4 Steps to Quickly Deploy an Electronic Kanban System

4 Steps to Quickly Deploy an Electronic Kanban System

The Kanban system was created by Toyota Motor Company and has been a bellwether Lean tool for manufacturers to ensure they receive the right part at the right time. Kanban has proven invaluable as a self-regulating scheduling system which requests parts from suppliers only when needed via card pull signals; however, as our products and industries evolve with complexity, our linear, manual supply chain management systems are breaking.

“The key to optimizing today’s supply chains is the three V’s: visibility, velocity and volume,” says Ryan Yost, Vice President and General Manager, Printer Solutions Division at Avery Dennison in a recent episode of the Supply Chain Innovation Podcast.

Supply chain visibility is dramatically improved when an electronic Kanban (eKanban) software system is added. Supply chain velocity is positively impacted with earlier supply information because it enables adjustments to ensure ongoing manufacturing flow. Lastly, volume can be increased using bar codes, smart labels, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) and scanners that track a wider range of information, reducing the number of physical scans and enabling routing changes.

Below, we’ll discuss four specific steps for deploying eKanban systems quickly.

4 Steps to Quickly Deploy an Electronic Kanban System

1. Lay the Digital Foundation

The best running card Kanban systems can be improved, especially in times of rapid change. An Automated Plan For Every Part (PFEP) software tool can help make quick work of data mapping efforts, as you and your suppliers can enter and edit data at the same time. Ensure data input variables like buffer stock, lead times, and packaging type contain the latest information. Rush past this step at your own peril; simple things like missing Kanban cards can launch your supply chain digitization initiatives on unstable footing.

2. Map Information Flows

As you venture outside of your organization, you’ll encounter a wide range of systems at various suppliers, from on-premise to cloud solutions. Use your PFEP to document each single source of truth (SSOT) location in the column next to the data point you want to access or share with a given supplier to build a more robust information model. It’s also vital to map the physical flows to highlight where and when ideal part movement signals can be captured. As an example, part shipment RFID tags could be scanned earlier at a supplier’s loading dock to automatically send a signal that a part is in transit.

3. Link Supplier Systems

Often, a supplier’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system will be key to accessing real-time SSOT information. The latest eKanban cloud software systems typically have Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that enable data to be pushed and pulled from buyer and supplier systems. These APIs can be integrated by in-house teams or the work can be expediated by third party software deployment teams if additional capacity is needed. After deployment, you’ll be able to track additional data such as a supplier’s inventory, parts in transit and production schedule. 

4. Optimize Dashboard Reporting

Software has its benefits. The additional information that you’re now able to track can be summarized into dashboards. Real-time reporting can be a powerful tool, but to get the most out of the data, you’ll want to tailor the dashboards to your specific needs. Further, there are a growing number of practical uses of supply predictive analytics that can be deployed to accelerate optimization initiatives, prevent potential disruptions, and proactively recommend alternatives.

When optimizing supply today, many leaders aren’t just seeking more data, but also “actionable information” from their eKanban systems too, which are increasingly being integrated into supply chain execution systems such as Supply Performance SystemTM (SPS) software to empower teams to get more done.

Use Software to Gain Time

Ultimately, software is only a tool to do a job. In the case of eKanban systems, they should augment Kanban card systems to provide greater real-time supply chain visibility.

As leaders strive to bring products to market more quickly, time is becoming a critical competitive advantage. Thus, the ability to gain visibility into your extended enterprise via digitization can provide additional time to take actions to prevent potential supply challenges. Time is our most precious resource and every minute can allow us to take purposeful actions to maintain supply.

-William