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Lean Six Sigma Meets Warehouse Automation Design: A Winning Combination for Warehouse Optimization

May 15, 2023

Lean Six Sigma is a widely recognized methodology useful for process improvement and removing waste in manufacturing and warehouse environments. 

Six Sigma was initially developed at Motorola in the 1980s to improve their operations. The steps of traditional Six Sigma are usually represented by the acronym DMAIC – Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control.

Lean Six Sigma was developed in the early 2000s using these principles, also drawing from Toyota’s lean manufacturing system, which was developed in the 1950s. By leveraging the principles of Lean Six Sigma, businesses can optimize their fulfillment operations in a warehouse and increase productivity in picking, packing and shipping.

Numina Group helps companies lean up their warehouse operations to improve processes, remove wasted movements and repetitive tasks, and eliminate fulfillment bottlenecks for decades.

In this blog post, we will explore how to draw from Lean Six Sigma concepts to improve your existing warehouse processes or to create an optimized warehouse design plan that drives efficiency and excellence in fulfillment.

Value Stream Mapping

Value stream mapping is the process of creating a comprehensive visual representation of an organization’s operation.

Learn about Numina’s Warehouse Design Services

Begin by creating a value stream map (VSM) of your warehouse processes and a detailed slotting study that focuses on the flow of goods and information from supplier to customer. This will help you visualize and understand the current state of your order fulfillment operations and identify areas for improvement. 

Value Stream mapping begins by asking two questions, “what adds value to customers?” and “What steps can be eliminated or combined into a single step?” 

It is a discovery exercise that creates a flowchart of all the steps and touches that take place to fulfill orders today. It also identifies which steps add value and which are wasted.

The goal should be to eliminate as much of the waste components as possible throughout your entire order fulfillment process.

Eliminate Waste

Lean Six Sigma focuses on reducing waste in processes. In the context of a warehouse distribution operation, waste can include:  

  •  Insufficient or excess inventory, which leads to wasted effort in the storage and retrieval of product
  • Poor warehouse layout that leads to excess walking of pickers or the movement of AMR’s and forklifts 
  • Occurrence of bottlenecks within the fulfillment workflow that slow down the entire pick, pack and ship process

Analyze your processes and create a roadmap that identifies areas where waste can be eliminated or reduced, streamlining your fulfillment operations.

Video: Warehouse Automation Design for Perfect Order Practices

The Roadmap includes an evaluation of the benefits to be obtained with improved processes, better slotting, ergonomics, and a reduction in the number of touches. Non-value touches need to be eliminated throughout the pick, pack, and ship operation. That’s the first major component of optimized warehouse design.

Next, compare the improved design to the current operation’s key performance indicators and labor usage. This comparison will be used to calculate the advantages obtained through operational changes and leaner processes. 

The improved warehouse design plan, combined with enhanced lean process warehouse automation, will yield far higher gains in productivity, especially in solutions that are holistic and implemented across the entire order fulfillment operation.  

Continuous Improvement 

(Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement across the entire operation):

Adopt a culture of continuous improvement by regularly reviewing and refining all warehouse processes. Encourage employees to identify areas for improvement and to suggest solutions. Implementing incremental changes over time can lead to significant efficiency gains in fulfillment. This also improves employee morale if they are empowered to be part of the process.

Studies show that best-in-class companies that emphasize continuous improvement, invest in value mapping to streamline processes, and collaborate across departments in warehouse design improvements gain the following benefits:

  • Reduced order-to-delivery cycle time from weeks to days
  • Consistently meet same-day delivery
  • Reduced on-hand inventory from 10% to 30%
  • Increased inventory turns
  • Experienced throughput gains of up to 70%

Standardize Processes 

Standardize warehouse processes to ensure consistency and minimize variation. This will help reduce errors, improve order accuracy, and enhance customer satisfaction across all channels. The best way to standardize warehouse processes is by putting the right tools and warehouse automation technologies in place.

For instance, Numina Group’s Victory Voice Suite standardizes the picking process by directing and validating each step of the order picking process. Voice picking technology utilizes voice commands to direct consistent and uniform practices across all the workers and includes built-in pick & pack validation practices.

How to Quantify the Cost-Saving Benefits of Voice Picking Technology

Voice picking technology directs operators to the right location and validates the location and item quantity picking activities with barcode scanning validation. It results in an efficient, hands-free, eyes-focused operation.

Measure and Analyze Warehouse Performance

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. Start by establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of your fulfillment operations. Some KPIs that you may way to track include:

  • Lines per hour
  • Orders per day
  • Labor costs
  • Percentage of mis-picks
  • Cost of fine backs

 Collect and analyze data to identify trends, inefficiencies, and areas for improvement. Use this information to guide your Lean Six Sigma initiatives and drive continuous improvement in your warehouse processes.

Implement Warehouse Process Improvements

Invest in employee training and development to ensure that your team has the necessary skills and knowledge to support Lean Six Sigma initiatives. Empower employees to take ownership of their work and contribute to process improvement efforts, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and excellence.

Employee Empowerment and Warehouse Training

Invest in employee training and development to ensure that your team has the necessary skills and knowledge to support Lean Six Sigma initiatives. Empower employees to take ownership of their work and contribute  to process improvement efforts, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and excellence.


By leveraging the principles of Lean Six Sigma, businesses can optimize their fulfillment operations in a warehouse, to improve operating efficiencies, reduce labor and waste, and improve customer satisfaction. Implementing a data-driven, continuous improvement approach to warehouse management will not only support your omni-channel strategy but also contribute to long-term business success. 

Embrace the power of Lean Six Sigma and you’ll gain an effective warehouse design that unlock the full potential of your order fulfillment operations today!

About Numina Group

Numina Group, an industry leading independent systems integrator in warehouse automation, has over 35 years of experience in the development, design, and implementation of advanced warehouse automation software and material handling equipment for distribution operations, to improve order fulfillment efficiency.

Our team works in partnership with clients to evaluate and define process improvements and the right blend of warehouse automation material handling technology to deliver a rapid ROI.

Numina Group designs and implements optimized warehouse processes managed by Numina’s Real-time Distribution Software (RDS™) Warehouse Execution and Control Software. RDS is a full suite of predeveloped modules, including order release optimization for managing the latest generation autonomous mobile robot-driven goods-to-person systems (G2P), voice and pick-to-light systems, automated pack and ship conveyor systems, cartonization software, conveyor system control, weight and vision audit, print and apply labeling, and high-speed sortation.

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To learn more, contact us to speak with a warehouse automation specialist and arrange a complimentary consultation. 

Taking a lean six sigma approach to warehouse automation design

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