Creating a Visual Factory
Posted by Michael S. on December 31, 2018 in Manufacturer Focus

If you have read some of my previous blogs, you know I’m a huge supporter of lean manufacturing. During my time in manufacturing, I always felt a good management team knows what is happening within the operation, and lean manufacturing is one of the best ways to accomplish this.


On today’s high-tech manufacturing floor, we have equipment that can communicate remotely with sales, purchasing, maintenance, operations, and more. This has changed the way the floor looks in many factories. A good ERP system that allows you to see daily performance numbers from just about anywhere in the world can help tremendously. On the flip side, I can tell you that lean has done this for me over the years with very simple and inexpensive tools.


Before I go into how lean and the visual factory go hand in hand, let me explain a few key management strategies I believe in:


  1. People are your number one resource

  2. If you clearly communicate your expectations, people will rise to the occasion

  3. Most people love coming to work and doing a great job

  4. If people know of a problem and you empower them, they will try fixing it

  5. Give people training and tools and they will achieve the impossible


Why am I bringing this up? Over the years, as I gained insight and better understanding of lean manufacturing, I realized that if you can visually display what is needed, people are more likely to understand.


A simple example is the production control board (PCB). Place a white board or easel within the manufacturing area and list the goal for each hour. Ask the operator to document the actual output using green for meeting or exceeding the goal and red for missing the goal. Have a comment section, where the operator and technical support staff can document any issues and what was done to remedy the problem.  As people work or walk the floor, they can see if they are on track to meet, exceed, or miss the goal. If they are not on track, they will ask for help or develop ideas on what needs to be done to fix the issue. It also gives floor supervisors a quick snapshot of how the operation is performing.


Here is a list of other lean visual tools:


  • Kanban is an inventory management system in which a red card is placed before the last few parts. When the red card shows, it alerts the person that it is time to reorder parts. The card lists all the information for the part, making it easy to reorder the exact part.

  • Shadow boards are a storage method in which the outlines of the tools are marked on the board to provide instant visibility of what is in the work area and what is missing. The boards also help standardize what tools are needed, helping to ensure best practices are followed.

  • Floor tape can be used to mark the boundaries of walk ways, storage areas, and work areas. It is not only a good safety practice, but it helps keep the shop floor organized by giving everyone an instant visual if something is out of place. You can use different tape colors for different areas.

  • Hanging signs from the ceiling can be a useful way to label work cells, departments, inspection areas, WIP, and pick-up and drop-off areas, making it easier for everyone to find what they are looking for. You might know where everything is in your plant, but new employees or suppliers probably don’t. It helps them get oriented and stay safe.

  • Pictures of the work area can be laminated and placed in the work area to show everyone how the area should look. This is not only done to ensure best practices and workplace organization, but also to help improve safety.

  • Visual work instructions can help train new employees, ensure consistency, and establish best practices. When developing your visual work instructions, pair photos with a brief explanation. If you use more than 14 words for a step, take another picture and create an additional step. Place the visual instructions within the work space for easy reference.


As you see, if you think simple and use low-cost ideas, establishing a visual workplace doesn't have to be difficult or costly.


If you have the money and have installed sensors or automation, you can use large TV screens on the ceiling or small touchscreens in the work areas to give everyone a quick visual overview of what is happening.


I hope this gives you some ideas on how to start deploying your own visual factory. Once you start, you will quickly notice your shop is cleaner and more organized. Soon, you will see financial benefits as people spend less time looking for items or walking the shop floor to move items. It will also ensure you can easily see how your operation is running.

Michael S. is our Manufacturing guru
I have over 30 years experience in a broad range of manufacturing areas. Starting with an apprenticeship in Germany I’ve worked my way through a variety of positions within the manufacturing field. I got my start as a Tool and Die maker. I next became a supervisor of a class A tool room, then manager of a machining department. I was exposed to lean manufacturing in the mid 90s and adapted the lean philosophy. Loving and teaching the lean approach, I moved on to become a Continuous Improvement manager which led to a job as a manufacturing manager. I joined Acuity in 2015 as their manufacturing expert. I hope to evolve how manufacturers deal with and think about insurance companies, as well as be a resource to my fellow employees – enabling them to better understand the unique needs of manufacturers.

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