Implementation Of Lean Thinking Management Essay

Meindl defines Distribution as being the steps taken to move and store a product from the supplier/manufacturing stage to a customer stage within the supply chain. He comments on how distribution occurs between every set of stages in the supply chain and how raw materials are moved from suppliers to manufacturers, whilst finished goods are moved from manufacturing to the end customer. Distribution is considered to be a key factor/driver of overall profitability of a company because not only does it affect supply chain costs but it also affects the end customer directly. (Meindl, 2010, p86)

Whilst Meindl describes distribution within the supply chain as the movement of the product from a to b, Christopher M (2003) discusses how the role of distribution has moved away from the conventional view of distribution as being “solely concerned with transport and warehousing”. He suggests that the key to successful distribution today is the model of demand management. Demand management is regarded as “the process of anticipating and fulfilling orders against defined customer service goals”. In order to optimize the process of demand management, it is essential that a firm has a well-integrated ICT (Information Communication Technology) system in place, as information is vital to its success. Information from the marketplace, from customers regarding usage/consumption, production schedules and inventory statuses are all accounted for. (Christopher, 2003, p27).

Although this can be overcome by successful forecasting accuracy, Christopher explains that “while forecasting accuracy is always to be sought”, it is in fact very rarely achieved. Instead the aim should be for a firm to reduce its dependency on forecasting, by improved information demand and also by implementing systems that enable quick response or agility towards demand. (Christopher, 2003, p27)

Quick response logistics has become top priority for many organisations, as it enables them not only to achieve cost reduction but also allows them to provide service enhancement. The idea of ‘quick response logistics’ is based upon a replenishment model within demand management. When simplified, as goods are consumed, the usage information is transmitted to the supplier/vendor, and this instantly triggers a response. This may result in faster, smaller consignment deliveries and although it may cost the supplier more, the benefits are visible through reduced inventory in the pipeline and whilst improved service in terms of responsiveness.

Zylstra K (2006) shares similar thoughts with Christopher, as he recognizes how the traditional approach to improving distribution and reducing its costs revolve around “technology-enabled optimization and automation”. These cost strategies are visible in within the total cost of distribution. Warehouse management systems (WMS), Transport management systems (TMS), route planning, automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) and wireless data collection to name but a few. Automation may significantly reduce warehouse labour and overall distribution costs, but may be beyond the reach of many companies due to the significant capital investment required and its implication to fixed costs. (Zylstra, 2006, p34)

The task of implementing an effective distribution system in a modern firm is often linked with reducing operational costs. As customers drive down prices and increase service requirements, there is tremendous pressure on all parts of the business to “Do more with less” (Zylstra, 2006, p34). With that in mind, there have been various surveys made regarding the relative costs of distribution in industry, and according to Christopher (1990); their findings seem to suggest that on average, distribution costs represent about 15% of sales turnover for a typical company. He also comments on how averages can be misleading in some cases, as results vary depending on the nature of the business/industry (Christopher, 1990, p6).

If a company can clearly identify the specific sources of total distribution costs, they may benefit by making it easier to identify potential ‘trade-offs’. “A trade-off occurs where an increased cost in one area is more than matched by a cost reduction in another area” (Christopher, 1990, p8). For example if a distribution system has 5 regional depots with high warehousing and stockholding costs is compared with a system of 2/3 depots, the savings on haulage and reduction of stock-outs could possibly outweigh the extra costs involved in the 5 depot system. For benefits of such trade-offs to be achieved, it is necessary for managers to think in terms of total systems rather than of narrow functional areas.

Whilst total distribution cost can primarily be the focus for firms, it is also important for a firm to develop a framework that allows them to achieve such operational excellence, in terms adapting a distribution network that is suited to their strategic goals. Christopher (2003) explains how todays customer is increasingly seeking added value and how logistics management can provide that value is to do with the ‘Three R’s’.




(Christopher, 2003, p28-30)


With the current economic climate, it is especially apparent how customers across most markets and commercial environments are seeking to reduce their inventory holdings. For example Just In Time (JIT) practices can be found in many industries ranging from car manufacturing to retailing. Such practices mean that it is essential that suppliers can guarantee complete order fulfilment whilst delivering goods at agreed times. With such an emphasis on reducing inventory whilst adding value, a prime objective of any logistics/distribution strategy must be reliability.


