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Visual management is a huge part of Lean Manufacturing and the Toyota Production System. It
is one of the simplest tools and often overlooked, due to it’s simplicity. As the name implies
Visual Management is the ability to manage everything in your factory (and support areas)
Visual management is the process of displaying critical information “so that anyone
entering a work place, even those who are unfamiliar with the detail of the processes,
can very rapidly see what is going on, understand it and see what is under control and
what isn’t. Essentially, the current status of the operation can be assessed, at a glance.”
On the factory floor, visual management can take shape in the form of key performance
indicators that relate to production quantity, speed and quality, as well as machine
uptime and downtime. In keeping with visual management’s requirement that the
information can be seen at a glance, the information is shown on large displays that can
be seen from a distance and by more personnel than just the machine operator.

The value of visual management has been known at least since the time of the Toyota
Production System, which was Toyota’s revolutionary “socio-technical system for
manufacturing” developed “between 1948 and about 1975”. One of the 14 principles
created by Toyota was the requirement to implement visual control so issues are not

Visual management aims to make the situation easily understood merely by looking at it. The
goal is to get as much information as possible with as little observation or time as possible.
Visual management complements well with the idea of going to the real place (Genchi
Genbutsu). It also intertwines closely with 5S.

The Japanese term is Mieruka (見える化 with 見える or mieru for being able to see and 化
or ka for the action of making something).

The purpose of visual management is to improve the effectiveness of communication and

reaction. This is one component of Lean Manufacturing.

Visual aids can convey messages quicker and invite more interest than written information. And
this also means exposing defects and problems to allow them to be addressed sooner....bad
news doesn't get better with time.

 Expose waste (7-wastes) and make it clear to everyone.

 The work area/cell/machine should "talk"to you in simple terms
 The goals should be clearly indicated
 The status of production should be found with the goals
 Simple problem solving tools on display (such as A3, 5-WHY)
 Increased communication is ultimately what all the above will do

Visual management offers other benefits including:

 Creates stability to the environment, equipment and work performed.

 Reduces errors and mistakes.
 Reduces downtime and maintenance costs.
 Increases the awareness of waste and waste management.
 Improves compliance to safety.
 Improves the communication between different shifts.
 Improves employees involvement and morale.
 Eliminates the need for time consuming meetings.
 Reinforces continuous improvement.

Many lean techniques and principles rely on visual management starting from floor marking
using adhesive floor tapes to the large visual displays and scoreboards. Visual management
serves as the key sustaining force for many popular lean techniques including 5S, standard
work, total productive maintenance (TPM), quick changeover, and pull production. It is
especially important during the early phase of Lean implementation when companies are using
concepts such as 5S and TPM to create standards and establish operational stability.

 5S is one of the most fundamental principle in Lean. It involves many visual activities
that can help create a better work environment. It suggests the use of colors and
labels to clearly mark storage locations for each item in the workplace. It also defines
inventory levels and reorder triggers to ensure everything is available as needed at
the point of use. If something is not normal, we want to make that as apparent as
 TPM visuals simplify preventive maintenance activities ensuring that equipment
remains in optimal running condition with minimal breakdowns. They can also be
used to identify and prevent abnormalities from turning into failures. Labeling and
marking gauges, oil levels and lube points are all examples of visual controls that
enables employees to easily detect abnormalities and out-of-specification conditions
at a glance. Evidence of equipment transparency should exist to ease set-up and
checking. It is also recommended that trouble logs are used at every machine.

 Safety visuals are important to keep the facility safe and environmental friendly.
They alert employees and visitors to potentially hazardous locations and situations to
prevent unsafe conditions. It’s important to properly identify fire protection
equipment, safety showers, eye wash stations, personal protective equipment, and
first aid stations. Signage, hazard warnings and safety instructions should be
provided at the point of need. All disconnect switches for every electrically powered
equipment should be clearly identified.
 A strong visual management system seeks to promote consistency and create
process stability. Standard work visuals help ensuring that tasks are always
performed by all in the most efficient and effective way possible. They include
procedures, work instructions, check sheets, checklists, flowcharts, schedules, photos
and one-point-lessons. These visuals will help minimize production errors and
ensures that workplace standards are adhered to by all. Remember that the best
visuals are those that include photos and/or drawings and those that are placed at
the point of need.

Four Approaches to Visual Management

In my view there are different directions you can go with visual management. I will discuss
them here in order of preference, with the best one at the end.

1. Visual Management with Data Displays

Visual management can be done by putting data on display on the shop floor. It is usually my
least-preferred way, but with some information it is difficult to do otherwise.

One common example is digital information displays, often called Andons. On such information
displays you can usually see the production rate, the quality defects, and the status of the

The idea is again that the data is right there on the shop floor. This is useful if there is no easier
way to visualize the system.
2. Visual Management with Markings

Another approach is to mark and label locations on the shop floor. Using different colors you
can mark what goes where, and label the places so that the items and tools go to the correct

A lot of such markings are actually government regulated. For example, all fire- and emergency-
related markings are examples of visual management.

3. Visual Management with Tools and Parts

The best type of visual management is if the information about the system can be seen in the
system directly. If you create a graph or a data display, there is a chance that it is outdated or
simply wrong. Whereas if you see inventory on the shop floor or tools in a drawer directly,
the information is up-to-date, and less likely to be incorrect.

Common examples are tool drawers where each tool has its own location. You can see
immediately which tool goes where and which tool is missing.

A similar approach is a shadow board, where the shadow of each tool is outlined. The shadow
board here was used at Alcatraz prison in San Francisco. At the end of the shift, the guards
could see immediately if all knives were returned, or if an inmate was walking around with a
potential weapon..

4. Visual Management using Layout

This can also be done with material. A good FiFo lane not only manages inventory but also
shows you where your material is, how much more work there is, and many other details on
your process.

Even the overall material flow can be visualized through the arrangement of the machines.
A flow shop is so much easier to understand than a job shop, since the machines are arranged
in the product flow. It is much easier to understand where the flow of material is hampered.