Kanban is a framework used with Lean methodology for better workflow management designed to create a visual aspect that supports common processes. This framework aims to identify and fix potential bottlenecks for better efficiency. While there are many methods to implement Kanban for improved organization or processes, we are looking at four specific ways to pair Kanban and visual cues in industrial facilities.

How to Use Kanban Visual Cues with Lean Methodology

Kanban is a tool used across industries—from programming project management to goods production. Many times, the process is implemented via a Kanban Board: A visual that is used to display steps in a set process and track the journey through those steps. Project management apps like Asana and Monday are digital tools used for process tracking. In visual workplaces, Kanban is an ideal tool to improve Lean manufacturing techniques. Explore these tips for how to implement visual cues with the Kanban technique.

1) Kanban Visual Cues to Improve Supplies Management

Warehouses, production floors, offices, schools, medical buildings: No matter the location, inventory struggles are common. Running out of copier paper or being short on raw materials can slow or halt productivity. To prevent supply stock issues, consider these ways the Kanban method can help.

  • In a warehouse facility, determine the ideal ordering schedule for raw materials, then apply pallet markers to the floor in three colors: Green for “adequate stock levels,” yellow for “almost time to order,” and red for “order now.” Organize pallets of materials within these color-coded labels, and work through the stock from green to red. Implement a procedure for when the stock reaches the yellow, then the red, so materials are reordered before supplies run out.
  •  Office organization is notoriously difficult, especially when it comes to supplies. Some of the most-used items may run out due to late restocking. An office may end up with an overabundance of certain items if a stack of supplies gets tucked away and reordered because they’re not immediately visible. Solve these issues with Kanban methods in the supply storage closet: Label shelves, ensure items are always placed in the correct space and have a standard procedure in place for when a certain amount of stock is depleted. This may look like attaching an order card to the next to last box of printer paper and requiring that it is placed in a Supplies Management inbox upon opening the box.
  • Packing materials are imperative to shipping and fulfillment, and running out can bring productivity to a halt. The Kanban method is a “pull” system, which means the stock is replenished as is it consumed. So, as with other supplies and materials tracking, packing materials use should be monitored and stock should be replenished as it is used. For large facilities, this may mean that each time a box of packing materials is removed from the shelf, the SKU is scanned and the supply is deducted from the inventory management system. When inventory reaches a certain point, a re-order may be initiated.

Tip: Consider seasonality and busy months when implementing these supply restocking methods. Busy production seasons may see increased demand or slower delivery times for ordered items.

2) Keep Materials Stocked with the Two-Bin System

Prevent bottlenecks due to time spent restocking with this system that is as simple as it sounds: Materials are pulled from one bin until it is empty, then the bin is returned—which initiates an order for the first bin to be refilled—while the employee uses the materials from the second bin. When the second bin is emptied, it is swapped for the first. This cycle reduces time spent searching for supplies or restocking materials and can be implemented on any scale with proper planning.

3) Display Workflow Steps for Better Understanding

Kanban helps visualize processes, and while this generally means displaying a Kanban board or other tool to replicate moving through steps, clearly displaying workflow or procedure requirements can improve understanding—and reduce mistakes or accidents. These steps can be marked using various methods suited to each facility. Posters and signs, custom-printed with reminders and tips, can boost productivity or improve safety. Floor signs with highly visible text and graphics can be used for safety notices or to note necessary attention during specific process requirements. Keep Kanban methods in mind when planning visual cues for a combined method that improves facility safety while also keeping processes easy to understand and production on schedule.

4) Prevent Tools Shortages with a Visual Kanban System

Ensuring tools and machinery have set storage locations—complete with signs or other visual cues—helps ensure employees put items back where they belong when no longer in use. This means other staff won’t need to search the facility to find the tool they need, reducing wasted time. Explore these ways to use a visual Kanban system to streamline equipment storage.

  • Forklifts may be numbered and parked at the corresponding floor sign when not in use, preventing dangerous obstructions from vehicles left in the wrong places, as well as ensuring machinery is available and easy to find when staff needs it.
  • Tools may be color-coded to be put back in the matching-color bin when an employee is finished with it—keeping tools sorted for easier access. Less time spent digging through tool storage bins means more time dedicated to work on the production line.
  • Items may be sorted for when they are used in the manufacturing process—for example, a red shelf for tools used during the first-stage production steps, a yellow shelf for tools that are used to complete the packing stage, and a green shelf for tools and materials used for shipping finished products.
  • Keep broken, unsafe, or unnecessary tools out of the storage areas and off the production floor by merging Kanban x Red Tagging methods: Adding a Red Tag Holding Station to your Kanban organization process and facility workflow ensures outdated, broken, or unnecessary items are removed from the production floor and disposed of or redistributed as needed. This improves productivity, reduces hazards created by clutter, and helps improve overall inventory by pinpointing what tools, equipment, or other items may need to be purchased to meet facility needs.

Improving organization in industrial facilities can reduce wasted time and materials, and helps increase overall safety for employees and visitors. Combining Kanban and Lean is one popular method for creating visual cues and processes to ensure materials and time aren’t wasted. Explore our Resource Center for more tips for safety in industrial facilities and production floors.