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Lean Logistics Techniques

03 February, 2023


Any successful logistics system needs to provide the required materials where and when they are needed. Lean logistics takes this approach a step further.

What are Lean Logistics?

In his book Lean Logistics: The Nuts and Bolts of Delivering Materials and Goods, Michel Baudin defines lean logistics as having two objectives. First, the system is responsible for "Delivering the materials needed, when needed, in the exact quantity needed, and conveniently presented to production for inbound logistics and to customers for outbound logistics." This is really the idea behind logistics in general. Baudin makes the system lean by adding a second objective: "Without degrading delivery, pursue the elimination of waste in the logistics process."

What does this mean? What are the basic principles underlying lean logistics?

The Basics of Lean Logistics

As with all other lean methods, lean logistics starts with the customer. The objective of lean logistics is to eliminate waste, and that means eliminating anything that does not add value a customer is willing to pay for. For example, when FedEx created an overnight delivery service, the cost to send a package this way was significantly higher ? but the added value of having reliable overnight delivery was huge, making FedEx a major success. The focus is not always on cutting costs; instead, the focus is on ensuring that every cost adds greater value for the customer. This is accomplished by eliminating the three types of harmful variation: Muda, Mura, and Muri:

  1. Muda ? waste
  2. Mura ? unevenness (unbalanced situations)
  3. Muri ? excessive burden or stress

Muda Waste

Muda waste is anything that does not add value for the final customer. This leads people to target muda waste alone. However, the underlying causes of muda waste are often muri and mura wastes, so all three must be eliminated together.

Mura Waste

Mura waste is an unevenness, or unbalanced condition. For example, if movement is towards the customer, value is added. If movement is away from the customer, that is waste. Mura results in unnecessary movement away from the customer. It causes periods of idle time, and periods of rushing and excessive activity to "catch up" with demand. As with muri waste, the result is an increase in muda waste.

What can be done to eliminate all three of these wastes?

Muri Waste

Muri waste results from trying to do more work than the available manpower or equipment is intended to handle. In some cases, overburdening the system can work for short periods. Continuous overburdening results in greater wear on equipment, increased mistakes and errors, and a snowballing effect of increasing problems. All of these may be seen as muda waste, but the underlying cause is muri.

Applying Lean Logistics

There are a number of lean methods that are applicable to logistics. These include 5S and Kaizen, which are two of the most basic, and two that can be used to guide you into other lean methods of improvement.


The term "5S" comes from five words that all start with the letter "S", and that are all focused on getting the workplace cleaned up and organized. Because of this, 5S is the foundation approach of lean logistics. Before much else can be done, the workplace needs to be well organized.

5S "cleaning" involves more than sweeping the floor and putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls. It also means organizing the workplace and establishing a means of visual communication that makes keeping the workplace organized easy. For example, a warehouse should be organized so as to make the most commonly needed items easy to find and access, while at the same time keeping forklift and pedestrian traffic separated. The use of color-coded floor marking tape, signs, and labels is essential for communicating where items are stored and keeping everyone safe.

Not only do products and the materials stored in the warehouse need to be well-organized, but the tools and equipment used to maintain warehouse equipment, and the warehouse itself, all need to be organized. Again, visual cues are used. For example, color-coded shadow boards visually identify the proper storage locations for tools, floor marking identifies forklift recharging and parking areas, and signs identify vehicle maintenance bays.


What changes need to be made in order to eliminate waste? You already have people working for you who can answer that question.

Kaizen is an approach to making improvements and eliminating waste in small steps, using employee suggestions. The idea is to continually make small improvements. Those who are the closest to the work can identify problems and suggest these improvements, which can be implemented quickly and at a relatively low cost. The ongoing process will be cumulative, resulting in a build-up of improvements that will bring a significant reduction in waste, accompanied by improved quality and lower costs.

For Kaizen to be successful it is important for suggestions to be acted on quickly, and for those making suggestions to see the results of their suggestions. If a suggestion cannot be implemented, the person who made the suggestion should be given the reasons why it is not being implemented, and possibly encouraged to change their suggestion to solve the issue that is preventing implementation. Kaizen is a two-way system, with open communication between workers and managers.

Using Visual Communication for Lean Logistics

Visual communication is a crucial component of lean logistics. That's why having a DuraLabel custom label printer handy helps ensure success. DuraLabel custom label printers make labels, tags, signs, and can even print on some types of DuraLabel floor marking tape. With DuraLabel you get the printers and tough-tested supplies that get the job done right.

Our comprehensive 5S Best Practices Guide can help you implement 5S techniques in your facility, more easily! Download your free copy below.