Visual Controls Used In Lean Manufacturing

The Varying Levels of Visual Controls

We are surrounded by visual controls in our everyday lives; they are used to organise our society and remind us of the rules we interact by. When we drive our cars, adhering to the road rules is very important and there are many visual controls to remind us.

We don’t rely on remembering the rule book we may have read when we took our drivers license tests all of those years ago; we don’t just assume everyone HAS read the rule book and has memories as good as ours. Driving cars is a dangerous business so the rules for driving are clearly defined, reminders constantly provided and law enforcement to check everyone is behaving.

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Visual Management Systems In Manufacturing

When it comes to our manufacturing factories, the same methodology applies. We need to clearly define our “road rules” of production, have visual reminders in place and ensure there is a checking mechanism to keep it all in check. This is part of visual management system.

I am often surprised when going into a new manufacturing factory at the complete lack of visual controls. The “road rules” have been defined and the policing and auditing is going on but the daily reminders of how our system is to work are completely lacking. by some strange assumption about human behaviour, it is expected that “everyone knows” how it is to work so there is no need for visual controls. Or that just because a senior manager is good with numbers, she assumes all of her operators should understand them too.

Visual controls in a lean sense covers everything from good, visual metrics and measures, to signs and lines on the floor, clearly indicating what is needed and when something is out of the ordinary.

leadership board

Three Levels of Visual Controls

There are three main levels of visual controls:

  • High level controls – using our driving example, an example of high-level controls is like a boom gate at a railway crossing or car park. We are physically barred from action until another set of actions is complete – the train has passed or we have paid to spring our car out of the carpark. These are used with high danger / high risk.
  • Middle-level controls – think traffic lights; active signals that change with conditions
  • Low level controls – a stop sign; it indicates intent but isn’t interactive and doesn’t change with conditions.

Determining Your Visual Controls

When considering what types of visual controls you need and where to put them, grab the newest member of your team and go for a walk; ask him what he would have liked to see when he started with you. Often we are so used to our surroundings that we don’t see what is missing.

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Adding visual controls to your factory makes it clear what your expectations are in the workplace. Assuming that everyone has the same understanding of how your factory works may be adding to your woes. Visual controls allow you to clearly show what is the correct situation and makes identifying bad situations easier. When we can easily identify a bad situation it is easier to address and correct.

So your challenge for this week; take a walk through your factory and see it with new eyes. Can you tell what everyone and everything is doing? Is the situation good or bad? If you don’t like what you see, correct the deficiencies or call TXM and we can show you how!

Robert Chittenden

Author: Robert Chittenden

Robert Chittenden is a Senior Lean Consultant at TXM Lean Solutions