Kanban, one of the cornerstones of Lean Manufacturing, is a “pull” based system that enables the process owner , through a visual scheduling system, to easily view production requirements. Traditionally, Kanban’s operate through the use of a Kanban card – where production personnel can signify the delivery of parts utilising the process for re-ordering.
Over the years Kanban has developed through use of technology and Electronic Kanban software is now prevalent in the marketplace. Although dedicated Kanban software is available to manage supply chain/production environments in full – many businesses already operate ERP/MRP systems – faced with this situation an increasing number will opt for to use 3rd Party applications which provide “plug in” modules, leaving their existing ERP to manage inventory and using this secondary application to review usage history/forecasts and calculate the Kanban quantities which can then be populated into the MRP/ERP.
Often Electronic Kanban solutions will use technology to improve the messages between operators – this can be done in a variety of ways but often incorporates the use of Electronic Barcodes. Bar coding, while around for many years, still has a big part to play in streamlining processes. They provide a fast, easy, and accurate method of data entry. This decreases employee time required therefore increasing productivity. Once scanned barcode data is electronically communicated at each stage of the process (consumption, shipping, receiving, etc.).
Electronic Kanbans will often use application interfaces such as EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) and increasingly webservices through the use of XML data. Application interfaces will adhere to a set of rules and regulations ensuring standardized data formats which allows computers to exchange various business documents without companies needing to customize their hardware or software system.
Electronic Kanban signals carry more information (including delivery location, lot size, cycle number) and occur in real time. Using this electronic data additional modules producing management information can easily be incorporated culminating in a powerful management solution.
Electronic Kanbans can be extremely useful in multi-tier – multi supplier environments. In this situation the replenishment activity is required to be a series of well-timed interconnected exchanges between the preceding and succeeding processes. Suppliers and customers will require continuous visibility of replenishment stock and materials which can easily be provided through the data generated by barcoded Kanban cards. Demand signals flow continuously through the supply chain and are then delayed at each tier only as long as it takes to consume or ship material.
Perhaps the most significant benefit of an electronic Kanban system is the use of automated alerts – which can be used to provide timely information where required; for example where inventory is reaching stock out automated alert technology can notify material managers. Alerts have increasingly moved towards either targeted emails or SMS messages that can be transferred quickly to the appropriate personnel to act on. Coupled with this Electronic Kanban can bring together production schedules and forecasts – Kanban software can then increase or decrease levels “on the fly” to cope with consumption requirements.
Electronic kanban, provides benefits by closely tying the consumer to the manufacturer. The flexibility and responsiveness of electronic kanban can further extend lean supply methodology and facilitate collaboration between multiple organisations – consumer and manufacturer.