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Using visual control


Visual control is a method used to make jobs easier by using visual signals. Some companies use lights, colored cards, colored clothing, to any method that communicates a need for a decision to be made. Kanban and heijunka boxes are commonly associated with visual control.

Visual control helps to replace the need for text with a visual image that quickly sends the same message. To think of visual control, open a tool box that has plastic slots for each tool.

The tool normally has a silhouette of where it to be placed. Without reading anything or saying anything, you automatically know what tool is missing.

There are numerous reasons to implement visual control.

  • Provide instruction to employees without telling them what needs to be done

  • Provide immediate feedback to customers

  • Convey information to others

  • Make the problems, abnormalities, or deviation standards visible to everyone so corrective action will be taken before larger problems arise.

  • Display the operating or progress status in an easy to see format

What is Kanban?

Kanban often corresponds with visual control because it uses visual aids to help control the movement of materials between work stations. Kanban normally uses small cards that attach to storage containers to properly identify the part that is in the storage container. The card is identified with a color so employees know exactly what is in the box, where it needs to go, etc.

Toyota created kanban to help them organize their shipment of products. According to the Toyota Production System (TPS), there are two different types of kanban:

  • Production kanban - the need to purchase more parts.
  • Conveyance kanban - the need to withdraw parts from one work center and deliver them to the next work center.
When you hear the term "kanban" you will often hear it's association with a "pull system". A pull system is designed only to mover materials when a workstation needs it. The visual control of kanban is used to pull items from one storage area and move them to the workstation when they are needed.

TPS is focused on eliminating waste so they do not believe in keeping inventory, besides just a part or two. The kanban system helps them control this because a part is made to order (sort of like a hamburger). The worker will pull the kanban card when they need an item, if the item is not there, they will move onto another project while they wait for the part to be made. In their system, they will keep one part per container, once the container is empty, the kanban card is used to flag the system to make another part.

A kanban system is not only directly related to putting cards on boxes, it can be used on computers as well. General Motors has a computerized kanban system that signals when an order needs to be made. Other companies use ping-pong balls as their kanban method, it really can be anything you need it to be. The trick to kanban is that it must remain consistent within your facility. This helps the message to be clearly send to each department to let them know what product is missing and how quickly it needs to be produced in order to maintain efficiency.

Why use visual control?

Visual control is a great way to eliminate waste, deviations, and unevenness. It is used to organize the workplace to make it more efficient for everyone. Mangers can easily see when there are problems because the employee will turn on a flashing light to get their attention, this is a common visual control method used in stores.

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