Visual communication plays a very important role in establishing and maintaining a reliable workflow in the field. When communication breaks down on a job site, teams will experience loss of productivity, hindered completion times, and costly errors. Visual communication tools will significantly help to bridge communication gaps and facilitate better trade-to-trade collaboration and accountability at the daily huddle.
Joe Donarumo, Senior Superintendent & Director of Lean Application, Linbeck Group
Visual communication has long been an important aspect of reusable pallet and container management. The importance of visual communication is further amplified in today’s supply chain, one staffed by less experienced workers from diverse backgrounds. Whether pallet color, markings, posters, or, more recently, 5S/Lean manufacturing signage, attention to visual communication can help reinforce positive front-line decision making. It can help optimize your reusables program. Let’s take a closer look.
Lean Manufacturing and 5S Signage and Markings to Enhance Visual Communication
When I recently talked about best practices for reusable packaging management with Camille Corr Chism, President and Owner of Indigo Packaging and Consulting, LLC, visual management was one of the first things she mentioned.
“I’ve been to plants that manage it (reusable packaging programs) well, and I will say that seeing things like five S and visual management in lean manufacturing principles makes a difference,” she emphasized.
Lean/5S signage and markings have helped many reusables programs for manufacturing plants and retailers alike. Clear signage, floor marking to designate storage location, and sometimes markings to indicate optimal stacking height all help to bring structure to your program. This approach directs material handlers to place empty packaging in the right spot, in the right stacking pattern, stacked to the right height.
This visual organization helps ensure that the right packaging goes to the right supplier and does so in the correct ti hi to ensure return efficiencies. 5S can be particularly important in sectors such as manufacturing when very similar packaging is used by various suppliers, she noted, to avoid a return to the wrong supplier.
In the grocery sector, returns can be a mess. Retail store backrooms have sometimes been reduced to expand retail floor space or to support e-commerce, for example, so that space can be at a premium. Unfortunately, such constraints can result in reusables being left outside unprotected from theft. Where enough space does exist, some grocery chains have introduced 5-S in their back rooms to help employees accurately sort, segregate and stack the various reusable pallets and containers used in grocery distribution.
With an organized back room, return trailers can be loaded and subsequently unloaded and processed more efficiently, with less potential for asset mis-shipment and loss.
Reusable Asset Markings and Color
Like the familiar blue CHEP pallet found in many consumer products supply chains, color has been used for decades to help facilitate pallet identification and better inventory control. In another article, I do a deeper dive on pallet and container color, but here is a list of potential benefits.
- Asset managers can spot pallets at a considerable distance when they are a specific color.
- Likewise, color coding helps facilitate warehouse pallet audits, even in high rack locations.
- Color coding can be used to ensure the correct stacking or nesting of some containers.
- Color marking of pallets enables material handlers to sort different types of pallets easily and helps ensure that employees use the correct pallet for the correct shipment.
- Pallet color coding can be indispensable in helping plant employees segregate one type of material from another, where certain materials or processes are associated with a specific color.
- Color coding can also be used to reduce the risk of cross-contamination where some pallets or totes may be used for unhygienic applications.
- And, of course, pallet color selection can help in retail marketing and store esthetics initiatives. Think blue pallets for Pepsi, or red pallets for Coca-Cola, for example.
Pallet markings can also play an important role in communicating information. For example, they help denote pallet ownership by pools or closed loops, date of manufacture, manufacturer identification, and ISPM-15 compliance.
Pallet posters have been used in warehousing for more than four decades to reinforce important aspects of pallet handling as well as to communicate more detailed information such as acceptable damage tolerances.
They remain a useful tool. In July 2022, Bakers Basco, the equipment recovery agency set up by the UK’s biggest bakeries, created a series of awareness posters to support its national campaign to deter the mishandling and abuse of their daily bread supply equipment. These posters were used as part of the company’s marketing campaign throughout the year at industry events covering sectors such as festivals, events, recycling, and waste management.
“Following the success of our national appeal back in April we felt we had to exploit that success and carry on the initiative throughout 2022,” commented Basco’s general manager, Paul Empson. “The poster series seemed a natural way to continue with the message, especially during the festival and outdoor event season.”
Poster best practices
When enlisting the use of posters, there are several things to consider. Best practices include:
- The placement of posters in high traffic or congregation areas or at the point of pallet decision-making. For example, posters pertaining to allowable pallets or damage tolerances are often posted by receiving doors.
- When possible, make poster messages simple and easy to read, yet with sticky and memorable wording (more difficult to do when there is a lot of inspection information, for example).
- Enhancing visual attraction through graphics.
- Rotating posters to keep the messaging fresh.
- Reinforcing poster messaging through dialogue with workers in training, shift meetings, and during supervisory feedback.
There are other aspects of visual communication, such as clear containers that allow material handlers or stocking clerks to see the merchandise inside the box to aid in identification. And as smart packaging becomes more prevalent in the years ahead, we can anticipate further real-time tools for visual communication such as warning lights, for example, if the wrong pallet is loaded on the wrong trailer. Visual communication can be important in managing your reusable packaging program.