Of course a good 5S system in the warehouse will create a leaner, more efficient workflow. But the rewards ripple out much farther than that. Cutting down on the time it takes to pack and ship orders means customers receive them faster and labor costs decrease. This increases company profit while potentially lowering the customer cost. Incorporating floor marking into your 5S warehouse system will increase its organization and efficiency.
- Clear all paths. Forklift need servicing? New inventory in the way? Designate an area with floor marking tape so transitioning items don't impede traffic flow.
- Are all packing supplies close at hand or are workers wasting time running around? Prioritize tool inclusion based on frequency of use. One approach is to tag items within a workspace with numbers representing their importance and frequency of use. Label mission-critical tools with a “1”, secondary but necessary items “2”, etc. Then, reorder the workspace, giving priority by numeric value.
- Create separate packing stations. Keeping too many supply types in one large area creates a slowdown. If frequent orders require specialty packing supplies (such as fragile or refrigerated products), create a separate workstation. This way each packing workstation has appropriate supplies close at hand.
SET IN ORDER
- A hyper-organized warehouse includes identification on aisles, floors, shelves, and items. A library is a great example of an effective identification system. Materials are sorted into areas for categories like fiction or nonfiction, then broken down into subcategories like travel or medicine, and materials are in alphabetical or numerical order. All areas have signs and all materials are labeled. In addition there are computerized and printed guides for ease of finding all items. There is no question where any item can be found in a library, despite the ever-changing stock.
- Color-code inventory that is fragile, heavy, or irregular, so employees can immediately identify that special handling is needed. These color designations can also be placed on floor marking tape for increased visibility from a distance.
- When inventory locations frequently change, label the shelves with Dry Erase, Magnetic, or Repositionable tapes.
- Without clear designations of aisles, employees can get sloppy and place inventory haphazardly so that it overhangs into the aisle and creates a safety hazard. Floor marking tape can help keep inventory contained within shelving areas.
- Implement a barcoding system not only for stock placement but for aisles, placing barcodes on shelf tags and floor marking tape. Barcoding is also helpful for tracking tools or other resources. If you have a tool crib attendant, he or she can inventory and "check out" tools to people, just like a librarian checks out materials. Set due times or dates if workers aren't returning tools, or tool stocks are low.
- Is your packing area frequently low on supplies, with everything scattered about? Assign someone (or several people if your operation spans several shifts) to be in charge of the area. Creating ownership creates pride, and the area should show immediate improvement.
- Schedule periodic deep cleanings. An after-Christmas slow period would be a great time to remove/replace old signs and labels, review your floor marking system, and clear the dust from old inventory.
- Encourage employees to keep focused and specialized. It's a time bleed to jump between checking email, picking orders, and moving inventory. Designate hours for each task type if possible, and let the phone go to voicemail or buy some headsets. Take the time to analyze employees' workflow and see how it can be streamlined.
- Add a suggestion box so employees can anonymously recommend improvements or critique the current system. Read submissions at meetings and ask for input. Some managers feel it's their job to know everything that goes on, but this is an impossible goal. The people who know areas the best are the employees who spend all day there, and they probably have a lot of opinions as to what could improve the system.
- On a whiteboard, list one-off unassigned tasks and encourage people to sign themselves out to tasks when time permits. Acknowledge super-performers personally or in a meeting. This is a great way to attend to occasional tasks that lack ownership, while boosting morale and increasing participation in the 5S program.
- Interview employees to find out what training may be lacking or which resources they initially struggled to find. Ask what slows them down each day.
- Make auditing a constant process. Keep your eyes open for areas of inefficiency. Do workers cluster around a certain area, waiting for tools to become available? Buy more, or place them in several locations. Is the loading dock chaotic at all times? If possible, add more dock area, extend the hours, remove obstructions, or analyze what can be done to improve the in-out time.
- Think outside the box. Provide segues for employees, so they can get around more quickly. Add GPS tracking tags to ladders, forklifts or other items that keep relocating, and employees can use a GPS tracking app on their phone. Even managers could carry tracking tiles or install a tracking app on their phone so that employees can locate them whenever needed.
Some systems add a sixth S to the 5S system: safety. If you are implementing 5S solely for its impact on efficiency, don't dismiss safety as “not your job.” Injured workers harm your efficiency, so a Lean workplace needs to be a safe workplace, too.
So how do you implement warehouse safety with your 5S program?
- Mark aisles and traffic lanes with floor marking tape, to keep pedestrians away from forklifts and other hazards. This free 5S standard color code guide shows a warehouse with 5S colors, patterns, and typical visual communication.
- If your warehouse ever suffers from collisions due to poor lighting, an easy fix is reflective tape, which ricochets light back to its source. Place reflective tape on posts, line the loading dock, or use to highlight company vehicles.
- Tread tape will help keep workers upright in slippery conditions. Available in 5S colors, it'll help with warehouse organization and safety. You can also opt for bolt-down tread plates to help prevent injuries on stairs.
- Glow tape is easy to forget until the power goes out. Warehouses can be especially hazardous environments in the dark. They often lack windows, which means there's no natural light when the power goes out. They also include a maze of objects blocking employees' path to the exit. Implementing a glowing path is inexpensive, easy to do, and lasts a long time. It's pretty much a sure thing that power will go out at some point, so there's no reason to wait.
- If your warehouse has potentially slippery areas with poor lighting, take advantage of tread-glow tape, which, as you'd expect, merges the traction of tread with the luminescence of glow. Now you'll be able to keep workers upright and not bumping into things, even in the dark. Add some emergency lighting and you might even be able to keep them picking, should the power go out!