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Improve Your Factory with Visual Management

Getting everyone to use their eyes will yield real operational benefits.

I’m a visual learner. I’m betting you are, too.

In fact, I would argue that almost everyone is a visual learner.

How do I know that? Because visual communication is far more effective than written or verbal communication, as it’s easier for the human brain to process and retain information presented in a visual format. The human brain can process visual information up to 60,000 times faster than text or verbal information. Visual communication can convey information more quickly, more efficiently, and more effectively than other forms of communication.

Visual communication is also more memorable. Studies have shown that people can remember up to 80% of what they see and do, compared to only 20% of what they read and 10% of what they hear. The use of visual aids such as images, charts, and graphs can significantly increase people’s retention and comprehension of information.

Another advantage of visual communication is that it can be universally understood, regardless of language or literacy level. That’s why road signs with symbols and icons are used around the world to convey important information quickly and easily. In an offsite factory setting, where employees may come from different language backgrounds or have varying literacy levels, visual communication can be particularly effective in ensuring that everyone understands the same information.

Visual communication can also improve safety in the factory. For example, safety signs and symbols can quickly communicate hazards and safety procedures to employees. In fact, studies have shown that the use of safety signs and symbols can reduce accidents and injuries by up to 80%.

In a factory setting, visual management is a Lean manufacturing technique that uses visual cues to communicate information and improve efficiency. In today’s offsite factory, where efficiency and safety are paramount, but skilled employees are scarce, visual management can be an effective way to improve productivity, quality, and throughput.

Below is a discussion of some of the most common and practical visual management techniques for offsite construction, as well as examples of how you can implement each technique in your factory.

Production Boards

A production board is a visual display that shows information about production status, such as work in progress, current inventory levels, and planned versus actual production rates. By displaying this information in a centralized location, employees can quickly monitor progress and identify any issues.

To implement a production board in your factory, follow these steps:

Step 1: Determine the information that needs to be displayed on the production board. This could include information about work in progress, inventory levels, and production rates.

Step 2: Choose a location for the production board that is visible to all employees. This could be the production area, or it could be a gathering space like a break room.

Step 3: Determine the format of the production board. Examples include a whiteboard, a digital display, or a printed chart.

Step 4: Design the production board to include all the necessary information. Include headings for each section and use clear, easy-to-read fonts.

BONUS Step 5: Have the factory team leads/foremen update each day’s production results in your daily huddle meetings.

A production board in a volumetric modular factory could include information about the current status of each module, including the stage of production, the date it was started, and the estimated completion date. It could also include your daily, weekly, and monthly production totals, in whatever units you track (square feet, value, linear feet, etc.). This information could be displayed on a whiteboard in the production area.

Standardized Labels and Signage

Standardized labels and signage are used to identify tools, equipment, and workstations. This helps employees quickly locate what they need and ensures that everyone is using the same tools and equipment.

To implement standardized labels and signage in your factory, follow these steps:

Step 1: Determine the types of tools, equipment, and workstations that need labels or signs.

Step 2: Choose a labeling or signage system that is easy to understand and consistent throughout the factory.

Step 3: Create labels or signs for each tool, piece of equipment, or workstation.

Step 4: Train employees on the meaning of the labels or signs.

Example: In an offsite factory, tools, and equipment could be labeled with their names and the location where they should be stored. Workstations could be identified with signs that include the name of the workstation and a visual cue, such as a picture or color, to help employees quickly locate the workstation.

Visual Work Instructions

Visual work instructions use pictures or diagrams to show employees how to perform a task. By using visual cues, employees can quickly understand how to do the job and reduce errors.

To implement visual work instructions in your factory, follow these steps:

Step 1: Determine the tasks that require visual work instructions. These could include assembly tasks, inspection tasks, or maintenance tasks.

Step 2: Create a visual work instruction for each task. Use clear, easy-to-understand pictures (preferred) or diagrams to show each step.

Step 3: Display the visual work instructions in a prominent location near where the task will be performed.

Step 4: Train employees on how to use the visual work instructions.

Example: Visual work instructions could be used to show employees how to wire a modular unit. The instructions could include pictures of each step of the wiring process, with arrows or other visual cues to show the correct sequence of steps.

Error-Proofing Visuals

Also known by the Japanese term “Poka-Yoke,” error-proofing visuals, as their name implies, use visual cues to prevent errors from occurring. By providing clear visual cues, employees can quickly identify potential errors and take corrective action.

To implement error-proofing visuals in your factory, follow these steps:

Step 1: Identify potential errors that could occur in each process.

Step 2: Create visual cues that prevent errors from occurring. This could include color coding, shape coding, or size coding.

Step 3: Display the error-proofing visuals in a prominent location near the process.

Step 4: Train employees on the meaning of the visual cues, and how to take corrective action if an error occurs.

Example: Different colors could be used to indicate the correct tools/fasteners to be used for certain tasks. Color- or size coding could be used to ensure that components are placed in the correct locations.

Kanban Systems

Kanban systems are used to manage inventory levels and production schedules. Visual cues help employees quickly identify when inventory levels are low and when production needs to be increased or decreased.

To implement a Kanban system in your factory, follow these steps:

Step 1: Determine the inventory levels needed for each component or material.

Step 2: Create Kanban cards that represent these inventory levels. These cards should include all the information needed to identify, locate and reorder the item.

Step 3: Display the Kanban cards in the inventory storage area.

Step 4: Train employees on the meaning of the Kanban cards and how to use them to manage inventory levels.

Example: Kanban cards could be used to manage inventory levels of screws. When the inventory level of a type of screw reaches a certain threshold, the Kanban card would be taken to purchasing to signal that additional screws need to be ordered.

Visual management is a powerful tool for improving productivity, quality, and throughput in an offsite factory. Visual cues help employees quickly monitor progress, identify potential errors and take corrective action. By implementing the above visual management techniques in your factory, you can improve efficiency, build faster, drive down costs, and reduce errors, even with limited skilled labor and high production demand.

Daniel Small is a Denver, Colo.-based management consultant to the offsite construction industry. He specializes in Lean Construction and Manufacturing and Six Sigma methodologies. For assistance with improving your offsite manufacturing process, contact him at 719-321-1953 or

Published in OFFSITE BUILDER Magazine on May 31, 2023

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