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It is a recognizable fact for many organizations: so many manual solutions, divergent workflows and additional systems have been created that it makes the process not more efficient but rather more cluttered. The team at a luxury goods manufacturer in Lummen also ran into this problem. Our Lean colleagues Marko Kuipers and Wim Vermeire were therefore allowed to visit to conduct a lean assessment. This allowed them to understand the current state of their processes and identify opportunities for improvement. They followed the internal logistics – or the path that the “raw materials” take along the production floor on their way to the finished product. We’d like to take you through their findings in a nutshell.

Lean Assessment

The client’s main request was primarily a thorough analysis of their logistics process. Important here was a focus on identifying waste and improving collaboration between different departments. Indeed, due to the complexity, it was difficult for management to map this out on its own.

To make everything transparent, we conducted an assessment to obtain a baseline measurement, known as the “current state. Our approach included a combination of process mapping and gemba observations. Process mapping is simply visualizing all internal logistics activities to get a clear picture of the flow of materials and information throughout the organization, including the internal logistics of raw materials to the production floor and finished goods to shipping. Through gemba observations, Marko and Wim entered the shop floor themselves to observe processes firsthand.

Observations & frustrations

During the gemba observations and process mapping, several key points emerged that highlighted the need for improvement. First, we observed significant imbalance in the distribution of employees on the shop floor (calculated from the number of employees and machines per square meter). Some areas were found to be overcrowded, others undercrowded.

Not only did the physical distribution lead to inefficiency, but also the distribution in terms of working time. For example, Marko and Wim noticed that many people, in particular, were scheduled during the day, whereas the process is often at a standstill at that time because of the need to wait for the next step. And those familiar with TIMWOODS know that is also a form of waste.

Another interesting issue was the reliance on a manual Excel schedule, which often contained errors and did not effectively communicate changes in priorities throughout the day. This resulted in unnecessary disruptions and lack of clarity for staff. In addition, different systems were also used for different operations that could not communicate with each other. This added additional manual operations that made the process extra laborious but also error-prone.

Time studies & warehouse layout

During their assessment, Wim and Marko also conducted extensive time studies to determine the exact duration of each step in the picking process. This showed that transportation waste occupied as much as 50% of the total time. This highlights the urgency of optimizing this aspect of the process, with the rollout of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) having the potential for significant savings and being a priority.

They also thoroughly reviewed the warehouse layout and found that so-called “slow movers” (low-demand materials and products) were readily available, while more frequently used items were often stored in hard-to-reach places (far from the production floor). This also caused unnecessary delays and inefficiencies in the process.

Frustrations and Next Steps

Although many insights have already emerged from the lean assessment observations, Marko and Wim also gathered information from plant employees. In conversations, they were able to express their frustrations with practical problems such as faulty scanners and excessive manual administration. A common thread within these frustrations is mainly that they often feel they are only ‘putting out fires’ and creating workarounds, without really being able to address the root of the problem.

Through in-depth analysis and collaboration with the team, we gained valuable insights into their logistics processes and identified opportunities for improvement. With a focus on waste reduction, process optimization and employee engagement, we believe the client is well positioned to improve their operational efficiency and embrace a culture of continuous improvement.

To help the organization move forward with these challenges, we created a report-out. This includes a proposal and roadmap aimed at streamlining processes, reducing waste and improving overall efficiency. This includes implementing automated scheduling systems, standardizing processes and investing in training to cultivate a lean thinking mindset within the organization.