Cutting waste is always important but as business starts to look up and order books grow, companies who keep their eye on the waste ball can gain a real competitive edge.

Using visual solutions in the workplace will help them deliver more consistently to customers and cope better with supply chain and resourcing issues as they emerge.

Firms who study their workplace processes are often surprised to find that much of what they do delivers little extra value to their customers. In many cases up to 50% or more of a facility’s activities are non-productive. This waste takes many forms. For example, much valuable time can be lost in searching, waiting, retrieving, re-working, querying, puzzling – or simply forgetting.

Strategic tools

The Visual Workplace – also known as the Visual Factory or Visual Management – is a strategic tool for tackling such problems, designed to ensure the right information is in the right place at the right time.

Dr Gwendolyn Galsworth of the QMIVisual-Lean Institute has defined it as: “a work environment that is self-ordering, self-explaining, self-regulating and self-improving – where what is supposed to happen does happen, on time, every time, because of visual solutions.”

You may wish to develop visual solutions as an integral part of a wider or existing lean initiative such as Standard Work, Total Productive Maintenance or 5S Workplace Management (sort, shine, set in order, standardise and sustain). But for many businesses, the visual approach can simply be a good jumping off point for an effective waste reduction programme offering quick returns.

Either way, here at Brady we have identified some practical examples to help set you thinking about how you can use visual solutions:

• Keeping everything in its allotted place by the use of location identifiers for tools, parts, materials, product and equipment. The benefits include reduced inventory, better use of space, greater productivity and less operational disruption.

• Displaying technical and procedural information at the point of use (eg operating, inspection and maintenance instructions). This can reduce cycle times, improve quality/reliability, enhance safety and simplify training and scheduling.

• Making well-planned use of labelling for operator controls, inspection and service intervals, hazard warnings and gauge indicators. This can result in faster change-overs, fewer operator errors, proper equipment usage, more easily-detected operating abnormalities and simplified maintenance.

• Applying tools such as Kanban cards, inventory labels, equipment ID and replenishment indicators to give effective control of production flows – leading to shorter lead times, reduced inventory levels, faster trouble-shooting and better on-time delivery.

• Using high quality workplace displays for a well-informed and motivated workforce by helping to promote key initiatives, track progress and recognise team effort and achievements.

• Using equipment hazard and chemical labels, floor markings, lock-out and accident prevention tags and warning signs to promote safe systems of work, maintain employee morale, reduce accidents and compensation claims, improve regulatory compliance and cut downtime.

Pro-active management of the visual workplace requires specialist expertise, careful planning and the right equipment and materials. Businesses seldom have the in-house capacity for this and so need a reliable partner to provide the confidence, professional technical support and aftercare essential to success.

At Brady we can offer a complete package that makes us the ideal partner for large and small firms alike. Steeped in lean principles, our experienced product experts can offer practical advice and solutions tailored to your needs – before, during and after implementation.

We supply an extensive range of portable and workbench printers, together with a vast range of materials for every operating environment. For example, our BBP31 is the very latest in portable thermal transfer printing technology with a rugged design that slots easily into any workplace.

Products and services like these can put thousands of highly competitive and cost-effective visual solutions at the fingertips of every organisation. As the recovery strengthens, this can deliver a key competitive advantage for your business.