Reduction of Floor Usage with Lean

Written by Jason Haines

“I used to always work in, like, warehouses, because if my boss gave me a rough time, I could just get on a forklift and just, like, drive away from him.” -Bill Burr

Many places across the country want to expand their businesses capacity, yet they do not have the room within their facilities. Furthermore, these companies do not want to spend money on an expanded or new facility and think this is these are the only options. However, there is another choice to help a business expand and still use its current facility and that is through the implementation of Lean.

Lean implementation can save a company up to 75% of its floor space depending on the project that they are planning to implement into the facility. A lot of times with Lean we find ways to reduce travel time and this in turn reduces the amount of floor space usage. If we find these places to attack, a company can save much of the space within their facility and reduce the amount of travel and errors that they make. Space reduction in a facility helps in so many ways and can be very beneficial to employees and the company.

Where can you begin? Many places within your facility can be transformed to be more organized and use less workspace. For example, one area that I transformed was at a door manufacturer within their hardware department. This department at the beginning of the transformation took up 1,000 sq ft of warehouse space and was reduced to only take up 300 sq ft of space.

How did I accomplish this? The first step I took with this department was to see how the jobs were done and asking the frontline workers what changes they may make to help improve their job. Sometimes we forget to include the frontline workers in the transformation of their departments. When we do not include them in the conversations it causes for a loss of respect for leadership. When I say include, I do not mean implement everything the frontline workers suggest, instead talk and compromise on the changes that should be made to a worker’s area. When people are forced to do things there usually is a lot of pushback and dissent; compromising is the solution to get everyone’s buy-in.

Therefore, as I was getting the input from the frontline workers, mapping the process (both current and future state), and getting the part usage drawn out and mapped, I was working with the team to figure out what was best for the employees. This is where I drew up a design that made a C-shaped cell so the process owners could have a starting point and a finishing point within their process. We attached the computers to the push carts that made pulling the orders easier and reduced the amount of paperwork that was being printed by the operators. With this computer being next to the employee it reduced the amount of travel, steps, that they had while pulling orders. These computers needed to be portable because the orders could have hundreds of parts on them, and there is no way they could memorize that many parts while pulling the orders. The average of steps for orders before this change was made was 286 steps per order and I reduced that down to 30 steps an order.  This reduction allowed for the department to pull 35 plus orders a day, accurately.

Next, we started to move the shelving units into the C-shape design and moved the different hardware to where it was easily accessed by employees. We then designed the cell so that the operators could walk the same path when pulling their orders. I helped with this design by watching the order of how they typically pulled an order in. This mapping helped the frontline workers pull orders in a more efficient way and reduced the amount of parts that were missing when they were pulled. Before all of the changes were made the error rate was well above 50%, and after the changes were made the error rate was reduced to 7% of the orders per week.

Over time this floor reduction will allow this facility to add other products. The reduction of space can also help a company see that they may not need a facility the size that they currently have and help them move into something smaller and more affordable. Other ways that floor space reduction can help is by freeing up space to where they can rent out parts of their facility to other companies, or they can even use this open floor space to experiment. These experiments can be on new products, manufacturing design, and many other things that will help an organizations profitability.

There are many benefits of the implementation of Lean and Lean Thinking, and reduction of floor usage is one of those benefits. Floor usage helps with travel time, amount of time spent on projects, and with communication.
People are not going to be overly busy and will be able to learn other jobs within the facility that can benefit the company over time. These people can start to learn things that they are more interested in. This is one of the biggest things that the Japanese and Toyota wanted when they developed the Toyota Production System. They wanted stability in their organization and people that would sell their product outside the company. They wanted frontline workers to think of how to solve problems and help each other out. They wanted to be able to grow their employees from within and allow them to develop skills to help the organization over the long haul.

Ultimately, most organizations want to retain employees and allow them to better themselves. This is valuing your people by giving them the chance to grow within the company. This gives people the feeling of safety and stability. They can think and solve problems and not do what is required and not ask questions. Allowing employees to create change also helps the company grow for the better. Pulling from the minds of all your people is better than just using the ideas of one; it provides buy-in in from the team.

At first making changes to your current processes and systems can be very frightening because it’s not familiar. But after we start to make these changes, like reducing the size of a department, we will start to realize the benefits there are to the changes we are making. The benefits will be things like open floor space, less inventory, less errors, happier employees, better communication, employee relations, and development of employees. Wouldn’t you much rather have this than your current situation?

Helping grow your business through process improvement!!