Thursday, October 4, 2012

Using a Heijunka Box to Smooth Production Flow

Heijunka is a very important management concept created by Toyota Motors. It refers to the smoothing of production in order to eliminate stress on the system caused by spikes and drops in production. This enables the company to apportion its resources evenly throughout the year and it also puts less stress on people and machinery. Production takes place in small batches so that fluctuations are controlled easily.
A Heijunka box is a very effective tool that enables this concept to be implemented correctly. It is a grid that divides the complete work into smaller units. The grid takes the form of a set of boxes arranged as pigeonholes. Each box represents a day or even a week and is filled with cards that represent individual jobs.
Each column in the grid is for an identical period of time, whether it is minutes, hours, days or weeks. The rows might have different numbers of cards, but they generally are arranged in a pattern that repeats itself. The production line might make different things during a particular period but they are manufactured at a constant rate.
Very simply put, the cards are fitted into each slot based upon the work plan for that period. These cards are generally colored according to a code. Workers arrive at the shop floor and make their way to the Heijunka box from where they draw their cards for a particular period. This enables them to do the job according to a plan, thereby ensuring that work gets completed in the correct manner.
This particular management concept is very useful to the manufacturing industry since it eliminates most of the stress caused due to drastic fluctuations in production throughout the year. Companies that use this concept do not need to pay over time to employees during certain times of the year or even keep people on the payroll even though there is no work for them. Since production is constant throughout the year, the company can buy raw materials at very good prices without paying a premium for them. The finished products will also have high quality and fewer mistakes since the workers will do the work at a regular pace.
The other advantage of using Heijunka is that it helps a company to control inventory easily. It is able to meet customer demand, thereby ensuring that the company retains its competitive edge in an increasingly worsening business environment.

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