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Kanban & Lean Manufacturing: Are They Relevant Today: Part 1

While there is no such thing as “the perfect production system”, Kanban is an uncomplicated yet effective system for creating products.

What is Kanban and Lean?

The word “Kanban” is of Japanese origin and literally translates to “signal card.” Its literal meaning is that of a flag or sign, when you see that flag you know that it is time to manufacture the next part. Kanbans can take many forms, but in most production facilities, they will use Kanban cards or bins to control the process.

Kanban is a visual manufacturing production scheduling system for lean manufacturing and just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing. As part of a pull system, it controls what is produced, in what quantity, and when. The goal of Kanban is to identify potential bottlenecks in your process and fix them so work can flow through it cost-effectively at an optimal speed or throughput. With Kanban, you only produce what the customer is asking for and nothing more. It is a system of signals that are used through the value stream to pull product from customer demand back to raw materials. A Kanban system ideally controls the entire value chain from the supplier to the end consumer. In this way, it helps avoid supply disruption and overstocking of goods at various stages of the manufacturing process.

Lean manufacturing or lean production involves the minimization of waste within a manufacturing system without sacrificing productivity. So Kanban is a method of lean manufacturing. 83% of teams practicing Lean use Kanban to visualize and actively manage their work.

The Origins of Kanban

In the past, shopkeepers had to retrieve each customer’s items

Interestingly, Lean Manufacturing and the Kanban concept all have their origins starting with the American grocery store chain, Piggly Wiggly in Memphis Tennessee, back in the 1940s.

If you were to travel back in time to the early 1900’s, you would see products stacked on high wall-shelves behind the main counter. Products were retrieved for you buy a man standing behind the counter who was known as the “store clerk.” Women, who did all of the shopping, would bring in their grocery lists, and the Clerk would gather and assemble all of their items.

But it was Piggly Wiggly, the first true self-service grocery store, that changed the way people shopped for food. Instead of putting the burden on the shopkeeper to retrieve each customer’s items, the customers were given the opportunity to peruse the aisles and pick out whichever goods they wished.

The Piggly Wiggly at 79 Jefferson Avenue, in Memphis Tennessee opened the first supermarket, changing the grocery retail business forever

And the shopkeepers’ new responsibilities? Instead of dealing with each individual customer’s needs, they now monitored the shelves, restocking items when the “signal card” or the signal—an empty shelf—appeared. Once they saw the signal, they’d simply go to the storeroom to refill the shelf. It’s basically still the same method you see in grocery stores today. Where they might have had a few hundred items in the 1930’s, your average supermarket these days keeps over 42,000 items in stock. Each item has a place. When one is removed and its barcode scanned, an electronic record is kept, inventory levels monitored, and items are reordered and restocked based on a maximum amount of space available. So if a shelf holds ten gallons of milk, you stock to the maximum quantity stockable.

From Tennessee Grocery Stores to Japanese Factory Floors

Kanban and lean manufacturing freepoint technologies

Taiichi Ohno, Industrial Engineer, and Father of the Toyota Production System

During the 1950’s, Toyota engineers and executives paid a visit to Dearborn, Michigan to Ford’s River Rouge Factory. At the time Ford and GM were the largest automakers in the world and Toyota was not even a blip on the radar. After the visit, Toyota concluded that while Ford was massive in size and impressive, Toyota didn’t have the resources to match Ford’s production. So Toyota sought out another manufacturing method.

Just-in-Time (JIT) was implemented and designed at Toyota by Taiichi Ohno who took over 15 years to perfect their system. During the 1970’s many western visitors would bring back Kanban cards and want to implement the systems within their own manufacturing facilities, often with little real understanding of how they worked. It was not until the 1980’s that Kanban control really started to be understood in the West. In American supermarkets like the Piggly Wiggly, that Toyota managers discovered a different set of tools to govern their manufacturing processes: tight control over inventory quantities and storage space, and a better way to get service to the end-user (the milk rack). This was the origin of the material pull system. When you wander into any modern grocery store today, you are seeing the Kanban system in action.

When implementing factory floor solutions, choose a technology partner who understands lean manufacturing and knows how to enhance your technology solutions. At FreePoint Technologies, our team will ensure your plant has everything it needs to meet your demands and more. Contact us to learn more today.

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Join us in Part 2 of this blog series where we answer the question, “Are Lean Manufacturing and Kanban still relevant?”

The Secret Behind Monitoring Manual Processes

From a machine monitoring standpoint, the wide range of equipment and tactics used by manufacturers pose a challenge. For instance, Some equipment is newer and digitally compatible, whereas others are older and analog. Also, some processes are done manually by an employee instead of a machine. Manufacturers may find themselves wondering: is it possible to monitor manual processes? Luckily, at FreePoint, the answer is yes.

As the global supply of computing power and storage capacity continues to grow rapidly, the cost to access these resources continues to drop. The same is true for IIoT technologies. Sensory devices and the technology needed to interpret them have become more compact and affordable in recent years. Because of these advancements, we can monitor more than just machines, but the manual processes of factory workers as well.

Cyber physical systems freepoint technologies

By leveraging different sensors, you can create cyber-physical systems to monitor tasks ranging from welding and brazing to painting and sanding. These sensors include:

  1. Electrical Current Sensors
  2. Switch/Button Recognition Sensors
  3. Pressure Plate Sensors

Electrical Current Sensors

FreePoint Technologies Electrical Symbol

One of the easiest manual processes to monitor are those which produce an electrical current. For example, if you are performing a task involving a MIG Welder, an electrical current will pass through the tool whenever it is in use. By installing an electrical current sensor, you can monitor the use of the welder and its efficiency based on the amount of time the tool spent having an electrical current run through it. If there is no current running through the tool, that would be considered downtime. Obviously, the more time the tool spends with current running through it, the more value-added time it contributes.

Switch/Button Recognition Sensors

Another straight-forward means of monitoring a manual process is with switch/button recognition sensors. When using a tool that is button or switch activated, a switch recognition sensor will be able to determine when a switch has been flipped on or off. Like electrical current sensors, by tracking whether the switch/button is on or off – you can identify when a machine is experiencing uptime or downtime. Using downtime narration, you can attribute reasons to justify downtime, some of which may be preventable moving forward.

Pressure Plate SensorsFreePoint Technologies Pressure Plate Sensor

Pressure plates are useful to monitor any piece of equipment that exerts pressure—like a drill press. Using this in tandem with an electrical current sensor will give you valuable insight into the efficiency of certain manual processes. In addition, using a pressure plate sensor alongside an electrical current sensor allows you to tell when a machine is running, as well as performing a value-adding task. In the case of a drill press, the value-adding task would be drilling. Just because electricity is running through the machine does not mean the machine is being productive. With both sensors, you will be able to more accurately assess your processes productivity.

With our IIoT software, FreePoint can connect any machine on your shop floor and start collecting data within 24 hours. You can literally monitor any machine with an electrical current. The oldest machine we are currently monitoring is from 1914! Reach out today and let us walk you through how to monitor your manual processes!

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The transition to industry 4.0 can seem daunting at first. How much will it cost? How will it fit my process? How long will training staff take? All common questions we get asked from manufacturers. The most common question we get asked is “how soon can I expect an ROI?”. Luckily, the answer is simple: VERY SOON. In fact, one client of ours managed to save $300 per day as a direct result of our machine monitoring, which allowed the system to pay itself off in less than a month.

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