecting this doesn’t stop the development of the plan. The system will also continuously monitor progress and record problems for future troubleshooting and inform supervision when an inventory is needed. Operators will be transferred from one activity to another without interruption, with the system controlling the time according to the calculated TAKT and task group assignment. If additional work is received, the system will analyze the work and make the appropriate calculation to develop a new plan, which will be executed without intervention. The revised task groups will simply flow to the operators or if necessary to labor allocation.
In the new IT solution, when the DC (Distribution Center) Manager is asked: “How’s it going?” He will reply: “Great, the plan is to ship 100 boxes in the first hour and we’ve already shipped 99. Wait! The 100th has just left. For now we usually have 14 batches that haven’t been completed according to plan, usually 10 take less time and 4 take more. Today we only have 9 – 7 early, and 2 late. The Kaizen Team is really making some progress. We’ve just received the rest of the replenishment for the order that was placed 10 days ago, only 2 days more than the transit time.”
As you can see, IT will be an integral part providing: media to communicate demand, developing processes that reduce structure and operational improvements. Traditionally we look at past productivity performance as a way of judging how we’re doing. We don’t really know how to change the number that has been reported. Unallocated time and lost time due to problems that have been encountered are the biggest obstacles to improving productivity.
We think organizations will need to move away from traditional problem solving as they move to the environment where the pace is set to meet customer requirements instantly. The system will collect key data and present it in a way that operators will instantly have a proper understanding of the current condition. Everyone’s problem-solving ability will be enhanced by the availability of data that is supported by the systems that will be developed.
We are excited about the future and look forward to your comments. Please email questions or comments to Dan Mulloy: firstname.lastname@example.org.