Jason Morin is Senior Director of Continuous Improvement and Engineering within KANE’s operations group. His 25 years of supply chain engineering and continuous improvement (CI) experience includes stints at multiple third-party logistics companies and, most recently, at Dematic. Jason is an expert in the development and deployment of world-class solutions, tools, and performance programs for distribution centers and secondary packaging / light assembly operations. He’s worked with many of the world’s largest CPG brands.
We caught up with Jason recently to discuss his take on continuous improvement in logistics.
Q: What are large CPG brands expecting from their 3PLs today when it comes to continuous improvement?
A: The expectations are high, as they should be. Corporate logistics executives are under tremendous pressure, themselves, to both improve service and bring down distribution costs. That pressure is reflected in their expectations of 3PL partners. If a 3PL is not constantly finding ways to improve the customer’s business, however they define improvement, they risk losing that business.
Q: Do 3PLs, by and large, understand this continuous improvement imperative?
A: Most do, yes. For 3PLs, it’s no longer about picking the low hanging fruit for the first year or two of operations and then coasting. We must continually re-look at the business, partnering with the customer to understand how the business is changing, and how logistics operations must change to support it. More than a corporate function, continuous improvement a mindset.
Q: How has the pandemic impacted customers’ focus on continuous improvement?
A: With so many supply chain disruptions these days, you’d think the focus would be more around fighting fires than continuous improvement in logistics, but that’s not the case. Brands are dealing with pressures they’ve never seen before – pressures around supply, freight capacity, and warehouse space – and they’re leaning on their 3PL partners for help.
Q: But isn’t that different than classic CI? Isn’t that just “We’re in a bind, help us out.”
A: Continuous improvement is not just about process efficiencies; it’s about getting creative to solve a problem. Let’s say lack of warehouse space is the issue. Well, do you really need to look for outside space, or can you redesign the warehouse layout to increase storage density? We want those kinds of challenges.
Q: Do you have a philosophy around continuous improvement in logistics?
A: I’m a Lean practitioner, so I have a bias toward an incessant re-examination of a process. Study it, find the waste, experiment with solutions, and then refine/adopt/abandon those changes. Then begin again. It’s the classic Plan/Do/Check/Act (PDCA) cycle. It’s not the sexy stuff, but it’s amazing how much you can impact quality and productivity just by changing a warehouse process.
Q: How does automation tie in with your process-first mindset?
A: Well, you obviously don’t want to automate a bad process. But what we must recognize is that technology can completely eliminate certain processes. For instance, a process for bagging and then labeling a product is moot if you have bagging machines that handle the process for you, including printing the label directly on the bag. A process that streamlines a manual picking process is moot of you have a goods-to-person picking solution that brings the product to the workers and instructs them what to pick. The range of technology options available to today’s logistics engineers is exciting, but in the end warehouse automation must pay for itself in a reasonable timeframe. It must make practical sense for the business.
Q: Does KANE have a particular approach to continuous improvement in logistics – one that gives you a competitive advantage?
A: At KANE, we have the same logistics know-how and operational capabilities as the global 3PLs we often compete with. But we’re smaller and nimbler. SPEED is a real advantage when it comes to implementing improvement projects. A 3PL has to be both scalable and flexible.
Q: Can you give me an example?
A: Here’s an example that shows how size can work against you if you let it. As director of operations for one of the world’s largest 3PLs, we had a customer request for an industrial engineer to support an important new project. I requested a resource and was told that, yes, someone could begin work – in 4 WEEKS! That was well beyond the start point for the project! This 3PL had a large engineering team, so resources were not the issue. It just had many other customers vying for these engineering resources and a set process for allocating them. At KANE, we respond quickly to customer requests. If a project makes sense, we’ll marshal the resources to support the ops team and make it happen.
Q: So great engineering work is about careful analysis – but also speed.
A: Given the current state of the supply chain, customers need our help more than ever. We need to work smart, and fast. You don’t want bureaucratic roadblocks that make it harder to enact efficiency-driving changes. In the end, it’s about getting things done.