At the heart of Lean Manufacturing are signals, visual boards, standard work procedures, or other types communication which enable the workers and supervisors to manage and react to information. Not only do these devices and systems share information, they project and even drive behavior. By having the factory “talk back to us” visually we are provided information even if we didn’t know we needed it.
Many organizations give little thought to the value of Visual Factory. Yet if you consider the importance of being able to get information easily and instantly, giving way to the ability to react quickly, you will find the lack of visual controls is debilitating.
Many Lean Manufacturing tools, especially TPM, KANBAN and 5S rely heavily on visual aspects. KANBAN itself means “sign”, and TPM as well as other Lean tools base information sharing on simple techniques where the consumers of information can easily access or even produce it real time.
The first level of Visual Factory is a passive display of information. Think “Thermometer”. This gage should instantly tell you the temperature. But using the information is key. Think “Thermostat”.
So the second level of Visual Factory introduces controls. These controls can decide schedules, where to put materials, priorities, even how to adjust labor in order to achieve throughput goals.
Ask yourself if information is readily available to all that need it. How easy and visible is it to retrieve? One of the main tools we use is standard work. This is also known as a “30 second lesson” which can be displayed on machines, racks, and even common areas, to explain what a process is without having to pull up a lengthy SOP to learn what to do.