Flexpipe Blog

Learn more about the Flexpipe system and its applications with our inspirational articles on continuous improvement, Kaizen Blitz, Lean Six Sigma, 5S and corporate social involvement.


Examples of Kaizen improvements in the factory - before and after

Examples of Kaizen improvements in the factory - before and after

Kaizen is a continuous improvement methodology incorporating multiple practical applications like 5S, value-stream mapping, fishbone diagrams, spaghetti diagrams, Pareto charts, control charts, and the Shewhart PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) cycle. However, at its core, Kaizen is ultimately about fostering an environment where employees and management are motivated to improve where they work, how they work, and how work flows from one step to the next.   

Make enough small improvements, and your company will achieve substantial returns like stronger product quality, improved workflow, reduced waste, and increased efficiency. While this might all sound theoretical, there are real-world Kaizen examples where companies have transformed workspaces and achieved incredible results – and the tool they use is Flexpipe.

Workspace Efficiency and Flexpipe

Throughout its lifetime, your manufacturing business will most likely experience periods of rapid growth, followed by brief lulls before growing/expanding again. That continuous change requires an efficient workspace solution that can adjust and change as needed. This is exactly what the Flexpipe solution allows.  

Given that the very nature of Kaizen is continuous improvement – coupled with the fact that manufacturing is never static or stationary – a modular, low-cost, scalable solution is needed that allows your employees to design, assemble, and change workspaces/workstations as needed.  

These workspaces can’t be welded. They can’t be fixed structures and they can’t be haphazardly made with suspect materials like wood. These workspaces must be flexible, scalable, and comprised of durable, high-strength materials.   

The Flexpipe’s steel tube and joint system is like an erector set. It is a modular and scalable workspace solution that allows you to design, assemble, change, modify, and adjust workspaces. This increased flexibility is the perfect solution for lean manufacturing/Kaizen environments and their continuous improvement efforts.

Flexpipe in Action: Workspaces Before and After

There are multiple real-world examples of how companies/manufacturers have used Flexpipe to workspaces into extremely efficient, safer, and more functional workspaces. These new Flexpipe workspaces provide employees with increased flexibility, and ideal space, and eliminate wasted movements so often associated with poorly conceived and poorly designed workspaces.

In the example above, a large cabinet manufacturer – that had adopted lean manufacturing – decided it needed to improve its workspaces by doing away with its welded, heavy, and hard-to-navigate workbenches and workstations. By using the Flexpipe modular and scalable solution, this manufacturer created a much safer, more ergonomically friendly workspace which helped to reduce trips, falls, and stumbles.  

This new Flexpipe workspace allowed the manufacturer to increase their 5S score from 64 percent to 75 percent, representing a 17 percent improvement. They were also able to reduce the average distance traveled by employees within the workspace – for each unit assembled – from 180 feet to 18 feet, representing an astonishing 90 percent waste reduction. The operator no longer had to walk around the welded bench or bend over the side to get critical parts.

Another example of how a welded workbench and permanent shadow board did not allow the manufacturer to make any layout changes without incurring a substantial amount of wasted time and labor. This example comes from a corrugated packaging company that experienced high amounts of wasted time due to misplaced tools, consumables, and spare parts. 

By adopting 5S principles – and using Flexpipe’s steel tubes and joints – the company was able to create a mobile-capable workspace where every tool, consumable, and spare part had a proper place. A simple solution of incorporating Flexpipe casters in the design of this workstation eliminates all the wasted time and labor required to move the workbench. Whereas two people were needed before – one is needed now and without any strain involved.

The example above comes from a manufacturer of retail refrigerated merchandisers. At this manufacturing location, efficiency was seen as a critical requirement. Unfortunately, their workspaces were large, heavy structures that didn’t fully adopt the essentials of 5S. Parts and consumables went missing, work instructions and BOM were misplaced, and operators often retained critical tools that could be used by co-workers – as evidenced by the two hand-held cordless drills on the workbench.  

By using Flexpipe, this manufacturer designed a 5S workspace that was cleaner, more compact, easier to see, and had proper placement locations for parts, consumables (fasteners), and tools. Visibility increased substantially and critical parts and consumables were no longer stashed away in underutilized, hidden drawers. This represented huge savings in movement and time as employees always followed 5S end-of-day practices by putting everything away in its proper place.

