VMAC Kanban: LEAN Manufacturing

VMAC Lean Series: Kanban

Kanban is a visual signal that’s used to trigger an action. Kanban is used as an inventory control system that relies on visual signals to indicate steps in an organization’s manufacturing process. Translated from Japanese, Kanban means “signboard” or “billboard”.

In a manufacturing application, Kanban begins when a customer’s order is received, and from there production flows. VMAC employs LEAN Manufacturing methodology, where parts are only produced when there’s a Kanban signal for it. Kanban can be referred to as a “pull system” as all parts are pulled from the customers’ orders.

Clothes pins on VMAC Kanban bins

Example of the clothes pin system in effect.

This system is used within VMAC’s LEAN Manufacturing operations. VMAC has a few different Kanban methods: Kanban labels are placed on the front of parts bins with information such as the part number, the name of the part, the number of bins of its kind, and the quantity for refilling the bin. Visual signs (Kanban) are used to notify coworkers of empty bins. In some cases, the bin will be turned around so the label is facing the back, or in other cases a red clothes pin will be pinned to the bin. The system provides a consistent method for coworkers to visually identify when parts need to be restocked. An optimized Kanban system streamlines workflow in a sustainable way.

The inspiration for using a Kanban system in manufacturing was born when Toyota engineers noticed that grocery store clerks restocked their shelves based on their store’s inventory, rather than their vendors’ supply. Items were only ordered when their current supply on the shelves was about to sellout, resulting in less waste for the store, and more consistently stocked shelves for their customers.

How Does the Machine Shop Kanban Work at VMAC?

VMAC Kanban parts ready to be delivered to internal customers

Full bins in the machine shop are ready to be picked up or distributed back to Internal Customers.

Stock shortages and empty parts bins at VMAC are constantly monitored, and to prevent shortages that create production bottlenecks there is a Kanban system in place in the machine shop. This system allows for parts to be made on an as-needed basis. Production coworkers, “Internal Customers”, request more parts from the machinists, “Internal Suppliers”, when the inventory is low.


Typically, the system will be set up with two bins (or more) per part. At the end of each day, Internal Customers will take their empty bins to the machine shop to have the bins refilled. Bins are clearly labeled and there are designated areas for empty bins to be dropped off. Once refilled to the maximum quantity outlined, the bins are placed in the full bin section for pick-up or distribution.

For this system to work, the time it takes to replenish a batch of parts must be shorter than the time it takes to use all the parts in the second bin, otherwise the second bin will run out of parts before the first bin is refilled, creating a bottleneck in production.

VMAC’s Kanban House Rules

To keep production flowing smoothly, there are guidelines that must be followed. Each part has its own minimum and maximum levels, which are noted on the Kanban labels on the bin. No new parts in the Kanban system are to be produced by the Internal Suppliers without an empty bin being present, and the quantity produced cannot exceed the maximum quantity number on the bin. No partial stock can be withdrawn, only full bins may be returned by Internal Suppliers. If multiple bins of the same part are queued to be refilled, first-in / first-out (FIFO) rules apply.

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Benefits of Kanban at VMAC

The Kanban system plays a vital role in VMAC’s LEAN journey, which seeks to maximize value for customers while minimizing waste.

By using the Kanban system, VMAC can focus on continuous delivery of parts to the production department responsible for building VMAC air compressors and multipower systems. By ensuring parts are available when they are needed, VMAC’s production teams can avoid bottlenecks in the manufacturing process, increasing the teams’ productivity. This translates into improved lead times for those ordering new products, which offers clear value for customers.

Meanwhile, waste from the over-production of parts, defective parts, and waiting is minimized. Producing smaller batches of parts allows for agile iterations in the parts resulting in fewer obsolete parts leftover if a sudden change needs to be made.

Kanban is in effect currently at VMAC, and has been continuously evolving and improving since its implementation years ago. Though this article mainly describes the Kanban system for parts in the machine shop, the next step is to have a Kanban system set up for VMAC’s finished products, such as the diesel, gas, and hydraulic driven air compressors. Once in place, lead times for these compressors will be greatly improved.

Interested in learning more about LEAN Manufacturing at VMAC? Browse our LEAN Blog Series, which includes the 5S program.

VMAC LEAN Manufacturing: 5S

VMAC LEAN Series: 5S Program

Welcome to our VMAC LEAN Blog Series. Here we’ll share various aspects of LEAN and how we specifically apply them to our everyday operations. LEAN Enterprise is part of VMAC’s continuous improvement culture—driven by the goal of maximizing value and minimizing waste. The advancements and improvements make for a healthier organization and allow us to pass additional value on to our customers. See an intro to VMAC LEAN Enterprise.

The first blog in our LEAN series is on VMAC’s 5S Program. The 5S methodology is a valuable tool in VMAC’s LEAN culture, developed to improve organizational efficiency through 5 different steps. The term 5S originates from five Japanese words starting with the letter S: Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke. Translated, Seiri means tidiness, Seiton means orderliness, Seiso means cleanliness, Seiketsu means standardization, and Shitsuke means discipline. To stay consistent with the five S’s, the English terms have been modified to Sort (Seiri), Set in Order (Seiton), Shine (Seiso), Standardize (Seiketsu), and Sustain (Shitsuke).

Step 1: Sort (Seiri)


The Electrical Department’s Red Tag items.

The first step in the 5S methodology is to Sort. Getting a workspace sorted is important as it helps spot and address any problems with efficiency right away. This means sorting through each item in the area, keeping only what is needed. Each item should be inventoried and classified—it’s important to be honest about each item’s purpose as it can be a slippery slope to save items just because one day they might be needed. At VMAC, each coworker is responsible for sorting their workspaces, and teams work together to tidy shared spaces.