Zylstra K (2006) and Christopher (2003) both emphasised the importance of ‘quick response’ in today’s marketplace, and again this is very closely linked with the customer’s demand for reliability. Essentially this means the agility of a firm, and its ability to respond in ever-shorter lead times with the greatest possible flexibility must be integrated in such strategies. Companies must focus on developing a logistics strategy that allows them to ship smaller quantities, more rapidly, direct to the point of consumption.


The concept of single sourcing has been of trend lately, where customers are seeking to reduce their supplier base, allowing them to benefit with improved quality, innovation sharing, reduced costs and integrated scheduling of production and deliveries. The fundamental objective of this idea is to create a buyer/supplier relationship based upon a partnership. A good example of a logistics partnership is the growing use of Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI). This allows the supplier to be responsible for the flow of product into the customers operations. In order for such systems to operate effectively, there must be a mutual understanding of each other’s goals and a strong relationship is the key to its success.

The role of Distribution Network design in the supply chain

Supply Chain Network design for many firms include, the assignment of facility role, manufacturing location, storage or transport-related facilities, and the allocation of capacity and markets to each facility. A framework must then be established and the various solutions and methodologies must then be discussed. Supply chain network design decisions can be classified as follows.

Facility role: this refers to the part each facility plays, and what processes are performed at each facility.

Facility location: where should the facility be located

Capacity allocation: how much capacity should be allocated to each facility

Market and supply location: this refers to what markets should each facility serve and which supply sources should feed each facility.

Meindl (2010) describes how network design decisions have a significant impact on the overall performance of a firm, as it not only develops the structure of their supply chain, but sets its constraints, which can then be used to increase supply chain responsiveness and reduce overall costs.

Factors influencing Distribution Network design

The structure of a distribution channel is described by Visser & Van Goor as “the pipeline system through which goods have to flow before being at the right time and in the right place for the customers”(Visser & Van Goor, 2006, 62). It is particularly important for a firm to define the structure of their distribution system/infrastructure, as well as the choice of physical distribution channel and network.

According to Visser & Van Goor, (2006), the most important factors within the structure of a distribution network are the primary processes, location of inventory points and the flow of goods. They also recognize how a distribution network generally consists of a number of consecutive inventory points (i.e. the factory, central distribution centre, and national/international distribution centres), and that it is vital that a distribution network can co-ordinate the different activities along the chain (i.e. sales forecast, inventory and transport).

Meindl, 2010, explains how there are a number of vital factors that must be taken into consideration before a company can effectively and efficiently design a network, for example strategic factors. A company’s competitive strategy has a significant impact on network design decisions within the supply chain, firms that focus on cost leadership tend to find the lowest-cost location for their manufacturing operations, not taking into consideration their distance to market. Comparing a company that focuses on responsiveness, their location to market is a key component of their strategy, thus meaning they will have a totally different distribution network design. A good example of this can be seen within the fashion industry, where some firms avail of cheap labour in Asia-Pacific due to low cost, others like Zara the Spanish apparel manufacturer has a large proportion of its production capacity in Portugal and Spain despite the high cost. The local production facilities allow Zara to react quickly to emerging fashion trends in Europe. (Meindl, 2010, p127)

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Other factors that must be taken into consideration include: Technological factors, Macroeconomic factors, Tariffs and incentives, Exchange rate and demand tax, Political factors, Infrastructure, Costs and customer response time. The goal when designing a supply chain distribution network is to maximize the organisations profits while satisfying customer needs in terms of demand responsiveness.

Lean Philosophy

“Lean is the concept of efficient manufacturing and operations which grew out of the Toyota Production System (TPS) in the early 20th century”

(Wilson L, 2010, p7)

Lean philosophy was first introduced in Japan post second world war, with the aim of providing automotive solutions with only a limited availability of resources. Amongst the pioneers of lean, Toyota is by far the most influential, and the development of their Toyota Production System (TPS). TPS was developed from Henry Ford’s application of Mass Production and the practices and principles in which he used at the beginning of the 20th century (Hines, Holweg & Rich 2004).

