In order for companies to be truly competitive and lean it’s really important that every penny is taken into account and the that the finances is visible to all.  Some companies do not value enough their employees who are core to help any business actually make tangible cost improvements via things like lead time reduction and productivity improvements.  The employees are the key thing to help make any improvements successful. One of the initiatives that can be used is the Kanban Process. This concept was developed in the late 1940s in Japan and its really only in the last couple of decades that companies globally have begun to recognise how important and powerful this concept can actually be.

Kanban Process – What does it mean?

The whole concept of Kanban is about changing the mindset and signally of workflow to meet the needs to the customer.  Rather than operate a push system of components through the value stream in order to hit sales transactions, the value stream will only make to order.   The signal comes from the customer demand and then translated all the way back to the beginning of the process where the material is then launched and manufactured in line with the customer needs. There are many benefits of a Kanban system that include things like improved efficiency and productivity. Sounds pretty simple however there are a lot of complications around this that need to be ironed out first in order for this to work:

  • Stable process
  • Team engagement / compliance
  • Visibility

Stable Process

If you have a process that is not particularly stable then immediately this will cause problems if implementing.  This does not mean that the Cpk of that process needs to be greater than 2, what we mean is that that there needs to be a relatively good yield rate and very minimum scrap or rework.  If this is not stable in the first place then what will happen is that you will continue to chase parts round a rework loop or have to launch additional parts in order to offset any scrap (which goes against this whole concept).  In order to gauge the process capability you can do this in many ways which include things like SPC (Statistical Process Control).  No need for fancy technology (however that would be good) – this can be done via normal charts.

Team Engagement / Compliance

This is where a lot of resistance can come in.  Imagine you have worked a particular way for 25 years and someone doing an improvement activity then tells you that they want to change the way you have been operating.  Clearly this needs to be sold in the correct manner to show that the implementation of this sort of concept will not only help satisfy the needs of the customer and reduce waste but it will also make the teams job a lot easier and will allow them to hit Key Performance Indicators set internally a lot easier.  There are actually a lot of stakeholders from different functions that need to buy into this from manufacturing, operations, logistics and quality. If any areas don’t buy into the concept then you have the significant hazard that the whole things will fall apart and people will revert to the old way of working. Clearly that would then impact the customer demand and could cause reputational (or even commercial) impacts.

Visibility

Keeping visibility of your WIP and ensuring the Kanban Process can be seen and implemented may seem like a difficult task but its not really.  The effort and money put into this could be many thousands of pounds or could be a few hundred. The expensive route would include things like WIP control using bar code scanning on routers and all the product WIP visible on TV screens on the shop floor and support areas.  This is clearly a really innovative and reliable way for people to see at an instance the progress of parts along the value stream but this relies on people complying to the process. If people then don’t do the scanning or the do duplicate scans, the signalling of WIP could be out of synch and therefore affect the reliability of the Kanban.  

If money isn’t at your disposal then there is nothing wrong with doing this the old fashioned way and erect a board.  This board would clearly signify the operational value stream steps and it is then up to people to update the board with tickets or cards to show the progress of their components or batches along the way.  The voice of the customer will clearly be articulated on the board to show what is needed and by when. Similar to the last point, the effectiveness of this will only be seen if the people accountable update the boards when they are required to.