Using lean manufacturing tools to redesign our shipping department

At AquaPhoenix, we are not afraid of change. Change within an organization is essential to allowing employees to learn new skills, explore new opportunities, and exercise their creativity.  Such changes benefit the overall organization through new ideas and increased commitment. When we decided to conduct a comprehensive review and reorganization of our shipping department, we were excited by the challenge such change presented.

Since our move into our new building in 2016, AquaPhoenix has seen a 26% increase in orders shipped per day. This is a great problem to have, but our shipping department was struggling to keep up. With the use of Lean Manufacturing tools such as Value Stream Mapping and Spaghetti Diagrams we identified several improvement opportunities. Primarily, we found that our process was very batch-oriented as orders were being clustered in our tracking department before moving to shipping. The result was a bottleneck at shipping when large batches were received, putting extreme pressure on our motto that “…anything that can ship today will!”

A cross-functional team consisting of representatives from almost every department in the company began brainstorming ideas to relieve the bottleneck. We believed that we had to incorporate a one-piece flow method, which would mean that each order would be tracked, packed, and shipped in quick succession.  By implementing the one-piece flow methodology, bottlenecks would become immediately evident which would allow our team to quickly respond by flexing our labor where needed. Many meetings, “debates”, revisions, and pots of coffee later we had an agreed upon design and plan. Thanks to excellent teamwork and communication we were able to safely and efficiently rearrange our entire warehouse with zero downtime ensuring our customers never experienced any delays!

Most importantly, many of the great ideas incorporated into the project came, unsurprisingly, from the employees working in the areas affected. By following through on those ideas and keeping everyone engaged throughout the project, our employees have full buy in and ownership for the results which has greatly contributed to the success of the project. This great crew is what makes the difference and is the best team we’ve ever had.

Early metrics show a marked improvement in throughput per labor hour worked in shipping, and we continue to track progress daily. We were able to achieve an increase in capacity of 33% while reducing the overall footprint by 100 square feet.  These improvements mean our customers receive their orders promptly and on time.  It also means that as we grow, our customers can continue to receive the same excellent customer experience they’ve come to expect from AquaPhoenix. As a company, we promise to continue working hard to raise the bar and kick butt for our customers.