Visual Management Tools: The Foundation of Lean Manufacturing

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I once had a plant manager who had the perfect analogy for the use of visual management, by implementing an engineered shop floor layout with clear and concise instructions at each employee’s workstation.

 The question he asked our team was this:
 “Why is it that when you look at a shampoo bottle, there are directions to ‘Rinse, Lather and Repeat’?” 
His answer was simple, yet thought-provoking. 

”Someone at some point stood there with the bottle, trying to figure out what to do with it.”

Simply put, the better you are able to remove complexity from the shop floor and provide concrete visual and descriptive aids, the more control you will have over your plant’s overall performance. Utilize ALL personnel to develop your system. Your operators are just as important as your engineers as they handle 99% of your production needs, and when prompted generally are happy to help define problems they see. “The Toyota Way” by Liker is a great source of implementing Toyota’s quality control systems into your shop and highly recommended as you work towards incorporating visual management into your production system.

Benchmark industries utilizing these techniques are mostly Tier 1 automotive suppliers, and companies manufacturing for the medical device and pharmaceutical industries. Visual management in other industries is not uncommon; it has proven itself as a beneficial and productive addition to many different industrial and management settings.

When properly applied, the simplicity of your manufacturing operation becomes a profitable venture. Scrap rates are greatly reduced due to engineered solutions. Productivity is increased through well-designed approach. Down time becomes consistent due to the established approach, helping you better schedule and make be more efficient with your resources. The overall impact of these practices affects your operation collectively.

 Here are some of the basic principles of effective visual management:

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  • Color Management: There are many ways that you can use color-coding to improve workplace performance. For instance, tooling from a specific company can be color-coded for easy identification. Flooring can be color-coded to establish work cell layout. Cooling for your tooling and water system can be identified for fast press set-up (ex: blue for supply water, red for return lines, yellow for jumpers) Tools for job tasks can be colored to coordinate with your operator instructions.

 

  • Number Assignment: Numbering can be a great way to increase efficiency. Tooling and tools should be clearly marked to provide users easy interpretation of job instructions that correlate with your numbering system.

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  • Standardization: Standardizing your overall operation is key to the success of your company. By repeating your procedures, layouts, and more, you help your employees to incorporate common structure into your production system. By establishing a setting that fosters repeatability, you not only provide comfort to your employees, but you also establish guidelines that are easily understood and remove the confusion that is common when your operation requires a multitude of approaches to produce similar product.

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  • 5S: Utilize the principles of 5S to improve your company’s organizational and housekeeping procedures. There are many sources of information available regarding the utilization of 5S theology; research these principles and implement them into your facility’s operational approach.

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  • Training & Communication: These two principles are key to the success of your organization. There is no such thing as providing too much information. Provide your employees with simple and direct information and instructions. Training is an investment, and should never be viewed as wasted time or money. The more information available to your team members, the more they understand what is required of them to provide your customers with premium product from a cost-effective standpoint.

Understand that each shift is an individual team, but as a whole your company is only as effective as its communication between teams. If a shift fails to communicate on quality, scheduling or current status to the oncoming shift, then the entire facility fails. Develop a solid approach for shift interaction to ensure the overall success of your company as a single team unit.

 A visual factory will let everyone know the status of a single process, product line, shipping dock and more. A true visual control system will tell onlookers that processing is on track (green), near off track (yellow), or off track (red).

‘The Obvious Factory’ is something to aim for, where the answers to all questions are self-explanatory. The amount of detail put into the messaging depends on the process and the audience.

 Where do you as a company begin? Focus on the problem areas – don’t just do it for the sake of it. If your employees see the benefits they will embrace it. If the effort becomes too complex, and overbearing, the result will be failure in bringing this method in as a viable source of overall improvement.

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