Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Packaging "Waste" - Another Lean Safety Opportunity

A few months ago my wife informed me she was running some errands including a stop at a local hardware store. I asked her to purchase a pair of needle nose pliers to replace a pair I had broken. Upon her return she handed me the pliers which were so securely locked into a plastic holder, used to display and protect the tool from theft, I had to get another tool to remove the packaging. The pliers lay on a sheet of thick plastic and were held in place by a plastic clamp that was riveted to the base with two plastic rivets. After the frustration of trying to figure out to remove the pliers from their packaging I realized I needed another tool, side cutters, to cut the rivets and release the pliers. The exorbitant amount of plastic used to display and protect the pliers added no value for me, the customer. It only added cost to the product and left me, the customer, with the plastic waste that had to be disposed of.

Just think about some of the activities that had taken place to produce the packaging used for the pliers. The product packaging required three separate production processes to produce the three plastic components. The raw material used to mold the parts had to be transported, stored on site and eventually moved to the molding machines. The small plastic parts, when discharged from the molding machines, had to be packaged into larger containers and stored. They were then shipped to some other location, unloaded and stored in inventory. Eventually they were pulled from inventory and moved to the packaging station where the pliers are packaged. Someone had to physically open the containers holding the three separate plastic parts. The empty containers then had to be transported to a disposal bin and thrown away. Eventually a waste disposal service had to pick up the waste and take it to a landfill or a recycling site. Each one of these steps required someone on somebody’s payroll to complete the tasks required and each step added cost to the final price of the pliers I purchased. How products are packaged and the effort it takes to remove the packaging is a continuous improvement opportunity often overlooked by lean thinkers.

The Lean Safety connection is that each and every time material is transported or handled in any way there is an inherent safety risk. Then the repetitive tasks required to rivet the pliers to the plastic base require physical actions like picking up, inserting, riveting, and placing parts which can all lead to soft tissue injuries. I would love to invite the engineering and marketing geniuses who designed the current plier’s packaging configuration to participate on a Safety Kaizen Blitz team. The team’s charter would clearly spell out their objective – to reduce the risk of soft tissue injuries. By accomplishing their objective they would not only reduce the risk of injury - they would reduce the packaging and labor costs which would drive down the cost of a pair of needle nose pliers. Then when consumers get home with their pliers maybe they can just remove them from a zip-lock bag and start using them rather than spending time thinking about and developing a process to remove them from their packaging. What are your thoughts on packaging? Any frustrations you want to share?

Stay Safe!