Get your shop floor organised II: what is the next work to take?

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Vincent Gerdes Published at

In my previous blog, I provided a bird’s eye view on the four quick checks to see how organised your shop floor is. I addressed turning resources into customer value that -in turn- delivers your P&L results. I applied a Gemba walk to observe all this in reality. And I described four guiding questions to look for visible evidence.

The four questions that reveal your level of shop floor control are:

  1. What is the next work to take?
  2. Are we ahead or behind?
  3. Where are our abnormal conditions?
  4. Do we solve our daily problems?

In this blog, I will discuss the interpretation and effective use of the first question: what is the next work to take. Upcoming blogs will address the other questions. The total assessment typically runs between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on your scope.

Next work to take

Observe what is the next work order, after the one currently on hand. Is it displayed at the work centre, are the raw materials and input information visibly available? Has it been physically verified? Ideally, all required materials are visible in a FIFO (First In First Out) lane feeding the workplace. If this one gets empty, anticipate a loss of capacity. If it is overloaded, expect a downstream bottleneck.

FIFO lane

Besides this signalling function, a benefit of FIFO lanes is that work centre down time reduces significantly. How often have you been taken by surprise when trusting a computer system promise that sufficient materials are available, in good shape and at the indicated location? How good and instantly up to date is your inventory control? Better to identify potential issues at an early stage, in order to find an alternative solution that keeps the work centre running. Without a FIFO lane you may ask your material handler to walk you through the picking and feeding process for the next work order, physically pointing out all required materials. If this is pretty time consuming, you may ask yourself how the work centre organises a timely signal to start and whether this is an efficient use of your labour resources at all.

Go deep

What is and what is not required for the next work order should be covered by some kind of Bill Of Materials or alternative description. Go through it item by item. You may find things that are in the lane but not on the list or vice versa. In both cases your employees often have a creative, so-called logical solution. Ask yourself if this indeed is the best way to control your materials.

A step further in this material availability is to look for so called “consumables”: the stuff they need to manufacture the products, but that are not on the BOM. Typical examples are greasing oil and cleaning agents. However, sometimes more than you’d expect is called a consumable as well, like labels, plastic wrapping, or printing ink. Would you agree that these are not part of the product costing? And more practically relevant: how is the timely replenishment organised? Is, for instance, a Kanban system in place?

Go wide

If you overlook all workplaces with its visible inbound and outbound material and information flow, can you spot locations where it is overloaded and others where it is quiet? Then there probably are opportunities to better balance the workload over or within the value streams. This will result in higher productivity.


With these Gemba walk questions in mind, the experienced eye can identify issues in your basic material and information flow, like stock outs, resource bottlenecks, ineffective shop floor scheduling, et cetera. Pointing them out is half solving them. Expect your manufacturing staff to resolve the issues that prevent smooth manufacturing of customer orders and come back to observe the results within a few weeks time.

Vincent Gerdes is Senior Business Process Consultant at R&G Global Consultants in the Netherlands.

Previous blog in this series: 4 Quick checks to get your shop floor organized
Next blog: are we ahead or behind?

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