Real-World Practical Tools for Kaizen Workshops

If you are a current practitioner of Kaizen and lean manufacturing – or are thinking of pursuing these continuous improvement methods – having a customized Kaizen Workshop ready and able to cut, assemble, and adjust your Flexpipe workspaces and workstation structures is an absolute must.  

Here are some examples of Flexpipe structures that Flexpipe and our customers use inside their Kaizen Workshops. Each of these structures has been built using Flexpipe’s steel tubes and joints.

Pipe Cutting Saw Station

Cutting pipe generally takes the longest when assembling your Flexpipe workspaces and workstation structures. As such, a well-designed and well-laid-out “pipe” cutting station is essential. It streamlines the cutting process and makes it easier for a single operator to lay out, measure, and cut the steel pipes.  

This pipe-cutting station above has two designated overhead storage areas to hold pipes so that the operator doesn’t have to leave the cutting station. The operator simply removes the pipes from one of the storage areas on either side of the miter saw. A shop vacuum is positioned beside this saw station so that the operator can ensure a clean and debris-free area at the end of their shift – which is a critical part of 5S.

In some cutting stations, customers choose to use a rigid pipe cutter (image above to the left) or a large bandsaw (image above to the right).

Mobile Pipe Kitting Carts

Mobile pipe-kitting carts are a great way to organize all your pipes in various lengths. These mobile carts are ideal for supplying new pipes for your pipe-cutting saw station, storing pipe that’s been cut but can still be used, or bringing new pipe to a workspace or workstation that needs minor adjustments.

Height-Adjustable and Mobile Worktable

A height-adjustable and mobile worktable gives your assembly team an ergonomic space where they can prepare and assemble pipe structures until those structures are ready to be placed on the floor. This height-adjustable worktable has Flexpipe’s casters so it can easily be maneuvered to different locations on your shop floor. 

A height-adjustable worktable is an ideal solution when assembling larger workstations or other large Flexpipe structures. The table can be adjusted up or down, depending on what’s needed. For example, a larger or taller structure can be lowered so that it’s easier to work on.

Assembly Tool Shadow Board Platform (Kaizen Foam)

Another Kaizen solution is the assembly tool shadow board platform above. This platform uses Flexpipe’s Kaizen Foam – a simple foam solution where employees can trace their tools onto the foam and then cut out that trace to ensure the tool is secured. The Kaizen Foam acts as a Poka-Yoke in that only the right-sized parts will fit in the foam cutouts.

Mobile PC Station

A mobile PC station with a large flatscreen is especially useful when building your Flexpipe workspace or workstation and relying upon digital assembly drawings. It can also be used by production employees for any complex integrated assemblies. Simply display the drawing on your screen near the assembly area for reference. Some customers, replace the PC with a simple display board with the printed assembly drawings on the board.

Mobile Support Carts

The small, mobile support cart above has storage locations for consumables and fasteners both on the main level and underneath level. In addition, an angled shadow board using Flexpipe’s Kaizen foam makes sure that tools are properly placed in the right area. This mobile support cart can quickly be moved into a given area to support employees when assembling or changing workspaces.

Flexpipe Crib - Part Storage Rack

It’s critical to have a designated assembly area for all your Flexpipe parts and that those parts be stored in that area. The Flexpipe Crib includes a mobile rack for consumable and part storage and a mobile cutting cart.  A good rule of thumb is to store all the highest moving parts at waist height for easy and immediate retrieval.

Flexpipe Steel Tubes and Joints: Your Ideal Kaizen Workspace Solution

Empowering your employees to be their best in a Kaizen environment so they reduce waste and make improvements requires giving them the tools they need to succeed. Those tools must be easy-to-use, simple, and straightforward and allow your employees to make a real difference.

Flexpipe is that all-important tool for workspace optimization and efficiency.

To learn how Flexpipe can help your manufacturing facility adopt Kaizen and lean manufacturing solutions that reduce the costs of each of your workspaces, contact us now.

DIGITAL LEAN FOR PROCESS OPTIMIZATION

DIGITAL LEAN FOR PROCESS OPTIMIZATION

Flexpipe embarks on a digital lean transformation, implementing just-in-time and “5-zero” principles to enhance operational efficiency and manufacturing sustainability.

