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Is Color-Coding The New Universal Language For The Manufacturing Industry?

Is Color-Coding The New Universal Language For The Manufacturing Industry?

Thu May 25 2017
By: Mike P

The biggest barrier of entry for the manufacturing industry has always been the language that surrounds it. We’ve spoken about it at length in previous blog posts, and it’s no secret to anyone familiar with the industry: manufacturing is an extremely complex and intricate workspace that requires familiarity for success.

That’s not to say a supply chain manager from Company A could waltz into a facility owned by Company B and have a complete understanding of their operations; that’s not how it works. There has to be context in order to find understanding. Sure, numbers and mathematics are universally understood, but if someone was present you with a handful of numbers without any context, would you be able to make any sense of them? I’ll answer that for you: No.

Of course given a handful of weeks and enough time with a supervisor, most engineers would be able to grasp the inner-workings of a new facility. But what happens when language barriers make communication impossible, or when that time isn’t available?

For years manufacturers have relied on signage to display important information throughout a facility. These visuals are designed to offer both management and their workforce an overview of key insights into the manufacturing process in a matter of seconds—you may even know of a company that makes them (wink, wink).

As commonplace as signage is to the industry, there’s still no concrete form of uniformity to their design. Layouts vary on a manufacturer-by-manufacturer basis; they can be placed virtually anywhere within a facility. Some facilities use signs as a form of safety tracking, while others use signage to indicate material flow along a value stream. No two factories in existence are using visual mapping in an identical manner, so what makes signage a must-have for factories across the globe?

Regardless of whether a sign is hanging above an important piece of a machinery or within an employee locker room, chances are you’ll notice a pattern of three familiar colors: green, red, and yellow. Each color is universally understood as a status symbol with green representing that the tracked event or component is in good standing; yellow signifying something could be improved upon, and red highlighting an event that requires immediate attention.

Incorporating colors as part of a process mapping strategy offers manufacturers with an easy-to-read indication for the current status of events without the need for additional information. Outsiders that are unfamiliar with a facility can easily walk into a workspace and instantly gain a base-level understanding for the performance of any given factory. Think about it: Job orders can be labeled as complete, in- process or overdue, while component flow can be labeled as available, in low quantity, or out of stock—all of this is done with the help of a simple color code.

This is not to say that mathematics is useless and that metrics are not as vital to the manufacturing process as they are made out to be. That’s not the case at all. Metrics are still—and always will be—a vital element to measuring the successfulness of your supply chain. However, when it comes to communicating the value and accomplishments of your factory, there’s really one universal method that provides both context and clarity without sacrificing time or running into communication barriers.

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