A major contribution of the Toyota Production System (TPS) is its identification of the categories of waste (or muda) in the typical production process. Getting rid of these seven wastes is the primary goal of a lean production process. (Lean=No Waste.) This is the sixth in a series of posts describing each form of waste and where it can be found in everyday life.
The seven muda are Defects, Inventory, Motion, Overprocessing, Overproduction, Transportation and Waiting. This time we’ll talk about Transportation.
Transportation waste is generated whenever you move objects around unnecessarily. (This is related to the waste of motion, which is generated whenever you move people around unnecessarily.)
Obviously, if you are manufacturing something, 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 doing this increase the value of our produced item (or outcome) for the customer?
If the answer is “No,” you are talking about transportation waste rather than necessary movement of parts and supplies.
Hauling stuff 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 stuff around. For example:
- Increasing inventories. When stuff gets moved around a lot for little reason, it inevitably piles up in various places, robbing space from more useful activities.
- Increasing defects. Every time you move something around, you risk getting it dirty, damaging it, or losing track of it.
- Increased waiting. 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.
In the traditional auto industry before lean production, there was an enormous amount of time and energy spent moving parts and supplies here and there between factories and within factories. All of that movement was partly the result (and partly the cause) of the large inventories of surplus parts, supplies, and even completed vehicles sitting around the facilities. According to The Machine That Changed The World, as objects were shifted needlessly here and there throughout the production process, the aisles of automobile plants were constantly jammed full of frenzied workers struggling to get what they needed when they needed it.
The lean production process looks for this kind of unnecessary motion and eliminates it. In the lean automobile plant, parts are delivered by suppliers to workers on the line immediately after they are produced and exactly when the workers need them. This eliminates all of the pointless shuffling of parts from loading docks to warehouses to secondary storage and finally to the production line itself.
Of course, this sort of delicately coordinated movement is only possible because lean producers also try to reduce transportation waste at a much larger scale by locating their facilities (and those of their vendors) geographically close to one another. Indeed, all of these operations are also located as close as possible to the customers they will serve, reducing another kind of transportation waste generated when products are shipped to customers. (The reduction of wasted movement is one big reason why so many Japanese automobile producers have factories in the United States and Europe. Nothing adds to a car’s sticker price like a long ocean voyage.)
In everyday life, there are many opportunities to reduce the amount of time and energy we spend hauling things around unnecessarily. For instance, I mentioned in one of my laundry posts that I use collapsible laundry baskets now rather than solid baskets. The reason I do this is simple: It allows me to simply drop the basket down the laundry chute when I’m done putting clean clothes away rather than having to carry the basket back down to the basement myself.
Another example gets into those larger-scale transportation questions that led lean manufacturers to change where they located their factories: Many suburbanites turn grocery shopping into a multi-stage food transportation process. Food is bought in massive batches at the store and then brought home, where it is put into a freezer. From the freezer, the food eventually moves to the fridge when it’s time to thaw it for dinner. Then, days or weeks or even months later, the food is finally cooked and eaten. This doesn’t even count all of the movement of food around as you re-organize the fridge or freezer after buying even more food.
There is another way to handle all of this with less wasted motion: Buy only the food you need for at most a day or two of meals, and then bring it directly back to the kitchen where it’ll immediately be cooked and eaten. No need for large freezers or stuffed cabinets, no need for jostling stuff around in your pantry. Food shows up only when it is needed, is only transported once from the store to the kitchen, and doesn’t stick around.
Is it possible to actually live this way? In the suburbs, maybe not. If you live in a city where a grocery store may well be a hundred yards from your front door, it may be possible to live like this. (I’ve often heard that this is the way people live in urban European cities, where there’s little market for the huge refrigerators and freezers and pantries Americans are used to.) Whether this particular example is realistic for you or not, it shows the issues that come up when you start thinking about reducing transportation waste: The very basic assumptions of your system (i.e., where you choose to live) have a direct influence on the wastes your everyday processes will have to deal with.
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 (those dishes won’t put themselves away), so the key is to focus on the truly unneeded movement of things.
How do you know what movement isn’t needed? Ask the everyday-life version of the question I mentioned earlier: “Does this movement of stuff add real value to the everyday lives of the people I care about (including me)?” If not, it’s transportation waste, and it’s time to ditch it and find another way of doing things.
One warning: A common way to try to reduce transportation waste is to increase the size of your batches. For example, taking more items with you in your arms whenever you go down to the basement, saving yourself some downstairs trips.
Try not to do this! Lean production principles argue that larger batch sizes tend to cause more problems than they solve. Instead of relying entirely on making fewer trips and carrying larger payloads, look more deeply at the process itself: Why are you carrying all of this stuff around anyway? Is it all necessary? Would some of it be better located close at hand rather than down in the basement? Reducing transportation waste is ultimately about getting rid of wasted movements, not just increasing their capacity.