05 September 2017
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Kanban operatives – not just delivery drivers

How would it be if you were the beneficiary of a supply chain system in which the parts you need effectively order themselves? Too good to be true? Read on…

For a production or assembly worker, engineer, or any number of roles with a need for fasteners or parts, it is not only convenient, but also efficient, to have those fasteners and parts close to hand and continuously available without interruption. This would be the ideal, but it is not always what is in place or possible when administered by a company using internal methods. But what if this level of service could be provided by an external company, bringing with it a host of cost and efficiency savings? If unfamiliar with supply chain partners, stock management or Kanban systems, you might wonder how fasteners and parts can be delivered exactly where they are needed, supposing that a delivery of parts stops at the back door.

Yet a supply chain partner can actually improve the supply of parts, with a Kanban driver delivering that service. For those unfamiliar with this type of delivery format, a Kanban typically consists of several racks strategically located on, or near to, production areas where parts are used. Users can freely pick parts from their specific locations without the need to order or perform any administrative tasks to acquire them.

“Once installed, the whole process of part fulfilment is usage-driven,” says Andrew Black, managing director of Staytite. “Bins are only filled to a pre-agreed level. Typically, two bins are employed for every part, with both bins stocked and placed one in front of the other, ready for use. When a bin has been depleted of its contents, the empty bin is placed behind the reserve bin or on top of the rack. During scheduled visits, these movements are monitored by the Kanban driver who will then automatically order replenishment parts to be delivered to the depleted bin.”

Because a Kanban is a continuous system, it may be best to gain insight into the process with the ‘picking note’, which is used to create the delivery for parts needed at the customer location. Picking notes are generated by the most recent visit to the on-site racking. “Already at this stage, as a supply chain provider, a number of roles have replaced the ‘traditional’ method of supply, including the purchasing of the goods, booking those parts into the stock system and quality testing that batch of goods ready for use,” adds Black. “Storage of those parts has also already been agreed upon as part of the partnership. This allows the customer to use that previously used storage space for alternative purposes.”

Shipments are often made ready in advance of a delivery date, with a Kanban driver typically starting early to avoid traffic congestion. “When arriving on site, the sign-in and entry procedures are dictated by the requirements of the facility being entered, often with varying special stipulations to be adhered to,” says Staytite Kanban driver Richard Keating. “An example might be an international rail shed with strict airport level security, including body and x-ray scanners, vehicle checks: engine bay, cabin and load. These procedures can sometimes be time-consuming, but are necessary to gain access to site. In contrast, other facilities might simply require the driver to enter a goods-in office to announce their presence. Other sites require drivers to obtain key cards that have to be handed back when delivery is completed.”

In addition to a smart uniformed appearance, PPE and other protection may be needed for the driver, including steel toe footwear, high visibility jackets, eye protection, anti-static foot straps and clothing.

In order to provide the essential service, a supply chain partner such as Staytite has been invited by the customer to make scheduled deliveries into production areas. Training is essential, because the fulfilment process is unsupervised. “Kanban drivers must be aware of their surroundings,” states Staytite marketing executive and former Kanban driver Tim Milson. “Working conditions of these facilities can vary in extremes from clean rooms to engineering sheds –whatever the challenge of the particular location entails, the requirement is still the same, to provide parts directly where needed, which can involve hazardous zones that include vehicles, machinery, chemicals, clean areas, antistatic environments and inspection pits.”

The Kanban driver will methodically replenish the depleted bins of each rack location. This is another example of time saved for the customer – with replenishment undertaken by the Kanban, there is no need for parts to be moved internally. “The parts are stored where they are being used, with the bulk remainder of stock stored by the supply chain provider. The next task is to check for empty bins. Incidentally, the meaning of the word Kanban is ‘sign’, so the Kanban driver is looking for the signs of usage. This is the heart of the system, simply identifying usage by checking for depleted stock,” adds Milson.

Using Internet-enabled devices, depleted bins are scanned using a direct line feed programme connected to Staytite’s stock system, which will then automatically generate a picking order for that location. Having the right equipment allows for quick response and clarity of information, and also records usage data as part of the inventory management service. Staytite has long been an advocate of using a scanner and tablet system that offers a high degree of flexibility, communication, efficiency and reliability.

Technology is a valuable tool, but for the Kanban driver it is equally as important to get to know the people that work on-site. “Without being disruptive, good relationships can be built up over time, as communication is essential for delivering better levels of service,” comments Staytite’s Andrew Black. “Bin usages are monitored and forecasted by account managers, but sometimes unplanned events or large orders can increase the customer’s need for fasteners and parts. This information can be conveyed in advance to the Kanban operative directly from the shop floor.”

Account managers will follow up any requests for extra stock to identify, if the usage of parts has changed. Actions might include increasing quantities held in the bins or increasing the total amount of bins and shelf space that service a particular part. “Often, enquiries will start on the shop floor, which are then escalated by the driver. On occasion, questions are of a technical nature and will involve sending images, as well as a detailed description of the problem, with an engineering team on hand to find solutions to satisfy the needs of the customer,” he continues. “When the racks have been replenished, and the scan completed for replacement fasteners and parts, it is time for the Kanban driver to leave by signing out. This is not the end, since Kanban is an unceasing process, with replenishment parts once again picked, ready for the next scheduled delivery.”

Brian Wall

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Staytite Ltd


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