Application Example – Kanban in Practice
The Georg Fischer AG is a leading industrial group focused on the three core businesses GF Automotive, GF Piping Systems and GF AgieCharmilles. The company, founded in 1802 with its headquarters in Schaffhausen (Switzerland) employs around 13,000 people globally.
The Departments communicate with Kanban
The automotive supplier Georg Fischer AG has successfully implemented a production control following the Kanban principle at its Altenmarkt/Austria location. A central element here is the circulation of Kanban cards controlled by planning boards. The automotive division of the Georg Fischer AG develops and produces castings that are in high demand for the automotive industry and its suppliers. Its production sites are located in Germany, Austria, Canada and China. The company is considered the European technology and market leader in its product segment with all relevant casting processes and materials for serial production.
In the plant in Altenmarkt, around 600 employees of the Georg Fischer GmbH & Co KG produce automotive components out of aluminium and magnesium using the pressure die casting method. Customers in Stuttgart, Bremen, and Munich, as well as in France and England are supplied. Within the company, the foundry aims for the production of preferably high quantities – for one thing because of the economic utilisation of their plant, for another because higher quality can be guaranteed with higher quantities. However, the goal of high flow rates is not always identical with the interests of further processing or delivery. Following the principle of LEAN management, those responsible are for example also interested in reducing the raw material inventory at interim storage. The company wide goal of management is optimising the lot sizes of the foundry in such a way that production can take place in as needs-based a way as possible – just in time – and the finished product can be picked up by the customer in a predetermined time slot.
Self-Controlled Loop as a Solution
As a control medium in this interplay of forces between customer requirements, foundry, and further processing, the Georg Fischer GmbH & Co KG management in Altenmarkt has introduced the Kanban method. The comparatively simple system connects to sequential processes in a self-regulating control loop. The world-famous method reduces work in progress and finished products, through which capital commitment is also reduced. Simultaneously, the system reacts flexibly to fluctuating customer requirements. With Kanban control the downstream process gets the required materials from the buffer stock from the earlier process at the right time and in the appropriate quantity. At Altenmarkt, the Kanban method was introduced step by step. In a pilot project the first loop – the foundry and further processing – were tackled. At the Georg Fischer GmbH & Co KG the information regarding production of the required supply is communicated through Kanban cards – as usual in the classic Kanban system.
The automotive supplier Georg Fischer AG successfully manages its production according to the Kanban principle.
Containers, Cards, Planning Boards
The planning boards serve as a centralised organisational tool in which the employees insert the Kanban cards systematically into the columns on their way to the processes. The half finished products from the foundry are stored in designated containers. As soon as a container is filled, an appropriately coded Kanban card is attached and it is moved to the department for further processing. Thereby, the card is missing at the control board. As soon as the downstream production section has processed all half finished products and the container is empty, the card is returned to one of the compartments at the planning board. Therefore, if no card is in the control boards, all containers are in circulation. Kanban boards fulfil several functions in control loops. For one thing, they help the planning of the sequence of production orders activated by the cards. For another, they help set the priority level. For this, the compartments are painted in traffic light colours. The first returning cards are sorted into the green compartments, the next ones into the yellow ones, and finally into the red ones. As a standardised and safe storage system, the planning boards also help prevent the loss of cards. The Georg Fischer GmbH & Co KG decided to use the product line cascading display from WEIGANG for their planning boards. The company, specialising in organisation and visualisation mediums, adapted the standard system in terms of size to the specifications of the Kanban orders of the Georg Fischer GmbH & Co KG in a custom job. The stable metal cascading display compartments were mounted on the wall or free-standing boards in an imbricated design. The system has a modular design, which makes it possible to expand the system downward or to the side without a problem by adding further parts.
Better Communication and more personal Responsibility
“One of the advantages of the Kanban system is the requirement of communication between the departments and the employees amongst themselves. The shift-leaders’ daily meetings take place in front of the boards. Furthermore, we have successfully strengthened the personal responsibility of the executive staff with the implementation of this system. Generally, we can now rely on a consistent flow of information across the departments”, explains Gerhard Hintersteiner, the technician responsible for the process planning area at the Georg Fischer GmbH & Co KG in Altenmarkt.
Regarding the workflow, the Kanban method has optimised the foundry’s material flow and set-up times, which has simultaneously led to a reduction of overtime. A great advantage is also the far clearer overview over inventory. Gerhard Hintersteiner: “Before the implementation of Kanban, taking inventory in the production area took around three days – Today, it’s already completed in half a day.”
The better organisation and visualisation also has an effect to the outside: When customers visit, information about their product’s status can be given immediately at the Kanban boards. After the successes with the pilot control loop foundry / further processing, by now the Georg Fischer GmbH & Co KG in Altenmarkt manages three control looks with Kanban – with yet more to follow.
“One of the advantages of the Kanban system is the need of communication between the departments and among the employees.”