Eliminating bureaucratic waste to streamline processes

Cumbersome bureaucratic procedures are now a thing of the past for Flexpipe. Initiating a digital shift in 2019 regarding the digitization of all administrative documents, the company has now moved on to digitizing assembly drawings, marking a new chapter for Flexpipe, combining innovation, profitability, and manufacturing sustainability.  

Reading of printed drawings by assemblers – Flexpipe 2019

RATHER COSTLY OPERATIONS

The company’s digital lean, distributing electronic tablets to assemblers for reading assembly drawings, particularly reflects its commitment to zero paper, a pillar of “just-in-time.” By eliminating bureaucratic waste and printing costs totaling over $30,000 annually, the company takes a proactive approach to reducing lead times and enhancing productivity.

The integration of tablet computers underwent rigorous processes, involving key players and focusing on employee training and support to ensure a smooth transition to the new work tools. This approach aligns with the “zero defects” and “zero breakdowns” philosophy, aiming to detect anomalies early and maintain production process continuity.

Training and coaching employees to overcome reluctance to change

GROWTH AND INNOVATION

Flexpipe’s growth and innovation showcase its ability to pursue operational excellence while integrating just-in-time principles. Lean methodologies create a significant competitive advantage, leading to doubled sales while maintaining the same workforce.

The company’s commitment extends to achieving “zero delay” in operations, optimizing every manufacturing stage to reduce downtime and meet customer deadlines. This approach relies on meticulous production flow management, supported by seamless communication and effective digital tool utilization.

In the photo: Mathieu, Distribution Manager, Benjamin, General Manager and Ian, Production Manager.

A CONCEPT OF CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT

Today’s “paperless” objective necessitates a comprehensive process overhaul, encouraging the adoption of new, paperless methods. Rather than banning printing for paper enthusiasts, the emphasis is on transitioning to digital documents, eliminating previously associated superfluous steps. This concept remains relevant across all sectors, emphasizing the need to comprehend its principles and limitations. Achieving the “5 zeros” demands continual improvement commitment, evolving gradually rather than abruptly.

Hoshin Kanri for Lean Manufacturing: The Essential Strategic Planning Guide

Hoshin Kanri for Lean Manufacturing: The Essential Strategic Planning Guide

Lean manufacturing isn't just about cutting costs — it's a philosophy of continuous improvement and strategic planning that transforms the entire production process. Among the many lean tools, Hoshin Kanri stands out as a methodical approach to aligning company goals with practical, on-the-ground operations. This guide explores how manufacturing engineers can apply Hoshin Kanri to achieve operational excellence.

What is Hoshin Kanri?

Hoshin Kanri, originating from the Japanese business management system, is a strategic planning process that integrates Lean principles to ensure that every employee is working towards the same objectives. It translates to "direction management" or "policy deployment." By focusing on KPIs, cross-functional teamwork, and the PDCA cycle, Hoshin Kanri empowers engineers and managers alike to steer their teams toward common goals effectively.

The PDCA method or the Deming cycle

This disciplined approach involves several key steps:

Identifying Key Business Objectives: It starts with the vision of the company and breaks it down into clear, actionable steps. 

Developing Strategies for Goals: It involves devising strategies to achieve these objectives, often with the help of cross-functional teams. 

Implementing Action Plans: These strategies are translated into action plans, which are then carried out by employees at all levels of the organization. 

Reviewing and Adjusting: Regular reviews are essential to assess progress and make necessary adjustments.

Benefits for Manufacturing Engineers:

Manufacturing engineers who employ Hoshin Kanri can expect several tangible benefits:

Improved focus on value-added activities. 

Enhanced process efficiency and waste reduction. 

Better resource allocation and inventory management through JIT principles. 

Stronger alignment between management objectives and operational activities.

Planning and online Tools for Hoshin Kanri

The digital transformation of the manufacturing industry has introduced a suite of online tools tailored to support strategic planning and the Hoshin Kanri process. These tools offer a multitude of features that support the various stages of the Hoshin planning cycle, from conception to completion. Here's a curated list of tools that can facilitate each phase of your Hoshin plan: 

Trello: A visual tool that's perfect for monitoring the progress of Hoshin initiatives. 

