Visual Factory

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visual-factoryWhen I first learnt about the concept of visual factory, I was fascinated.

A very simple concept, needs few words to explain; yet something which can make a great impact.  In our factory, we have begun working on this with a goal of achieving a visual factory and as we work on this project we seem to learn more and more of this concept - its nuances and benefits.


What is a Visual Workplace?


When anyone walks into a workplace and visually understands the current situation, it is called a Visual Workplace. The work area must be self-explaining, self-regulating and self-improving. In a visual factory what is supposed to happen does happen, on time, every time, day or night. Basically, it is a technique that helps us understand and make visible what's happening in our workplace.


All of us like to work in a place that is visually pleasing and clean and directions are very clear. Isn't it a pleasant experience to walk into any international airport, of course outside India? There is no need to ask anybody for directions either for immigration check, the flight timings, the gate numbers, the baggage bays, the rest rooms or the shopping areas.  On the other hand, can we imagine a world devoid of street signs, scores during a cricket match, organized grocery aisles, flight schedule display monitors, and air traffic controls?


The key elements of a Visual Factory are:


a) Work Place Organization and Standardization - 5S b)    Visual Display- sharing information c) Visual Controls- prevent defects and errors


Workplace Organization and Standardization is the foundation of visual factory and this practice is quite common these days following the approach of 5S.   I am sure that most readers are aware of 5S, which stands for 5 terms in Japanese- Seri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke.   This translates to Sort out, Systematic Arrangement, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.  There are different variants of the English translation, but in essence, they are all the same. This is a simple approach to sortsystematically arrange the remaining things in an orderly manner and shine or clean up everything that's arranged.  Then standardize the process and workplace and sustain the same through training and discipline. out and eliminate unwanted things,


Visual Displays communicate important information but does not control what people or machines do. Displays help avoid confusion, mix-up and speeds up activity; for example:


1. Colored lights at each machine/process indicate status: material shortage, running, breakdown, etc


2.  Every part always stored in the same identified location


3.  Separate locations for good parts and suspect / scrap parts


4.  Machines, cells, departments marked with painted lines and identified


5.  Every control, adjustment, displayed labeled


6.  Attendance and Skill Versatility Chart


Visual Controls communicate information so that activities are performed according to standards and help monitor and control.  Some of the examples of visual controls are:


1. Standard Operating Procedures

2. Statistical Control Charts 

3. Process Control Specifications

4. Workmanship Standards 

5. Control Plans


In our attempt to build a visual factory, the one question we always ask when we walk into a shop floor is - can I visually understand the current situation without having to ask anybody? We see this as a challenging question and there is so much work that goes behind it to really make that happen. Vital in my opinion, and probably a weak area in most factories is the availability of real time data. Data regarding production, rejection, scrap and efficiency of the previous month or week is good information, but what really matters to take action is the current data that is real time.  A true visual factory shares real time information about the status of the factory.


These concepts can surely be used in an office environment as well.  Can we walk into any office and can find out easily the person we would like to meet, the training halls and the booking details?  Can we get all this information by just visual displays?  The other things we can look at are, for example, the incoming/ outgoing fax machine locations, the printers configured to each computer and the capability of printers in terms of color prints, double side printing etc; instructions for use of office equipments, the cash disbursal timings and the availability of personnel.


Some of the benefits of visual factory are:


1. Shows that everything has a place and everything is in its place

2. Controls inventory l Indicates performance 

3. Indicates non-conformances 

4. Indicates when help is needed

5. It will answer the questions:

6. What are our goals? 

7. What are our key measures?

8. How is the factory performing in relation to those goals? 

9. What is preventing us from reaching our goals? 

10. Most importantly, how do my individual efforts contribute toward success?                


I am sure anybody would be really excited to work in a place that is clean and pleasing to the eye; and where instructions are clear, operations are transparent, problems are not hidden, and status is real time and actions immediate. 


Pradeep Kumar E.T. A Master Black Belt in Six Sigma , is the Country Manager- Operational Excellence with Tyco Electronics Corporation India Pvt Ltd. Feedback can be e- mailed to


Issue BG67 Oct06


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