August 2012 | Commentary | The Lean Supply Chain

Minimizing Wasted Movement

Tags: Lean

Paul A. Myerson is Professor of Practice in Supply Chain Management at Lehigh University and author of books on Lean for McGraw-Hill, and supply chain for Pearson, 610-758-1576

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Ideally, material should flow smoothly from Point A to Point B in a process, and be touched only once. That is rarely the case, however. More likely, material is touched and moved many times before its ultimate use.

In Lean terms, this excess transportation or movement is waste that occurs when temporarily locating, filing, stocking, stacking, or moving materials, people, tools, or information. It can negatively impact your bottom line through increased costs due to excess labor, damage, or lost product.

When identifying transportation or movement waste in your supply chain, evaluate all areas for improvement opportunities, including the office, warehouse, and transportation system.

In both the office and warehouse, it is critical to consider layout and flow to minimize transportation and movement waste. At some companies, the travel distance of specific office and warehouse employees adds up to miles of unnecessary movement over the course of a year. This is great exercise, but bad for productivity.

Unnecessary movement can be the result of not considering the flow of material and people as operations change over time, or not having laid out a facility correctly initially.

In an office, identifying wasted movement might involve considering where people or equipment are located. In a warehouse, where travel time and cases per hour are critical, you must evaluate not only the movement of people and materials, but also equipment such as forklift trucks. In this example, consider not only forklift movement, but also the operator's movement to locate the forklift, which can waste a lot of time.

The same idea applies to mechanics who spend time traveling back and forth to get tools and parts, rather than using a mobile tool cart or permanently locating tools by the equipment.

No factor is too small to consider. Even time spent looking for cleaning materials such as brooms and mops can be a real waste.

In transportation operations, it is important to streamline vehicle routes, including minimizing empty backhaul miles and circuitous routing. Any excess transportation should be considered waste. Transportation management systems can be a great help in this effort.

Identifying Opportunities

It is sometimes useful to draw a "spaghetti diagram" to track the movement of materials, information, and employees. This is a good first step in identifying action items to optimize layout.

For a higher-level view, map the flow in your entire supply chain for a particular value stream—that is, an individual item or family of products or services. Focus on where material stops, and look for ways to gain better flow. This may involve shipping ocean containers from overseas directly to inland regional warehouses, or bypassing distribution centers for large orders so they travel directly from factory to customer.

Eliminating unnecessary movements will go a long way toward improving your supply chain's Lean profile.


Parts of this column are adapted from Lean Supply Chain & Logistics Management (McGraw-Hill; 2012) by Paul A. Myerson with permission from McGraw-Hill.

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