Asana: Streamlines task assignment and tracking related to strategic actions. 

Monday.com: Offers templates for creating an X-Matrix, a fundamental Hoshin Kanri document. 

Smartsheet: Provides robust planning capabilities for complex strategic documents. 

i-nexus: Tailored for strategy execution, ensuring goal alignment and tracking. 

businessmap: Delivers advanced Kanban boards and analytics to support the Catchball process. 

Lucidchart: Ideal for process visualization, crucial for A3 reports and strategy mapping. 

Understanding the X-Matrix: The Planning Backbone of Hoshin Kanri

A cornerstone of Hoshin Kanri is the X-Matrix, a comprehensive planning matrix that visually maps out the strategic plan, aligning long-term goals with tactics, metrics, and responsible parties. This tool is invaluable for ensuring transparency and coherence in your strategy. This kind of tool facilitate the creation and tracking of the X-Matrix, allowing teams to see how their efforts contribute to overarching company objectives in real time. By leveraging such platforms, engineers and managers gain a birds-eye view of their strategy's execution, ensuring that all actions are purpose-driven and results-oriented.

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Leveraging Online Tools for Strategic Planning

Incorporating these online tools into your Hoshin Kanri strategy can yield transformative results. 

Ensure Alignment: Use the tools to align individual and team activities with strategic objectives. 

Foster Collaboration: Enhance collaboration across departments by providing a common platform for sharing progress and feedback. 

Monitor Performance: Keep track of performance metrics to ensure strategic outcomes are being met. 

Hoshin Kanri is a powerful lean methodology that, when supported by the right set of online tools, can help manufacturing engineers and organizations ensure that every team member is working towards the same goals. By integrating these tools into your Hoshin Kanri framework, your team can work more efficiently, adapt to changes quickly, and achieve strategic objectives with greater precision. 

We're eager to hear about your experiences with Hoshin Kanri and these online tools. Leave a comment below to join the conversation and help others in the lean manufacturing community find the best strategies for success.

Working Together Towards Inclusive Excellence

Working Together Towards Inclusive Excellence

Flexpipe's growing order backlog forced it to look for a reliable partner to assemble 70 flowracks. The natural choice was Groupe AFFI, an NPO dedicated to the employment and professional development of people with functional limitations.

In an ever-changing business world, where strategic collaborations can be the key to success, Flexpipe and Groupe AFFI recently joined forces for a promising collaboration. In addition to respecting the values of continuous improvement and social inclusion, this collaboration demonstrated the versatility of the Groupe AFFI and proved that performance knows no bounds!   

Faced with growing demand and an expanding order book, Flexpipe sought a reliable partner to meet its production needs. Continuous improvement is an integral part of who we are and what we do. We focus on a safe and healthy work environment, skills development, and innovation. Our mission of social involvement is collaborative and inclusive, to establish a dynamic and growing collective network. We naturally chose the Groupe AFFI, a subcontractor who shares our values.  

At Flexpipe, continuous improvement is not limited to product or service quality. It also extends to the company's ethics, its social impact, and its ability to collaborate with other organizations sharing similar values. Flexpipe has always believed in a dynamic and inclusive economy, where collaboration is synonymous with ambition.

Groupe AFFI: An inclusive vision

Groupe AFFI stands out as a Non-Profit Organization (NPO) dedicated to the employment and professional development of people with functional limitations. Its mission is built around values such as human respect, excellence, flexibility, and self-improvement. Groupe AFFI offers subcontracting services by hiring staff with functional limitations, where diversified services are provided reliably and efficiently for small and large mandates. The promise of performance goes hand in hand with social commitment. With a dedicated team of 650 members, the majority of whom have functional limitations, Groupe AFFI is positioned as a key player in the food, pharmaceutical, manufacturing and consumer retail sectors.

Training and human development

One of Groupe AFFI's strengths lies in its commitment to ongoing employee training. From French to mathematics, social skills to finance, a variety of training courses are offered, enabling employees to develop their skills and realize their full potential.

When excellence rhymes with innovation and adaptability

The mandate entrusted to Groupe AFFI was an ambitious one: to assemble over 70 flowracks in just 3 weeks. Thanks to a dedicated team and a methodical approach, Groupe AFFI not only met the challenge, but also exceeded expectations, completing the mandate in just 2 weeks.

