Lean manufacturing is about efficiency. It is about streamlining processes that result in the most productive use of time and resources. Flow racks make it possible for materials to move from one stage to another on their way to customers.
Equipment that supports the flow of materials include workstations, carts, packaging, and flow racks. Of these, flow racks are among the least misunderstood, perhaps because they are less visible to the public.
As the name suggests, flow racks facilitate the flow of materials and products from one end to the other. They are referred to as ‘gravity feed racks’ since they move materials by gravitational force. Below are seven reasons you should care about flow racks in lean manufacturing.
1. Increased Productivity
Flow racks involve moving materials on a first in, first out basis. Since they are propelled by gravity, no human involvement is needed to move materials from one end to the other. Once an item is loaded on one end of the track, it slides down via gravity to the other side. The efficiency and affordability of this system result in improved productivity. The racks are fitted with rollers that allow them to freely flow to the next workstation or dispatch point. There are also flow racks that feature angled shelves with dedicated lanes where items such as bottles, cans, and others are placed to slide down the shelves on a first in, first out basis.
2. Ability to Move All Types of Material
Flow racks are highly convenient. You can use them to move materials such as cardboard boxes, unpacked parts, pallets, bins, totes, among many other types of material. Besides, you can adjust them for specific functions.
3. They Define Boundary Areas
Flow racks separate an operator’s workstation from the delivery area. This separation of two functions has traditionally been witnessed in lean manufacturing. However, flow racks are increasingly finding their way into the distribution sector in a bid to move materials efficiently in distribution facilities.
4. Flow Racks Control the Movement of Material
Flow racks control the movement and storage of your materials. This is because the size of the rack determines the size of the material to be moved. Contrast this with an open floor space where a forklift operator tries to pack as many pallets as possible. Flow racks remind the production and logistics teams that there are size stipulations that must be strictly adhered to. If an item can’t fit in, it cannot slide down the rack.
5. Precise Material Presentation
Another reason you should care about flow racks in lean manufacturing is their ability to avail the right material in the appropriate quantities, at their designated space, to an operator on the other end of the chain at the right time. This eliminates guesswork and the laborious manual work of lifting and hauling materials without the help of gravity.
6. Enforce First In, First Out Process
In lean manufacturing, flow racks ensure the oldest materials or products are the first to get into the market. The FIFO strategy ensures products are released to the market based on their release date. Flow racks ensure no material or product jumps the queue. Every item is ‘forced’ to ‘toe the line’ to make sure the first item to go in is the first one to go out.
7. They Keep Your Inventory in Check and on the Move
Flow racks ensure your materials or products are always on the move. Once a product goes out, the next in line slides in to take its place. A flow rack also ensures materials or products of a certain size will fit in the rack. It also forces specific items to stay in the designed lanes. This element of control and continuous movement helps keep your inventory in check.