TPS is made up of two underlying pillars:

Just-in-time (JIT); Ohno & Taichii define JIT as “executing activities at the right time, at the right place in in the right quantity”.

Autonomation; this refers to the overall productivity of employees in the organisation

(Ohno & Taichii, 1988)

Lean is based on the philosophy of understanding value from the ‘customer’s viewpoint’, and working towards continuous improvement in exactly how such value is delivered. This is achieved by eradicating resources and processes that are non-value adding and/or wasteful.

(Brines D Jr. 2011)

There is a lot of evidence to prove that the successful implementation of lean within an organisation can bring considerable improvements, however it is also evident that the transformation process for companies moving toward a lean way of thinking creates a lot of challenges for such companies. There are a number of reasons as to why an organisation may fail to implement lean successfully. It can arise from simply selecting the wrong sequence of improvements (e.g. lowering the level of inventories held before improving the process flow).

(Kilpatrick J, 2003)

Kilpatrick J (2003) defines Lean Philosophy as “A systematic approach to identifying and eliminating waste through continuous improvement, flowing the product at the pull of the customer in pursuit of perfection”. Using this definition Alongside Womack and Jones (1996) it is clear how Lean methodology consists of five principles, and these principles can only be mapped and implemented with the trust and empowerment of the entire organisation. (Jones, et al. 1999)

Lean Principles

Womack & Jones argue that a lean way of thinking allows companies to “specify value, line up value creating actions in the best sequence, conduct these activities without interruption whenever someone requests them, and perform them more and more effectively.”

From this statement, the five principles of lean thinking can be understood:


Value stream




(Womack & Jones, p15, 1996)



Womack & Jones define Value as a “capability provided to customer at the right time at an

Appropriate price, as defined in each case by the customer.” They also describe Value as being the critical starting point for lean thinking, and how it can only be described by the end customer and that the ultimate end customer/user of the product, is differentiated with interim customers. Value also is product-specific, and Womack & Jones argue it is only significant when expressed in terms of a specific product. (Womack & Jones, p15, 1996)

Similarly, Brines D Jr. describes how value involves identifying exactly what is meant by the value goal. The essential requirement is that “value is defined by the customer’s perception, not defined internally by the organization.” (Brines D Jr. 2011)

Value Stream

Once the term value is understood and defined, the second principle is derived, and again the aim is for each product, to identify the value stream. Brines D Jr defines this as, “the entire process from raw materials to the possession of the customer.” The investigation and analysis of this flow creates transparency within the flow almost certainly revealing waste: this includes processes within the flow that are non-value adding. This is known as process re-engineering. (Brines D Jr. 2011)

Womack and Jones define a value stream as “specific activities required to design, order, and provide a specific product, from concept to launch, order to delivery, and raw materials into the hands of the customer”. Similarly to Brines D Jr , Womack & Jones comment that in order to create a value stream, you must describe what happens to a product at each step in its production, from design to order to raw material to delivery.

There are three types of activities in the value stream – one adds value, and the other two are “Muda” (the Japanese word for waste)

Value-Added: Those activities within a process that create value.

Type One Muda: Activities that create no value but seem to be unavoidable with current technologies or production assets.

Type Two Muda: Activities that create no value and are immediately avoidable.

(Womack & Jones, p15, 1996)


The next step in the process is to create an efficient flow within the value stream. What this means is that, all elements within the process that contribute stoppage, waste and backflow must be removed. (Rother & Harris, 2001). The ideal flow according to Womack & Jones (1996) is one in which “the product flows continuously through the whole value stream from the raw material to the final customer”

This translates as a directive to discard the traditional method of group stages or the batch-and-queue mode where processes are grouped in stages based in different departments, where bottlenecks exist at each stage. (Brines D Jr. 2011)

This can be achieved by implementing quick change tools within manufacturing as well as selecting the optimum size machines whilst ensuring that sequential stages with the process flow lie adjacent to one another.


Womack and Jones (2003) define the fourth principle of Lean philosophy as the “downstream customer”, and this can also be understood as the make-to-order philosophy. Conversely, Hopp & Spearman (2004) have developed a more precise definition for pull.