Groupe AFFI demonstrated its expertise and commitment to excellence. They demonstrated remarkable adaptability, creating ingenious templates to ensure quality and conformity between the assembled flowracks. It took just 2 or 3 days to increase the production rate and assemble 18 racks a day instead of 10.

"Since many employees don't have the skills to read a tape measure, these templates are used to ensure that the distance between connector joints is always the same from one rack to the next."
Explains Kateryna, Supervisor at Groupe AFFI.

By considering the limitations of certain employees, tailor-made solutions were developed, illustrating the spirit of innovation and inclusion that characterizes Groupe AFFI.

Flexpipe provided detailed drawings, a model flowrack and all pre-cut and identified parts to facilitate the task, which was greatly appreciated by the supervisors at Groupe AFFI. They then analyzed and deconstructed each assembly step as a separate task on several assembly line stations. Each assembly station was then clearly color-coded, making it easier to assemble each part of the rack.

"Teamwork takes on its full meaning, it's as if our products were theirs!"
Affirms Benjamin Ricard, General Manager at Flexpipe.

The supervisors were very attentive to the employees and their limitations, showing respect and flexibility. Unlike the projects they are used to doing, the one proposed by Flexpipe was quite diversified and included a physical task portion. All agreed that it was an enjoyable and different project to do!

Heijunka: A Comprehensive Guide to Leveling Production

Heijunka: A Comprehensive Guide to Leveling Production

In the manufacturing realm, optimizing for efficiency while meeting ever-evolving market demands is critical. Enter Heijunka, a Japanese technique of "leveling production". Renowned as the backbone of the Toyota Production System (TPS) and the foundation of Lean methodology, Heijunka serves as a beacon for operational excellence.

Understanding Heijunka

Toyota Motor Corporation designed their production system to deliver superior quality, optimal cost, and minimized lead time by eradicating waste. The foundation of TPS rests on two main tenets: just-in-time and jidoka. This concept is frequently depicted with the "house" illustration.

Heijunka, pronounced "hey-june-kuh", is more than just leveling production; it represents a philosophy to combat waste, align production with actual demand, and ultimately, streamline operations. Originating as an essential pillar of the TPS, Heijunka's inception was aimed at addressing the unpredictabilities and inefficiencies resulting from erratic production schedules and fluctuating customer demands. 

By integrating the principles of Heijunka, manufacturers are empowered to craft a balanced and rhythmic production cadence. This harmonized approach reduces lead times, ensures high-quality output, and optimizes resource allocation, thus bolstering overall operational efficiency.

Principles of Heijunka

The Heijunka is the solution to the Mura problematic.

Demand Smoothing: Central to Heijunka is the principle of demand smoothing, ensuring production orders are evenly spaced, mitigating the risks of abrupt demand fluctuations. It addresses challenges like overproduction during demand peaks or resource underutilization during lulls. 

 Mixed-Model Production: Unlike traditional manufacturing that emphasizes large batches of a single product, Heijunka promotes mixed-model production. It's a holistic approach, producing varied products in small batches, aligning with changing customer preferences without accumulating unnecessary inventory.

Through Heijunka, the goal is to combat inefficiencies born from inconsistent production times.

Takt Time Integration: Central to Lean methodology, takt time — the rate at which a product must be produced to meet customer demand — is interwoven into Heijunka. This synchronization ensures that manufacturing processes are consistently paced and optimized.

Benefits of Heijunka

When implemented properly, the system ensures consistency by balancing demand, adaptability by reducing the time it takes to switch tasks, and steadiness by maintaining a consistent production volume and variety over an extended period.

Waste Reduction: Heijunka's strategic distribution of production orders significantly trims waste. This includes overstock, overproduction, and the mismanagement of resources. By eliminating these inefficiencies, businesses can realize cost savings and enhanced resource stewardship. 

Enhanced Flexibility: The mixed-model production championed by Heijunka enables manufacturers to rapidly pivot in response to market shifts or evolving customer preferences. This dynamism ensures production remains in sync with real-time demand. 

Employee Empowerment: A predictable Heijunka-driven rhythm reduces the chaos and stress stemming from sudden production shifts, fostering a healthier, more engaged workspace.

