Navy logisticians tour Amazon Japan’s world class distribution hub
YOKOSUKA, Japan – NAVSUP Fleet Logistic Center (FLC) Yokosuka Industrial Support (Code 500) logisticians joined together with U.S. Naval Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center (SRF-JRMC) employees July 15 to view warehouse operations at an Amazon Japan facility in Kanagawa prefecture.
It wasn’t a South American jungle but rather a fulfillment center for one of the world’s leading logistics organizations, Amazon, the online retailer who has revolutionized product delivery the world over, which had Code 500 Sailors bear witness to world-class logistics in action at a warehouse in Odawara, Japan.
The tour was part of a shared learning experience that has various member organizations of the Quality Control (QC) Circle Kanto Branch, Kanagawa Division, sharing how their companies conduct business and find ways for improvement.
There are a total of nine QC branches in Japan each with member organizations specializing in various lines of business to include: logistics, product production, engineering, electronics and also health care, said Kazuhito Iwasaki, management analyst for SRF-JRMC’s Continuous Improvement Office.
The QC Circle Headquarters of Japan is located within Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE).
Iwasaki explained that a QC Circle within a company is a small group consisting of first-line employees who continually control and improve the quality of their network, products and services.
“The motto of the Kangawa Division members is ‘learn something, use what is learned and recognize the successes of other organizations,’” said Iwasaki, adding that “our members benefit from the exchange of ideas.”
With helping to deliver high priority ship parts and keeping accurate inventories a daily part of business for Code 500 employees it was extremely beneficial to witness Amazon operations first hand, as the company houses more than 10 million units of inventory at the Odawara fulfillment center alone.
“Inventory accuracy is vitally important to the business,” said Masayuki Sato, general manager, Amazon Japan Fulfilment Center Operations
Sato explained that if a customer saw a product online and the site showed that only two items remain in stock, the warehouse literally only has two items on its shelves. This level of detail and accuracy is required when trying to supply a customer with everything they need.
If you ran overstock and had just a few more items for each product you very quickly wouldn’t have enough real estate to house all those items, said Sato.
Sato stated that for Amazon one of the key factors to increase customer satisfaction is through selection. An accurate and real-time inventory count allows the space for many more products to be put on the shelves and made available to the customer.
While the Sailors viewed rows and rows of neatly displayed inventory and what seemed to be miles of well-orchestrated conveyer belt lines ushering products along to their desired destination, the Amazon staff, showcased several process improvement events that helped to improve daily operations.
According to Sato, it doesn’t always take a lot of money to find a better way of conducting business but it can be simply looking at the problem in a thoughtful manner until you find a better solution. One case in particular showed that by reconfiguring several work stations, product flow improved; which shaved valuable time off of product delivery.
Viewing these types of productivity improvements helped Code 500 employees get a better understanding of what was possible with regards to improving their own operations.
“Partnering with SRF and taking part in this Quality Circle event was a terrific opportunity for our Sailors and civilian personnel who took part,” said Cmdr. Kimberly Robertson, NAVSUP FLC Yokosuka Industrial Support (Code 500) department head. “We are very grateful to Amazon for opening their doors to us and allowing our people to see that the opportunities for improvement lie everywhere…even the very best can find ways to be better.”
Code 500 employees are part of a much larger team of Sailors, Marines, Japanese Master Labor Contract (MLC), U.S. Civil Service (USCS) and contract employees at NAVSUP FLC Yokosuka that provide the daily logistics support to the Navy, Marine Corps, Department of Defense (DoD) and other federal activity customers within the 7th Fleet area of responsibility.
As the Western Pacific region's largest U.S. Navy logistics command, just 26 miles due south of Tokyo, the NAVSUP FLC Yokosuka enterprise networks more than 20 sites from Misawa, Japan, to Sydney, Australia; Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to Guam.