Hopp and Spearman (2004) propose a more precise definition for pull which differentiate pull from the make-to-order processes. Their logic is based on the fact that a pull production system is a system that “explicitly limits the amount of (WIP) that can be in a system”. This is developed on the principle that waiting for customers to order, prior to production can lead to many complications. Furthermore, they differentiate between the pull strategy and its tactics, where the foundations of the pull strategy are the firm’s standard working methods linked with level scheduling, whilst tactical pull is described as “setting the pace of production equal to the takt-time (the rate of customers demand) and adjust it continuously”. (Hopp and Spearman 2004)

By using a Pull system it allows companies to reduce their Work In Progress (WIP) and overall inventories within the supply chain whilst achieving a more efficient and smooth production flow. This results in a higher level of quality whilst a reduction in overall cost due to a reduction in defects as they become more visible. (Hopp and Spearman 2004)


Womack and jones (1996), comment on how perfection is achieved through the complete elimination of waste or Muda. ‘Perfection’ comprises two corresponding approaches:

Kaikaku (radical change)

Kaizen (continuous improvement)

“Kaikaku refers to all of the fundamental changes a company need to implement in order to move towards the lean enterprise (Womack & Jones, 2003). Kaizen or continuous improvement refers to all of the cumulative improvements needed afterwards.

(Womack & Jones, 2003)

(Pascal D, 2002). 

Benefits of Lean

According to Kilpatrick J (2003) the benefits of implementing lean can be broken down into three categories: Operational, Administrative and Strategic.

It is commonly perceived that the implementation of lean is done mainly for the operational improvements. However it is also evident that Lean’s administrative and strategic benefits are equally impressive.

Operational improvements include:

Lead time (Cycle time) reduced

Work-in-Progress inventory reduced

Productivity increased

Quality improvements

Space utilisation improved

Administrative improvements can include:

Streamlining customer service functions

Reduction in order processing errors

Reduction in staffing demands

Strategic improvements can include:

By taking advantage of improvements made through both operational and administrative improvements, successful companies can market these new benefits and turn them into increased market share allowing them to move towards their strategic goals.

(Kilpatrick J, 2003)

(Mdina Partnership. 2013)

Warehouse Management

Warehousing is an integral part of a supply chain as it plays a vital role in providing a desired level of customer service at the lowest possible total cost to an organisation. Since the middle of the 20th century warehousing has evolved from a reasonably minor cog of a company’s logistics system to being one of the most influential and important functions. Voortman (2004) defines warehousing as “the part of a firms logistics system that stores products (raw materials, spare parts, work in progress & finished goods) at and between point of origin and point of consumption, and provides management with information on the status, condition and disposition of the items being stored”. (Voortman C, 2004, p54 – 56).

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Warehousing involves all the different material handling activities which are performed within an organisations warehouse. These activities include all types of inbound and outbound processes such as picking, binning, receiving and shipping. According to Van den Berg & Zijm (1999) warehousing is usually tied in with a specific process within the supply chain and thus there are normally three different types of warehouses, each serving a number of purposes i.e. Production warehouse, Contract warehouse and Distribution warehouse. (Van den Berg & Zijm, 1999: p519-528)

A production warehouse is used to manage and store inventory that is needed during the production of a product i.e. Raw Material (RM), Work in Progress(WIP) and Finished Goods (FG). A contract warehouse is managed and run by a third party. This means that all warehouse operations are carried out by a third party, allowing an organisation to focus on Core Competencies. A distribution warehouse is focused on all of the logistical activities related to a product, such sourcing materials/products from suppliers/vendors and the physical distribution of FG to the customer (Van den Berg & Zijm, 1999: p519-528)

The distribution of a product is not the final stage of a company’s supply chain. Companies are also in charge of after sales support and services, and with the complex characteristics of the aftermarket business, warehouse management experiences many additional challenges than the other types of warehouse. Kalchschmidt et al. (2003) comment on how the major challenges in the spare parts warehouses is the high numbers of SKU’s, low inventory turns and substantial holding costs. It is then easily established just how important the management of activities and resources in the aftermarket warehouse are, and why it should be one of the high priorities for companies dealing with aftermarket business.

According to Rouwenhorst et al. (2000), warehouse design and management should be tailored according to the investment needs and the importance of operations. Therefore decisions should be taken in different levels, and based in the hierarchical organisation, therefore classified as strategic, tactical and operational.