Implementing Heijunka with the Kanban System

A successful Heijunka implementation can be further enhanced with the integration of the Kanban system, a visualization tool to improve workflow and manage work-in-progress. 

Demand Forecasting: Start by analyzing past demand trends and market trajectories to craft an accurate production roadmap.

This table represents a mass producer (without Heijunka)

Standardized Work: Create consistent work procedures. This uniformity ensures tasks are executed uniformly, promoting a consistent production flow. 

 Kanban System Integration: Meld the Kanban system for material resupply. It complements Heijunka by ensuring the smooth flow of materials and matching production rhythm. Kanban visualizes the workflow, makes policies explicit, and fosters continuous improvement — all aligned with Heijunka's goals.

Lean manufacturers who embraced the concept of balancing both volume and variety required an efficient scheduling system to manage production.

Collaboration and Communication: Foster effective intra-departmental communication. This synchronization is key to aligning production plans and swiftly responding to any changes.

In our rapidly evolving manufacturing landscape, Heijunka stands out as a robust tool for optimizing production workflows. Combined with the Kanban system, this synergy offers unparalleled potential to transform manufacturing practices. As businesses worldwide strive for operational excellence, Heijunka and Kanban might be the duo driving them to new efficiency frontiers.

Flexpipe plants 5 trees to compensate its employees' carbon footprint

Flexpipe plants 5 trees to compensate its employees' carbon footprint

During the week of September 18 to 22, Flexpipe employees joined forces to promote carpooling and mobile travel while reducing their carbon footprint. The impressive results of this initiative led to the planting of 5 trees, symbolizing their commitment to the environment.

 

534 kilometers saved
During the week of the challenge, the company's employees managed to accumulate a remarkable saving of 534 kilometers in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This activity was made possible thanks to the commitment of employees, who chose to carpool and prefer active transport such as cycling or walking to get to work. Their determination demonstrated that simple actions can have a significant positive impact on the environment.

 

A concrete measure to compensate the environmental impact of their journey
Flexpipe has committed to planting the number of trees equivalent to the CO2 generated by participating employees who were unable to carpool or commute during the period in question. This means that 0.726 tonnes of CO2 will be offset by the planting of 5 trees on company premises. The employees have requested that these trees be fruit trees, so that they can enjoy the fruits of their efforts year after year.

 

A symbol for the Farnham community
The planting of the 5 fruit trees symbolizes another step towards a greener, more sustainable future, not only for the company, but also for the Farnham community. It's an example of how collective action on behalf of the environment can make a significant difference.

Flexpipe is proud to support this initiative and to recognize its employees' efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. This initiative demonstrates the importance of commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility within the company.

A Tailor-Made Multifunction Cart for a Student Engineering Competition

A Tailor-Made Multifunction Cart for a Student Engineering Competition

The Alérion Supermileage team from Université Laval opted for a modular Flexpipe cart that can be used as a transport cart, but also as a tool box and work table.

 

 

Alérion Supermileage is a science and engineering student project based at Université Laval in Quebec. Its mandate is to design, design and manufacture a prototype vehicle with the best possible energy efficiency.

Needing a transport system for their vehicle during competitions, the Alérion Supermileage team called on Flexpipe to build their custom cart. The new cart made of tubes and connector joints could therefore be used as a worktable for adjustments to the vehicle, a toolbox in addition to a transport cart, responding to a lack observed by the team during the previous competition.

 

 

The 3D concept of the trolley was produced using SolidWorks software, using the parts library provided by Flexpipe. A first version of the design could be shared with the experts at Flexpipe to validate the structure and discuss the modifications to be made. The slides used come from another partner, the biggest difficulty encountered was to install them to the tube structure during assembly.

These slides had to be attached by a fixing system which was not possible to use with the tubes. The students had to cut and bend some pieces of metal as well as make new holes in order to attach them to the tubes using the slide extension support pieces.

 

 

In the 2023 SAE Supermileage competition, the Alérion Supermileage team took first place in the gasoline-powered prototype standings. Congratulations to all!

