Lean Tools: Visual Controls

There are visual controls all around us every day. They tell us which lane to drive in, where to turn, where the dangerous areas are, and where to find the things we need. In the workplace, Visual Controls are used sparsely by many companies. But correctly used Visual Controls can save us time, energy, and money.

From the time an employee walks into a facility, there can be Visual Controls to help him or her be successful and productive. For the maintainers, Visual Controls can help manage their tools, identify the locations of needed spare parts, and provide awareness of preventive maintenance that is due and the results of maintenance already performed. Water, steam, air, nitrogen, and other chemical flow can be easily identified to help maintainers perform their duties.

For the operators, Visual Controls can help to identify productivity requirements to be met, current productivity levels, availability of materials needed to do their jobs, and proper locations to perform their jobs. They can use Visual Controls, such as Andon lights or other signaling devices, to order replenishment of materials needed, or the pickup of work completed or signal the need for assistance.

Lockout tags and warning signs can keep maintainers and operators away from high heat, high voltage, or toxic areas. Safety equipment requirement signs can be used to keep everyone protected in a workplace. Forklift traffic or truck traffic areas can be marked to warn people to look for moving vehicles.

Material handlers and supply personnel can use Visual Controls to maintain proper stock levels, know when to reorder items and where to deliver materials needed on the production or service line.

Kanban cards are a type of Visual Control—used by everyone—to aid in the replenishment of materials from receiving, through the storage area, on the production line, into inventory, and finally in shipment to customers.

Visual Controls can help managers monitor the status of production or services at a glance and help to identify development bottlenecks that will need to be cleared to keep operations running smoothly. Managers can keep employees at all levels informed of current production schedules, performance levels, and accomplishment with large colorful Visual Controls. Worker assignments, qualifications, training levels, and suggestions can be displayed to improve morale and give recognition using Visual Controls.

Visual Control Checklist

 Focused on worker safety and/or performance
 Identifies needs, pending failures, and possible work stoppages
 Easy to understand and considers educational levels and languages
 Large enough to see easily from a reasonable distance
 Contains current information and is updated periodically
 All employees must understand and respond to them—this is crucial!

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