Strategic decisions in terms of warehouse management are based on long-term decisions with high investment requirements (e.g. selection of WMS & designing process flow). Tactical decisions are deal with medium-term decisions such as warehouse equipment selection and storage system dimensions. Operational level decisions are made using low amount of investment, however such decisions and made within the barriers created by strategic and tactical decisions (e.g. assignment of warehouse staff & equipment. (Rouwenhorst, et al. 2000, p515-533)

A warehouse is generally developed by assessing a number of different aspects including processes, resources and organisation (Rouwenhorst, et al. 2000). Within a warehouse there are a number of processes, most of which are activities where by the parts are physically handled. This includes picking, receiving, storage and shipping. Warehouses resources include all the equipment, personnel and Information Systems needed to actively perform the processes i.e. material handling equipment, WMS & storage units. When it comes to a warehouses organisation, this refers to all the ‘planning and control procedures and policies’ needed to effectively run the system. (Rouwenhorst et al. 2000, p515-533)

The definitive goal of warehouse management is to “create a balance between the costs and customer satisfaction” and in order to implement successful warehouse management this trade-off should cover many different factors including inventory control decisions, design challenges, service levels and response time (van den Berg and Zijm, 1999, p519-528).

Rouwenhorst et al (2000) identify the order-picking process to hold the majority cost when it comes to warehouse management, as it accounts for 50-75% of warehouse process costs. This is where it is possible to see how lean principles may be implemented in order to optimize working processes in the warehouse.

Lean & Warehousing

When categorising waste within the supply chain, the company’s inventory is always regarded as one of the major foundations, and it is especially common when a firm is implementing a lean approach to regard any sort of inventory as waste. This is where it is important to recognise what exactly is considered waste from a lean perspective, for example for companies that have adopted lean, they have recognised that inventory itself is not waste, however the accumulation of surplus inventory is considered waste.

Although Womack & Jones (1996, p15) argue that the objective of lean philosophy and lean principles are to create a one piece flow throughout the supply chain, where there is no inventory between processes, there are a number of challenges that in reality make it difficult for organisations to achieve it. For example, Baudin (2004) explains how working only with the perfect supplier/vendor that can consistently deliver the precise amount, at the right time and at the desired quality is almost impossible, thus creating the need for a warehouse.

Lean warehouse: Eliminating waste

Womack & Jones (p15, 1996) developed the five principles of lean that provide a simplified understanding of how and organisation can achieve lean throughout all processes. However Lean principles were first introduced into production processes and later developed and adapted into different areas such as distribution and service etc. According to Ackerman K (2007) “waste in the warehouse is all activities which absorb resources but does not create any value”. He recognises that the ‘Eight Waste Sources’ within the warehouse are:

Over production


Unnecessary transportation

Over processing

Excess inventory

Unnecessary motion


Idle/unused employees

(Ackerman K, 2007)

Eliminating the above wastes can be achieved by streamlining the work, creating high standards of work, redesigning processes and using visual controls or ‘andon’ (Japanese phrase for visual indicator used in TPS). Minimising waste within the warehouse can lead to reduced storage and handling costs, a decline in the number of defects/errors, increased response time and a more flexible transparent warehouse.

Ackerman (2007) highlights how a lean warehouse aims to deliver the right goods, in the right quantity and to the customer exactly when they require it and to the specified quality. By applying Womack & Jones (1996) methodology of lean principles we can see how it can be visible adjacent to all processes in warehouse operations.

. Value in a lean warehouse is defined the same as the customers’ value i.e. the

availability of right parts in the needed time. Hence, all the warehouse processes should be

designed so that they serve the purpose and meet the customers’ needs and expectations.