 

 

How Ekanbans Optimize Your Material Replenishment Process

How Ekanbans Optimize Your Material Replenishment Process

When companies think about Kanban, the image of a Kanban board and Kanban cue cards often come to mind. This simple lean manufacturing scheduling system summarizes workflow on a board, showing individual steps required to complete a given project, work, or operation.

The Kanban board is the repository for the Kanban cards. The board outlines a given manufacturing process or defines each stage of a product or project’s step-by-step process. The cards are then placed on the board outlining what tasks need completion.

Aerospace producibility board – Source: planview.com

Cards define what work has been requested, what is currently being worked on, and what work is completed. They represent what remains to be done before moving to the next process step. These cards are also used to outline different ideas and approaches to help move the process along.

The Origins of Kanban

In its simplest form, Kanban is a method of tracking manufacturing workflow or a project’s history. It is a highly effective scheduling method for lean manufacturing, helping to define how much inventory is needed to support current workloads.

Its origins can be traced back to Taiichi Ohno, who – along with Sakichi Toyoda and his son Kiichiro Toyoda – are responsible for developing the Toyota Production System (TPS) and its many lean and continuous improvement methodologies.

Toyota Production System Kanban board. Source: toyota-global.com

Like many lean methodologies emerging from Toyota, Kanban relies upon simple visual cues. The word Kanban is Japanese and literally translates to “card you can see.” It is considered the core tool for managing Just-in-Time (JIT) manufacturing, another lean pillar of TPS. Toyota introduced JIT and Kanban during the 1940s.

JIT is considered a pull system where customer demand is the driving force behind manufacturing. This customer demand essentially “pulls” products to be made, unlike the North American manufacturing processes at that time that relied on pushing products to the market to spur customers to buy those products.  

Kanban is seen as an innovation in that it follows similar TPS guidelines; minimizing costs, eliminating waste, and shortening lead times is the best way to add value for customers.

Kanban in Today’s Business Environment

Companies still use Kanban boards and even post-it notes as a convenient replacement for the Kanban cards. Other companies have moved away from this manual process. They have instead adopted digital, SaaS, cloud-based, and mobile-optimized software solutions that provide granular data and up-to-the-instant feedback on workflow and production volumes.

This adoption of real-time platforms has given rise to multiple Ekanban (electronic Kanban) systems that are quickly replacing the visual cue systems of the past. These systems provide invaluable details to line-side operators, managers, project managers, employees, and technicians in manufacturing environments.

Having a system that tracks production data and a project’s progress in real-time is invaluable. It shortens the time it takes to make critical decisions and course corrections. It identifies areas of concern and provides pinpoint accuracy on issues that impact workflow. It allows companies to determine when inventory needs replenishment to keep up with demand.

Ekanban systems can be accessed from any laptop, mobile phone, or desktop with an internet or Wifi connection. This means designated employees can easily track production throughput no matter where or when they work. Employees no longer have to view the Kanban board to get a breakdown of production throughput, and nobody has to spend any time updating that board. Instead, everyone merely accesses the information on their own.

Simple, Scalable, and Modular EKanban Systems

One of the drawbacks for manufacturers is the cost of fully implementing an Ekanban system alongside its existing software, like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Material Requirements Planning (MPR), and other production or inventory management systems. However, like Flexpipe’s tube and joint system, there are modular and scalable solutions that allow you to gradually introduce EKanban without breaking the bank.

Steute Technology’s NEXY Digital Shop Floor Solution is one of these modular and scalable systems. Rob Hargis of Steute USA outlines some simple ways the company’s Ekanban system works.

Watch Ian Johnson from Flexpipe and Rob Hargis of Steute USA outlining some simple ways the NEXY Digital Shop Floor Ekanban’s system is working.

https://youtu.be/9HfLjpqFenE

1. What is the NEXY Digital Shop Floor Solution?

Simply put, NEXY is an industrial wireless solution that streamlines the inventory replenishment process by leveraging Steute Technology’s wireless sensor technology.

NEXY’s flow rack sensor is a robust, sturdy, and easy-to-install device that fits easily on any Flexpipe Flow Rack. It operates at 915 MHz, so it doesn’t interfere with other WiFi signals. This is especially important given the number of Wifi sources on today’s production floors.

The flow rack sensor easily snaps in pace on any roller and does away with operators using barcode/RFI scanners to register inventory at a given work cell.

