Applying lean manufacturing principles to packaging

logoLean manufacturing techniques and tools have been successfully used to improve manufacturing operations for well over 20 years.   Many manufacturing companies that employ lean manufacturing techniques will focus on the actual production processes, but miss some valuable cost reduction opportunities in packaging and shipping.   The cost of packaging and shipping are largely dependent on the type of product being built; for large, bulky or delicate products, this can be relatively expensive.

One of the key parts of a lean manufacturing effort is to identify waste and reduce or eliminate it by changing procedures, redesigning tooling or materials and/or re-arranging the workplace.  There are seven wastes (or mudas) typically identified in lean manufacturing.  Source:

  • Transport
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Waiting
  • Over-Processing
  • Overproduction
  • Defects

With some analysis, one can easily find examples of these waste elements in packaging/crating and shipping.

Transport:  Since shipping is the act of transporting, it would be hard to eliminate that part, but consider the amount of times the finished product is moved within your plant before it gets loaded on a truck.   Is it moved to a shelf to sit, then moved to the shipping department and crated?  Is it moved from one type of container to another?  Even within the shipping/ packaging operation is the product moved to a weigh scale then moved to a packing crate?

How about the packaging materials and crates?  The act of inventorying them is movement that may not be needed if you got your packaging system delivered JIT.

Inventory:   It is very common for businesses to “stock” lots of packaging materials because they tend to be less expensive, and quite frankly, companies don’t pay as much attention to this area as they could.  But packaging systems do take up space and cost money.  Why not implement a kanban system with your packaging materials suppliers?

Motion:  It shouldn’t be surprising, since manufacturers rarely focus their lean manufacturing efforts on packaging, that the packaging and crating of the product can be a very inefficient operation.   Often the packaging task involves awkward motions to move material into a crate, or the crate itself requires excess nailing, screwing, insertion and strapping that could easily be reduced with a more efficient packaging design.  A well designed packaging system will minimize motion and reduce ergonomic stress.

 Waiting:  Some packaging systems have several components that could consist of items such as foam pieces, special cardboard cut outs, wooden pallet bases and other items depending on the packaging design.  The  more different items required in the packaging, the more likely that either excess time is spent finding and gathering up all these pieces or one or more are out-of-stock and the shipment needs to wait.   Packnet offers a pre-kitting service where we assembly the packaging system and deliver it to your door when you need it.

Over-Processing:   Over designed packaging that uses more materials than needed or more expensive materials than required are almost as commonplace as inadequate packaging.  None of this over-engineering will reduce the likelihood of damage, but it adds cost.  A well designed packaging system will use only what is needed to assure damage free transport to the destination, and minimize material expense.

Overproduction:  Over production in packaging is usually a result of excess lead times or unreliable delivery schedules of the packaging supplier. This often forces manufactures to purchase more than what is needed as a safety net.   The solution is having a reliable packaging producer that can commit to short lead times or even daily deliveries.  Packnet has built its business model around rapid response times.

Defects:  The main purpose of any packaging and crating system is to enable the delivery of your product damage free.   A well designed packaging system will incorporate the best materials and designs to insure that the product is protected from jostling, tipping, dropping and stacking.  Additionally the product should be protected from corrosion and kept clean, dry and particle free if appropriate.  We have stated this many times: The most expensive time to have a defect is during shipping.

Remember to include the packaging area in your lean manufacturing efforts; the potential cost savings can be significant.   If you are interested to see what type of waste can be eliminated from your current system, Packnet offers a free assessment of your current packaging; you might be pleasantly surprised at how much money can be saved!