Consequently the value stream mapping in a lean warehouse maps all the processes in

material and information flow from the shipping area back to the suppliers. The mapping

should be started by considering a product group in order to avoid the map being too

complicated (Garcia 2003). After mapping the current situation and defining the future state

along with the values, an implementation plan consisting of time-sequenced improvement

projects should be created in order to help the warehouse to have a path through the


In order to create the flow in the warehouse, Ackerman (2007) suggests to monitor and reduce

the order cycle time. Order cycle time which is defined as the time span between the receipt of

an order and delivering it to the customer is achieved by improvements in the flow of material

and information. He further argues that the flow can be improved through the reduction of the

number of products’ movement during the warehousing process. In the same way the

information flow will be improved by reducing the probability of the data transmission errors

(Ackerman 2007). Moreover, pull in the lean warehouse refers to retrieving the material

whenever there is a demand for them from the customers. Lastly, perfection in the

warehousing operation, relates to what is called “the perfect order” meaning that to deliver

what a customer exactly wants where and when he orders it (Ackerman 2007). Perfect orders

need the perfect inventories as a prerequisite since it is not possible without accurate stocks.

To implement the five lean principles practically, having a detailed perspective is inevitable.

The main problem in the warehouse management in this respect is the one-size-fits-all policy

without considering the volume and frequency. This usually happens in companies as the

managers are often familiar with only one method or the warehouse management system has

limitations which makes the use of several methods impossible. What makes a lean warehouse

stands out is the use of multiple methods for different parts with different needs (Baudin

2004). The parts classification is typically done according to the frequency of use, volume,

similarities in handling characteristics, and size (Baudin 2004, Davies 2007).


The first step towards the lean warehouse is to create an organized facility by establishing an

organized layout, visibility, work standardization, security, and tracking. This will result in

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optimized work process as well as clean and comfortable work environment with safety and

ergonomic considerations (Davies 2007). As mentioned earlier the parts in the warehouse

should be grouped by the classification criteria such as the frequency of use and volume. In

such way the most frequent parts will be more accessible with allocation of fixed locations

closer to the receiving/shipping area while the infrequent parts can be dynamically allocated

to the empty slots (Baudin 2004). However, the sequence of the layout design can also be

influenced by the factors such as the size of the warehouse, the quality and delivery

performance (Baudin 2004). Another issue in creating an organized layout is to implement the

5S principles to have a place for all the parts and equipments and to keep everything in their

places. The benefits gained from this tool are to reduce the product damage, increase the

picking efficiency, better utilization and improved safety.

While designing a warehouse layout, an important concern is the percentage of occupancy in

the warehouse. According to Baudin (2004), in spite of the common perception that a

warehouse should be full to its maximum capacity, studies show that the safety and

productivity generally falls considerably when the warehouse occupancy exceeds 85% to

90%. The reasons behind this phenomenon relates to the inability to keep the integrity of parts

and the needs for slot-hunting. When more than 85% to 90% of a warehouse is occupied, the

workers might need to fragment the pallets and bin them wherever the slots are available. In

addition, even if fragmentation of the pallets may not be necessary, there is still a need for

slot-hunting which is usually a problem since the available slots in a nearly full warehouse are

those in the highest reaches and the longest distance from the starting position of the picking


The second issue in transformation to a lean warehouse is the extensive use of the visibility to

avoid the employees’ confusion and to reduce the time waste and errors to the maximum

extent possible (Davies 2007). There are six ways to improve the warehouse visibility,

namely, location labelling, dock identification, zone identification, rack identification, slot

separation, and rack orientation (Baudin 2004).The main point in the warehouse visibility is to

make the signs visible from all the sides. This means to put the location signs on all sides of

the grid of columns, put the dock identification signs on the side of the dock where the sign is

visible even when the doors are open, use triangular signs above the zones and to use a

standard, self-explanatory method for racks identifications (including signs for aisles, columns

within the aisles and the levels within the columns). The sixth improvement approach, rack

orientation, simply means to put the racks in a way that the inside of the warehouse is visible

from the receiving area (Baudin 2004).

The third concern in warehouse transformation is to create a best practice. There should be

always a best practice on how the specific tasks should be done. This helps the warehouse to

employ the best practices in all the tasks. Along with the standardization, the employees

should always be motivated to think of the ways to improve the best practice, since they are


the best ones who know everything about the tasks. In addition to best practice, the time span

needed for completing assignments should also be measured so that the work pace can be

monitored and the allocation of personnel can be planned (Davies 2007).

Lastly, security and tracking are important factors to be considered in lean warehousing.