2. What are the Main Benefits?

One common source of waste in manufacturing includes inventory replenishment. In a lean manufacturing work cell, this often involves an operator leaving the cell, walking to inventory, waiting to get the parts, consumables, or materials they need, and then walking back to their work cell. This is all wasted time.

The further the inventory is away from the lean cell, the longer the transit times and the more time is wasted. Some companies ignore this wasted time. However, calculating how often a given work cell needs replenishment each day, week, or month and how many cells are on the shop floor quickly amounts to a considerable amount of motion waste and non-value tasks.

Water Spider is the go-to person who can make the bridge between the lean cell and the supermarket.

In other instances, operators must go outside the cell to register the inventory with an RFID/barcode scanner. Again, depending on how often the replenishment occurs, this time quickly adds up. For cells with high inventory replenishment throughout the day, this wastes time and ultimately affects production throughput for a single cell.

Even companies that still use the manual Kanban processes on a Kanban board with Kanban cards can save considerable time and achieve significant cost reductions with NEXY. Operators can stay in the cell and focus on completing work tasks while NEXY operates behind the scenes.

No more time filling out Kanban cards or updating Kanban boards. No need for RFID/barcode scanners. No need to leave the work cell to replenish inventory. No more long transit times walking to and from inventory/stores.

No RFID/barcode scanners

No time wasted on inventory replenishment

No Wifi interference

No Noise (low sound always)

No more manual Kanban cards and Kanban Boards

“Everything is done behind the scenes. All the operator or employee has to do is focus on their work. They will never notice when inventory is replaced.”

3. Where is the Data Stored?

Once actuated, the flow rack sensor immediately sends wireless signals to Steute Technology’s access point. From there, the access point sends the data to the sensor bridge – a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) housed in a cabinet on the shop floor.

The PLC then takes all the data and creates an Application Programming Interface (API), which can either be sent to a shop floor server or a cloud-based server. The wireless solution is 128-bit encrypted and works with multiple IT cyber-security protocols.

Wireless tilting sensor RF RW-NET

sWave.NET® wireless technology

eKanban software module

Sensor Bridge

4. How Easy is it to get Started?

The simplicity of NEXY is that companies alone decide how much to buy and when. The system isn’t dependent upon immediate adoption across a company’s shop floor. Companies can start small, learn, improve, and then progress at their own pace adding new flow rack sensors and increasing scalability when they see fit.

“Getting up and running is easy. Customers who buy Flexpipe Flow Racks simply reach out to Flexpipe, and we’ll get involved… We start with a simple consultation to determine their needs and current process and then discuss their goals. After that, it’s simply a matter of doing what the customer asks.”

A Simple Solution to Ease Into Manufacturing 4.0

Nowadays, every manufacturer has heard of “manufacturing 4.0” or “industry 4.0.” Both are the same thing. They simply refer to The Fourth Industrial Revolution, the adoption of automated technologies, and their synchronization with digital data solutions and networks.

The first industrial revolution used water and steam to power machines and equipment. The second included improved communication with the telegraph and the installation of railway lines to transport materials and products. The third occurred during the 1950s with the early adoption of digital solutions that improved communication.

The fourth is simply a natural progression from the third; improved digital solutions linked to automated and robotic equipment ensure a steady stream of real-time data.

NEXY is the simplest way for a manufacturer to be introduced to this all-important fourth industrial revolution. This is especially the case for labor-intensive manufacturers who want to manage their transition at their own pace.

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Rob Hargis

Rob Hargis is a seasoned Brand Manager with the NEXY division of Steute Technologies, providing wireless eKanban, Andon, and AGV integrated sensor networks for manufacturing, assembly and industrial workflow processes in automotive, white goods, and other complex-assembly environments.

Modular, Scalable, and Affordable Material Handling with Flexpipe

Flexpipe is an innovator, supplier, and designer of modular and scalable steel tubes and joints that help companies reduce material handling costs. Based out of Montreal, the company provides multiple products, training, and insight to companies wanting to adopt lean manufacturing.

The company offers a full-service solution that includes its free software add-on SketchUp, multiple outlines and assembly designs, and design and cutting services to help companies build their own material handling structures and reduce costs. 

If you would like to see how Flexpipe can help, contact us now.