While sorting, it’s routine to “red tag” items that are not needed in the area or have no home. Each department at VMAC has its own Red Tag Area where these items are left for 30 days. During this 30-day period, potential owners are welcome to review the item to see if it can be repurposed. After 30 days, the items are recycled or disposed of.

Step 2: Set In Order (Seiton)

Now that an area’s items have been sorted, it’s time to Set the workspace in order, and find a


An example of a shadow board in VMAC’s Quality Department. Note the outlines for each tool, as well as the labels.

specific place for each item. Items should be identifiable, easy to access, and set so that anyone can tell where to return something. Items that are not frequently used can be stored out of the way.

At VMAC, a combination of labels and tool shadow boards are used to keep items organized. Labels are placed on the outside of cabinets so that coworkers are able to see where items are stored without having to search through shelves and storage areas. In the shops, tool shadow boards provide a visual aid to quickly identify missing items, and show where items should be returned.

Step 3: Shine (Seiso)


Floors are swept clean every day in the shops.

After a workspace has been sorted and set in order, it’s now time to Shine it up. This means keeping the area clean and in ready-to-use condition at all times. At the end of the day each area should be returned to the clean state it was in at the start of the work day. While cleaning, VMAC coworkers take the time to inspect machines, equipment and tools to ensure everything is in good condition.

In the shops and offices, each coworker is responsible for keeping their own work space clean as well as common areas and shared equipment.

Step 4: Standardize (Seiktsu)

Now that the area has been organized and cleaned, it’s time to Standardize—maintain uniformity and follow best practices in the workplace. Visual aids, simple work instructions, and documentation help ensure standardization. For example, every VMAC department has a 5S schedule posted to show who’s in charge of keeping communal areas clean and tidy. The schedule also specifies if each task is to be completed daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly.

At VMAC, standardization is ongoing as best practices evolve with experience and changing requirements.

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Step 5: Sustain (Shitsuke)


This photo shows a drawer of tools, each with their own space. There’s also a photo included for reference, which shows how the drawer is supposed to look.

The 5S methodology is an ongoing commitment to organization and efficiency, and the final step involves Sustaining progress made, even as new equipment, products, and policies are implemented. Continuing to review systems helps prevent new challenges from occurring. For example, a common challenge is maintaining a clutter-free workspace. Once an area has been 5S’d, there’s often lots of free space which can attract new clutter. For this reason, constant vigilance is the key to 5S at VMAC.


This document is a recent example of the Marketing Department’s recent 5S Audit.

As part of the Sustain step, VMAC coworkers perform monthly 5S audits. What’s more, coworkers audit departments that are not their own, to allow for a fresh set of eyes to identify opportunities. LEAN coaches are also available to help guide coworkers in this exercise.


LEAN is part of each VMAC coworker’s individual performance evaluation; this encourages everyone to make LEAN and 5S a priority. 5S wins are celebrated as well, with before and after photos posted to show off each department’s progress. Success stories are shared in the monthly VMAC newsletter as well, inspiring coworkers to continue their commitment to LEAN.

Learn more about VMAC and our company culture, or lean manufacturing. Interested in our line of compact and powerful air compressors? Visit our air compressors page.

Top 5 Reasons To Work With An ISO 9001 Registered Company

VMAC ISO Certified

VMAC’s ISO 9001:2015 Certification

The International Organization of Standardization (ISO) has recently awarded VMAC the ISO 9001:2015 certification. This respected certification recognizes companies for outstanding quality management systems (QMS) and standardization.

Benefits to Choosing an ISO 9001:2015 Certified Supplier

When choosing a supplier, be it for air compressors, multi-power systems, or something entirely different, it’s important to ensure you’re selecting the best option for your business. There are many benefits to choosing an ISO 9001 certified supplier, all of which improve customer satisfaction. Below are the top five reasons you will benefit from working with an ISO 9001 registered company.

1. Standardization

  •  ISO 9001 outlines the criteria for an organization’s quality management system, which drives standardization. Standardization results in a quality product each time that meets the required specifications; customers can expect the same exceptional products and services every time.

2. On-Time Delivery

  • With standardization comes efficiency, resulting in on-time delivery of products and services. An ISO certified company already has processes in place to calculate lead times and coordinate each step in the process from the initial order to the delivery of the product. These systems and relationships with trusted shipping companies result in fewer unexpected delays.

3. Cost Reduction

  • In addition to standardization and QMS, ISO 9001 focuses on continuous improvement in refining processes. In the case of manufacturing, ISO 9001 companies are constantly looking for ways to eliminate waste and operate more efficiently to deliver more value to customers.

4. Reliability

  • Having a QMS in place results in reliable products, meaning fewer failures, compared to those that don’t. Whether it be reliable parts, equipment, or customer service, standardization and quality management sets a company up for success in its deliverables. And if there are inconsistencies, an ISO 9001 certified company already has a process set up to identify and resolve the issue, plus improve the process to prevent the problem from replicating itself.

5. Improved Customer Satisfaction

  • Each of the above reasons result in improved customer satisfaction—the guiding principle of ISO is to ensure the quality of the products and services being offered consistently improves and meets the needs of customers.

Choosing an ISO 9001 certified company offers many benefits to you and your company, though we’ve just listed the top five. Visit the International Organization of Standardization’s website to learn more about ISO 9001.

Interested in learning more about how VMAC is continuously improving operations? Visit our LEAN blog series, which goes over topics including the VMAC Kanban system, and the 5S program.

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