Supermarket Approach

Tags: Glossary

An inventory management and picking technique used in lean enterprises, this concept was conceived by Taiichi Ohno of Toyota after a visit to the US in 1956. He was impressed by how consumers could pick whatever they needed from the shelf, and the store would simply replenish what was taken. This became the basis for the 'pull system.

What is Supermarket Approach?

The Supermarket Approach is an inventory management and picking technique that is widely used in lean enterprises. This concept was first introduced by Taiichi Ohno, a prominent figure in the field of logistics and the father of the Toyota Production System. Ohno developed this approach after being inspired by his visit to the United States in 1956, where he observed how consumers could easily pick whatever they needed from the supermarket shelves, and the store would then restock the items that were taken.

The Supermarket Approach is based on the principle of a "pull system," which is a fundamental concept in lean manufacturing. In a pull system, the production or replenishment of goods is triggered by actual customer demand, rather than being driven by forecasts or predetermined schedules. This approach ensures that inventory levels are kept at a minimum, reducing waste and improving overall efficiency.

In the context of the Supermarket Approach, the supermarket serves as a metaphor for the production process. Just like customers in a supermarket, downstream processes or customers in a production line "pull" the required items from the upstream processes or suppliers. This creates a seamless flow of materials and information throughout the supply chain, eliminating the need for excessive inventory and reducing the risk of overproduction.

The Supermarket Approach offers several benefits to organizations that adopt it. Firstly, it enables better inventory management by ensuring that stock levels are aligned with actual customer demand. This helps to prevent stockouts and reduce the costs associated with carrying excess inventory. Secondly, it promotes a more flexible and responsive production system, as production is driven by real-time demand signals rather than rigid schedules. This allows companies to quickly adapt to changes in customer preferences or market conditions.

Implementing the Supermarket Approach requires careful planning and coordination. It involves setting up supermarket-like storage areas, known as "kanban supermarkets," where materials or components are stored in a visually organized manner. Each item is accompanied by a kanban card, which serves as a signal for replenishment. When a downstream process or customer takes an item, they return the kanban card to the upstream process or supplier, indicating that more items are needed. This triggers the replenishment process, ensuring a continuous flow of materials.

In conclusion, the Supermarket Approach is a powerful inventory management and picking technique that has revolutionized the way organizations operate. By adopting a pull system and emulating the efficiency of a supermarket, companies can streamline their supply chains, reduce waste, and improve overall productivity. This approach has been widely embraced by lean enterprises around the world and continues to be a cornerstone of modern logistics practices.

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