How wasteful is your intralogistics?

VerschwendungFirst of all, what exactly is wastefulness? While I was doing some online research on LEAN Philosophy, I came across two interesting definitions of “wastefulness“.

“Anything that does not contribute directly to the process of adding value is wasteful.”

“Expenditures that customers would refuse to pay for, if they knew about them, are wasteful.”

The wasteful use of resources is a problem in every industry. In intralogistics however, it is particularly troublesome, because we are continuously searching for more efficient solutions. And efficiency can only be achieved once wastefulness comes to a halt.

Unfortunately our everyday life reeks of wastefulness so much that we came to terms with it and started to ignore it like white noise. We seem to accept that 35% of all perishable foodstuffs are thrown away due to inadequate cooling, that at least 30% of all caught sea creatures die as unwanted by-catch, or that 25% of the distance covered by lorries is done without freight.

But in my opinion, that’s not the way to do it. It does not help at all to get accustomed to the current level of wastefulness. It does not make it disappear. And as soon as we accept a certain amount of prodigality, we establish a precedence and more and more of it comes creeping in. Intralogistics is no different in this regard.

It should be our goal to fight back against the wasteful use of resources and look for more efficient solutions. In order to do so, wastefulness first has to be identified as such.

This brings us to the first definition of wastefulness. Anything that doesn’t add value directly, is wasteful. Transports, internal as well as external, are the prime suspects here. Because transports that don’t increase the product’s value or bring it closer to the customer, are wasteful.

This may sound hard but it’s actually logical and reasonable. You have to organise the internal flow of materials in a way so that no good is moved around more often than necessary. There sure are plenty of distribution centres around the world that don’t measure up to this ideal.

The second definition of wastefulness also leads to useful insights. What if your distribution centre was equipped with a number of webcams so that the public would be able to observe the entire facility. Would that make you feel uncomfortable? Think about what you would need to change before you could allow customers to take a look.

Examples for wastefulness in intralogistics are abundant: unnecessary movements of goods, oversized conveyor technology, laborious order picking processes, damaged goods, unused space, underemployed staff, insufficient insulation, and so on.

These examples might seem obvious, but deriving appropriate counter measures is anything but. That’s because squandering is a tenacious opponent and hard to subdue. It could be that the internal structures are too rigid, or that the people involved are blinded by routine, or the processes in question are too complex. In many situations it might therefore be a good idea to get some outside help.

Fortunately there are companies providing advice to others about getting leaner and more efficient. This includes a number of concepts and measures known collectively as LEAN Philosophy. And one central aspect of this philosophy is discovering and ending wasteful processes. For this purpose, all existing processes could be divided into four categories:

Core processes – these are the ones that add value for the customer
Auxiliary processes – anything that is required to execute the core processes
Blind processes – those processes cause expenditures but no additional value
Waste processes – any process that destroys value previously created

Subsequently, processes that fall into the last two categories should then be abolished if possible. The first two categories will get explored for potential improvements. This is a way to curtail the inefficient use of resources.

Dealing with wastefulness may lead to surprising and sometimes unpleasant insights. Unpleasant, because we need to question the status quo to allow for changes. This can cause quite a lot of resistance in some companies. But if your goal is to operate your intralogistics efficiently, there are no shortcuts. Because fighting wastefulness requires you to get to the root of the problem.

What where your experiences with LEAN Philosophy? In your opinion, which part of intralogistics wastes the most?

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One Response to How wasteful is your intralogistics?

  1. Dean says:

    Getting to a lean supply chain will take some considerable effort up and down the chain. There is always ways to find more efficient ways to save energy, recycle materials, save water, etc. It seems it needs to be a company policy and carried out department by department. I think a good initiative would be to have the company dept heads to be required to reduce at least 10% of inefficiencies quarterly. The same mechanisms should be in place that parallel budget reductions but for waste.

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