Tracking the flow of material is the only way to keep the inventory’s accuracy. The material

from the warehouse should be only pulled by the customers and the parts should not be moved

or touched without a pull sign. In order to move the parts from the warehouse, material

handlers should be the only ones who have the eligibility of touching the parts and they

should not move the parts without recording the part number and quantity. RFID technology

is a big help in automating the recordings in the warehouses. The security in the warehouse

should also be kept to a good level without creating more work or waiting for the employees.

Lean application in distribution

The distribution function within an organisation shoulders responsibility for successful customer service while being under pressure to reduce costs and inventory. It can become an even greater responsibility as the organisation grows and as the supply chain spans the globe.

There is a substantial amount of cost and inventory involved in distribution. Therefore it is always a target for profitability improvement efforts. With products being moved over great distances, supply chains become ‘Long’, and with global sourcing taking a firm hold on the modern marketplace, distribution is still under pressure to reduce costs and inventory. (Zylstra K, 2006).

Longer supply chains require accurate forecasting, and good supplier relationships are essential. Commitments must be made to vendors/suppliers for long supply chains much further into the future than for suppliers located closely. Such long commitments mean that customer orders forecast are also required much further into the future. However longer forecasts may not be accurate enough in order to maintain stable supply, causing continual updates and changes. As a result it is very difficult for firms to see how costs can be reduced.

In order to break this Forecast and Cost driven approaches, Lean techniques can be employed.

By improving product flow and implementing practices such as Pull replenishment, allows an organisation to reduce inventories whilst improving service. By applying Lean thinking to an organisation can help reduce variability, resulting in more accurate planning and scheduling. This is where it is evident within distribution and can be thought of as taking a Lean approach to distribution. (Zylstra K, 2006).

Conflict in lean distribution

In the past the focus and resources have been spent in the manufacturing operations to cut

costs and improve the solutions. The trend of outsourcing and focusing on the company’s core

competences highlighted the need for closer collaboration with suppliers. The incentives are

the high level of value contribution from suppliers and increase awareness of supply chain

competitiveness. During the last two decades the potential of competing with the distribution

networks for improvements have become more central to provide value to the solutions

(Zylstra 2006). The challenge for organizations and supply chains is to identify conflicts and

areas which are constraints for further improvement. The lean distribution strives to connect

the fluctuating demand from the customers with the manufacturing operations. This creates a


situation when the demand signal is determining the takt-time for production. However, since

this will cause fluctuations in supplying schedules the challenge is to decouple or handle the

signal to create stability and levelling in the production operations.

The strategy and approach to these conflicts between the distribution and production

operations are discussed by Reichhart and Holweg (2007). By developing capabilities in the

order fulfilment strategy and the order processes, organizations can achieve a levelled demand

in the manufacturing processes. One initiative is to improve the customer relationships and

analyze the need and behaviour from an aggregated level.

Another conflict is the objectives which aim at increasing the sales and the market share.

These incentives facilitate behaviour of pushing products on the market (Reichhart and

Holweg 2007). Therefore it creates a contradiction between the sales organization and the

distribution of product according to lean principles of pull and flow. These contradicting

objectives between different functions further emphasize the need for a more process-oriented

organization favoured by Womack & Jones (2005b). Creating these sub-optimizations in

isolation is increasing the costs of flexibility in the manufacturing operations but also costs of

inventory in the distribution channels.

Spare parts logistics

(Wagner, Jonke & Eisingerich, 2012)

Firms with a well-aligned spare parts logistics strategy can add value for their customers beyond primary product benefits, thus building longterm customer loyalty and achieving high profit margins.1 Firms across different industries now recognize spare parts supply not only as a legal obligation, but also as a chance to offset stagnating or declining revenues

and to increase profits in their primary product markets. For instance, the aftersales business in the machine and plant construction industry accounts for approximately 25% of total sales (with two-thirds from selling spare parts and one-third from services) and up to 50% of total profits.2 Drawing on Christopher’s definition of logistics,3 we define spare parts logistics as follows: Spare parts logistics of the manufacturer contains the market- orientated planning, design, realization, and control of the spare parts supply and distribution, along with associated information flows within a firm and between the firm and its network partners. Therefore, spare parts logistics aims at a demand-driven, cost-minimal provision of the required spare parts for the defective or preventive maintenance of primary products to ensure an optimal level of availability or reliability of the product.

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