Vertical Storage Solutions for Lean Manufacturing: Part 1

Guest blog from MHI Member Company Modula

This is part 1 of a two-part series on vertical storage solutions for lean manufacturing.

While processes differ between factories and warehouses, the typical types of waste found are quite similar and always involve inefficient use of time and money. Lean manufacturing is based on identifying and eliminating waste. In lean manufacturing, waste is any expense or effort which doesn’t generate a product or a service that a potential client is willing to pay for.

One area where such inefficiencies are often observed is in warehousing. Conventional racking, shelving, drawer cabinets still used in many facilities, often contribute to this waste as they occupy significant valuable space within the facility. They also lead to slower process flows where time is mainly spent locating and retrieving parts.

High-density automated vertical storage systems can help factories and warehouses eliminate the wastes, significantly optimize manufacturing processes, and dramatically improve efficiency and productivity of the overall operations.

1. Defects

One of the most easily recognizable wastes in lean manufacturing is the production of defects generated by different mistakes including poor-quality controls, uncontrolled inventory management, and missing processes and documentations. Industry studies have shown that each picking error results in a 11-13% drain on profitability. This has a considerable financial impact at the end of the year, not to mention the risk it poses for the company.

Vertical Lift Modules (VLMs) are fully automated vertical storage systems that allow for large inventory of goods to be quickly accessed while being stored in a safe and secure environment. Items are delivered to the operators with a simple touch on the user-friendly copilot controller or the scan of a barcode. Moreover, a laser solution pinpoints the SKU by mapping it on an X, Y axis. The item’s position is highlighted first with a red line indicating the correct column and then isolating the exact location with a green dot.

This feature eliminates the need to search for items and ensures that the right part is delivered to the right person – greatly reducing the risk of human errors.

Furthermore, the user can monitor stock levels in real time, speed up order execution times for both picking and replenishment operations, and avoid the accidental release of wrong, obsolete, expired or on-hold products.

2. Excess Processing/ Inappropriate Processing

Repairing, remanufacturing, and over processing are examples of inappropriate processing waste, as are excessive reports, re-entering data or duplicate existing data, use of unnecessary procedures or equipment, as well as human errors. Companies often perform more work than what would be required for the creation of the product, service or process demanded by customers.

Vertical storage solutions can help in eliminating these wastes as they streamline operating procedures, increase the flexibility and lower the costs in almost any type of facility. Large inventory of items can be stored in a minimal footprint, bringing items closer to where they are needed. This reduces the length of the production line, optimizes the operation flow, and prevents errors or product damages during transportation which would require costly repairs or remanufacturing.

Lean order processing is also easy to implement thanks to the WMS software that can be directly connected to the local ERP offering full traceability and real time inventory, preventing duplicate data and eliminating excessive reporting.

Likewise, all picking operations are monitored and log-ins are tracked, even down to specific trays preventing operators from picking the same items or for high valuable products to be stolen, which would result in more reports and documents needed to correct the problem.

Lastly, many manufacturing facilities need adaptable equipment, as they constantly change and readjust their product mix to keep up with the market demands. The modular design of the VLM ensures almost unlimited flexibility. The height can be modified and adjusted to optimize the ceiling height, by adding or removing modules as these can be easily adapted to the new height requirements of different location within the production or warehouse facility.

Trays can be organized for every type/size of stored item. Thanks to partitions and dividers, users can create the exact number of storage locations required and the configuration can be adjusted at any time to accommodate changes in the size or quantity of the stored items. This guarantees the same outputs even with changes in products or tools.

Thanks to partitions and dividers, users can create the exact number of storage locations required and the configuration can be adjusted at any time to accommodate changes.

3. Overproduction

Overproduction occurs any time more parts or products are produced than the clients have ordered. Some organizations still work on the principle of “Just in Case” instead of “Just in Time”.

Many organizations schedule the production based on unclear or inaccurate forecast and without an exact overview of the quantity of products still available in stock at the end of the month.

This can easily lead to some of the most significant wastes, such as excessive inventory, storage, resources and movement costs and significant capital tied up in unused inventory.
Thanks to the implementation of vertical storage solutions, warehousing and manufacturing facilities can have full control over the flow of goods. Floor managers can verify their stocks at regular intervals and consequently have the visibility required to make better forecast that reduce inventory costs.

VLMs can be integrated into any existing local IT system thanks to WMS. This inventory management software provides an accurate and continuous exchange of information with minimal impact on the pre-existing procedures. By using the available data to its full potential, WLMs guarantee improved inventory control and accountability. All picking and replenishment operations are monitored and documented to offer full traceability of the orders and monitor stock levels in real time.

4. Labor cost

Industry studies have shown that vertical storage solutions can increase workforce productivity by up to 85% as one worker is able to handle the same volume of work previously performed by multiple operators.

VLMs retrieves trays with the stored items and delivers them to the user at the optimum ergonomic retrieval height. Thanks to features, like the laser pointer the item and quantity to be picked are immediately identified. Compared to traditional static shelving systems, employees are primarily busy in the value-added picking operations, as they are not forced to walk up and down aisles or climb up and down stairs or ladders.

The system delivers the items to a fixed operator’s location where the picking or replenishment operations take place

However, labor costs can also be decreased without laying off the workforce. Managers can create new revenue activities by reclaiming otherwise wasted space and labor, such as additional manufacturing or warehouse areas or by processing more orders within the same operations.

Thanks to these flexible vertical storage solutions, they can also look ahead at the upcoming production to ensure efficient staffing and eliminate unnecessary overtime.
The learning process to operate the machines is quick and easy. Operators simply need to learn how to operate the very user friendly operator interface. In the case of the VLM, a color touchscreen controller makes picking from the unit very simple and fast.

Stay tuned for part 2!