A curly route vs. a straight route

Transportation waste is any excess or unnecessary movement of materials or information within an operation, including component plants and LBM dealers. Examples include chasing parts, walking to the saw room, moving carts in and out of bays, and moving plates from one end of the building to the other. We can never fully eliminate transportation waste, but that person who’s transporting things could be adding value to the process in assembly or another area.

Waste of transportation can involve raw components, sub-assemblies, empty boxes, or just about anything that is required for production. It will not only be found in the production area, but also the material delivery areas, throughout the supply chain, and even in offices.

Transportation waste is generated whenever you move objects around unnecessarily. Obviously, when we manufacture components, millwork items, etc., SOME movement of objects is going to be necessary to get it produced. So how do you know when that movement of objects is necessary versus unnecessary?

The acid test for whether something is useful movement versus transportation waste is the same question you can use to identify all other kinds of waste in your process. Does the process of movement increase the value of our produced item (or outcome)?

If the answer is no, you are talking about transportation waste rather than necessary movement of parts and supplies.

Moving objects or assemblies around unnecessarily obviously consumes time, energy, labor, and money that could be used for something else. However, there are also some less obvious consequences of needlessly moving these same objects or assemblies around. For example:

  • Increasing inventories. When an item gets moved around a lot for little reasons, it inevitably piles up in various places, robbing space from more useful activities.
  • Increasing expenses. The waste of transport is a disease that causes the company to hemorrhage money at an alarming rate. You may be paying extra for material handling equipment, staff to operate it, training, safety precautions, extra space for the movement of material, and so forth.
  • Increasing defects. Every time you move something around, you risk damaging it or losing track of it.
  • Increasing wait. Moving things around unnecessarily means they’ll often not be where they are needed, prompting a lot of waiting around for it to get to where it’s supposed to be. Countless times have we seen our associates standing waiting for a forklift at a gantry table, a saw, a trailer, etc. for parts or assemblies that should have been there at that moment.
Ben Hershey, lean manufacturing experts
Ben Hershey

So what should you do. Let’s look at a couple of main areas within our operations.

Waste of transportation will be found when a product isn't stored close to the point of use. Parts, plates, and raw material/lumber should be staged when needed at the station where it is required to be used. When using these materials, they should be close to the associate whenever possible. When you do get them closer to the associate, continue looking for improvements by eliminating unnecessary motions (such as parts stored in the proper position on the correct side of the associate).

Material Delivery Areas
Moving product further than necessary, storing product in a temporary location only to move it shortly thereafter, and moving with empty delivery carts are all considered a very big waste. As part of the route, strive to have the delivery person travel only with a full cart (cart with a batch); deliver components along a one-way route, and empty totes going the other way (assuming returnable containers are used). The basic concept is as follows: for every full box of components delivered, an empty box should be available to be returned to the supplier. With every box of finished goods picked up, an empty box will be required by production.

Supply Chain
Optimizing your transportation is another viable option through use of methods such as "milk runs." This involves picking up product from multiple suppliers on a route. How many of our component/LBM operations coordinate a truck and trailer going out from an operation, and then on the way back pick up raw material? This is a fantastic opportunity to eliminate waste of transportation in the supply chain of our operations.

In the Lean production system, we look at several different processes or solutions to eliminate waste. Consider these options:

  • Changing the material flow layout of the operation can increase just-in-time delivery of parts to each step in the value stream of your operation and eliminate unneeded steps.
  • Reducing the size of a batch or reviewing how a batch is delivered on a cart eliminates transportation needs. When transporting a batch, are you picking up the plates on the way to the table and delivering together?
  • Streamlining inventory storage in the yard improves transport. Is your forklift driver having to go to numerous locations for the same inventory items; or are they moving in a zig-zag fashion? Change the batch picking and also review storage of material so forklift operators are moving in one direction or in a more orderly flow.

These are just a few of the ways I have helped companies eliminate the waste of transportation in their operation and where you can start in yours. As you try to reduce the waste in your everyday processes, think about the ways you might be moving things around unnecessarily. Yes, you will always need to move some things around to get your work done, so the key is to focus on the truly unneeded movement of things. Eliminating or reducing this type of waste within your facility (or within your supply chain) will reduce overall lead time or cycle time. And don’t forget to look at the office processes, too.