Tools & Technologies

By Nathan Crabel

The KanbanBOX network

Elevate your kanban to the cloud

Italy-based KanbanBOX is giving an 80-year-old production control system a face-lift. KanbanBOX is unleashing the power of physical, kanban, inventory control systems with its suite of cloud-based software.

"Just-in-time" production had its beginnings in 1938 and was later formalized and popularized by the Toyota Production System. Kanban is the Japanese word for "sign" or "sign board." These cards act as the central nervous system of a lean production system by signaling upstream processes to create and move more product.

The system was initially inspired by supermarkets in the United States, where shelves were only restocked when they were depleted to a certain level. In a production system, a physical kanban card is attached to a container of parts. When the container is consumed, the card is placed in a location that can be seen or passed along to the upstream process. These cards connect information flow to actual flow of product through a system.

The simplest form of a kanban system is a one-card signal. One common everyday example of this is the flag on a mailbox. When outgoing mail is ready to be picked up, the resident raises the flag, which signals the mail carrier to pick up the mail. Kanban setup requires determining the monthly demand, changeovers per month, average daily demand, replenishment lead-time, safety factors and container quantity. The kanban concept is a simple tool, but like any system, it can and will become more complex as production requirements become more convoluted.

As companies take on more customers and suppliers, increase the number of components and are pressured to reduce lead-times, managing and maintaining the production system becomes more complex. Software provided by KanbanBOX can alleviate the pain and boost the efficiencies of kanban production systems.

KanbanBOX is a cloud-based kanban management software. Unlike traditional kanban systems, KanbanBOX uses hardware and software instead of traditional paper cards, signs and physical transfer. With a kanban system in place, KanbanBOX can automate the information transfer after a quick scan of a barcode. When containers are depleted and barcodes are scanned, KanbanBOX will trigger new work orders for upstream processes.

KanbanBOX's label creation application also will allow users to set up custom kanban labels that can be printed and attached to new containers that enter the physical production system. Additionally, KanbanBOX can integrate with many enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies for even more functionality, supply chain traceability, real-time reporting and efficiency gains.

KanbanBOX's three modules, Production, Sales and Purchasing, can generate efficiency gains across companies' supply chains by increasing the productivity of traditional kanban card systems. With barcode scanning and RFID technology in place, the software also can provide real-time reporting and traceability within the supply chain.

These technologies are at the heart of industrial and systems engineering work and will help propel operations excellence in the production environments they support.

Nathan Crabel is a consultant with West Monroe Partners and a member of IISE's Young Professionals group.