The importance of visual control: everything you need in one place
“A picture is worth a thousand words”. Phrased phrase, if any. But totally valid under the Eastern philosophy of having the indispensable minimum of useful information and eliminate all type of waste. There is no more effective communication than can provide us with a system that avoids excessive information, ambiguities and the use of data difficult to interpret.
Visual control is a methodology that can be applied in many ways. It is any device or system that allows us to represent, in a single place, useful information about our process. With just one look we can know how our process is working and if it is deviating from a preset pattern. It also shows us information about the status of the workflow, the status of inventories or the performance of a worker or a work team. Therefore, it is a powerful tool to add value to our production processes. Having a clear and synthetic image of the current state of the process we can detect problems more easily, and attack them in time.
A visual control tool should allow anyone who observes the information that is dumped on it to interpret it. This allows, for example, a manager to walk the plant and know how processes, workers and machines involved “at a glance” are working.
Andon (left), Report A3 (center up), Integral Control Box (center down) and kanban (right) are some examples of visual control techniques
The 5S technique discussed in a previous publication is a clear example of a visual control system. Keeping everything clean and tidy makes it easy to detect any detours. An improper site or excess inventory can be easily viewed with this tool. A place for every thing and every thing in its place. No more no less. Problems are easily exposed because they are exposed by moving away from the predefined order. There are many ways to use visual control in 5S: shading the location of the tools, mark the position in which the operator should be to perform a task, or have a photograph or schematic of what the workspace should ideally be, Are examples of this.
Visual control is one of the 14 Principles of the Toyota philosophy, the basis of the Toyota Production Systems (TPS), proposed by Jeffrey Liker in his book ‘The Toyota Way’ (2004). This point states:
«Principle # 7: Use visual control so that problems do not hide.»
There are many examples of visual control systems that are used daily, especially in the manufacturing industry. We already mentioned at 5S. Let’s look at some others:
Andon: As we pointed out in an earlier publication, the Andon bears their name as a tribute to the traditional ‘Japanese lamps’. An andon is a board in which the states of all the machines appear in a single place, facilitating the communication and the identification of the problems. They are panels of luminous type, where they can appear lights of different colors or symbols, or directly letters and numbers. Everyone should be able to understand the information contained in them, which must be updated permanently.
Kanban: is the famous card system used to indicate production needs between processes, allowing the harmonic and fluid operation required by a Just In Time (JIT) system. This topic will be discussed in detail in another publication.
Report A3: Used and disseminated by Toyota, consists of a single sheet of size A3 (2 times the size of an A4) where all the most critical data, such as indicators, control graphs or analysis of problems. This can be used in a presentation before superiors, to show the most relevant data and to detect quickly and easily errors, deviations or trends. We will look at this topic in the next issue.
BSC (Balanced Scorecard): Like Report A3, but without limitations in terms of size, presentation scheme or format, a BSC allows to represent all important indicators to know the state of the process or organization. The information you provide is extremely useful in determining whether the specific actions carried out and the trend are aligned with the organization’s strategy. This topic is of paramount importance, and will also be addressed in a dedicated publication.
Obeya: one of the most innovative visual control techniques, also used by Toyota. Obeya can be translated from the Japanese as “great room.” It is precisely this, a large room where are exposed many visual control tools, which are necessary to comp