From the Ops Desk – A Lesson in Lean

Visual Management at Active EMS

We are delighted to bring to you a new series that we’ve entitled; “From the Ops Desk.”  By this, we mean that our newest team member, Operations Director, Roger Gaskell, (Six Sigma Lean Practitioner), has put pen to paper to document the common challenges that Electronics Manufacturing Service Providers (EMS) face, and the solutions that experience has taught him.  Roger hopes that by sharing knowledge gained through extensive practice in the electronics industry, others can avoid the pain points that he has learned.

“Visual Management is one of those essential elements of our work and home lives, that many of us accept without question, and may not have even noticed. But once you understand what is meant by visual management – and the amount it includes – you’ll be seeing it everywhere”!

So, what is visual management?

Visual management is a way to visually communicate expectations, performance, standards, or warnings in a way that requires little or no prior training to interpret. You may have heard the term in the context of the workplace, particularly factories, but it’s actually used in all sorts of everyday scenarios. You’ve probably used scores of visual management tools today already without giving them a second thought.

There are six categories of visual management that allow increasing control of standards, performance and quality. It starts out with simple communication of facts and works up to using visual controls to prevent errors from occurring. The categories are:

  1. To share information
  2. To share standards
  3. To build in standards
  4. To warn about abnormalities
  5. To stop abnormalities once they occur
  6. To prevent abnormalities altogether

Let’s investigate these in more detail.

To share information

The first category of visual management is to share information. This is something you will regularly see in places of work and a common example is a simple notice board.

Examples of visual management you’d find on the notice board include graphs showing monthly performance summaries, the results of customer surveys, key team achievements and perhaps a list of suggestions from the team.

Or in this case, a simple wall showing Training, ESD log, First aiders, fire wardens etc.

Another example, and one you may use at home too, is colour coding. The most common system is the traffic light system where red is a warning, yellow means to be aware and green means everything is ok (Traffic lights, being a prime example). The key thing here is that everyone must understand what information is being communicated by the colours, without having to ask.

All SMT processes are linked to our internal “Andon” Light system giving a clear indication as to the status of the assembly lines.

Definitions must be clear. If you have to ask, it isn’t visual management it’s just decoration.

To share standards

Next is sharing standards. The idea here is to communicate information, in the same way as above, but where something is done regularly and must meet a certain standard.

To build in standards

The next logical step to sharing standards is to make it difficult to deviate from those standards. We do that in visual management by building in the standards. Examples at work could include templates that you could use for creating Microsoft Word or PowerPoint documents.

Another common example is a visual scheduling tool, also known as a Heijunka Box, which visually indicates what tasks or jobs should be completed when, by who, and in what order.  The benefit being that there is no confusion as to what the priorities are, and everyone can get on with what they need to.

The example on the right shows clear indication (Yellow highlighted boxes) of where through-hole components are to be fitted

To warn about abnormalities

Shadow boards are one of the most famous visual management tools to warn of abnormalities. Often when people ask, “what is visual management?”, it is shadow boards that come to mind. They’re a really simple, visual way to indicate where something should go to everyone, without prior communication. They also warn when something is missing, as there is a shadow where the item should be.

However, they are not the only form of visual management that provides a warning. Other examples include the fuel light in your car and the low battery icon on your phone – both warn you about a problem that will occur if immediate action is not taken.

To stop abnormalities once they occur

Visual management can be used where an error, abnormality or problem has occurred in order to provide a warning and stop the issue from continuing.

They can be manual visual aids, or in this example a power point presentation alerting the assembly operator / inspector to look for a problem encountered in earlier batches. This forms part of the assembly instruction and is animated so is constantly alerting the Operator to the issue. Very difficult to say that “I wasn’t aware!”

This element of visual management often goes hand in hand with other mistake proofing measures.

To prevent abnormalities altogether

The final category of visual management can also be considered as steps for mistake proofing. And some of them are so simple you’ll be surprised you never thought of them. This step seeks to prevent a problem from occurring, rather than just providing information or a warning that a person must act on.

A good example is in aircraft toilets: The light will not come on in the cubicle until the door has been locked, forcing users to lock the door, and preventing other passengers from opening the door while it’s occupied. All by preventing a light from turning on.

And finally, bringing it all together, the Active EMS workstation showing custom made tool station board and assembly instruction display.

About Active EMS

A dedicated Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) company offering bespoke solutions to customers with individual needs.

Strategically located in Manchester, recognised for its industrial prowess, we are an integrated manufacturing provider that enables partners to grow by offering in-house prototyping, Design for Manufacture (DFM), manufacturing, logistics capabilities, resources, and our very own people power.

We work across all industry segments, from automotive to medical to infrastructure, and beyond. Active EMS provides every market with a robust supply chain solution from handheld to massive electromechanical products.

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