Meta Fab: Kanban in Metal Goods Manufacturing

Customer story

Meta Fab Incorporated Logo

Industry: Manufacturing

Use case: Process and project management

Organization: Meta Fab, innovative metal processing shop

Favorite features: Import, card definition, search & filtering, power-ups, tech support

Meta Fab Incorporated is an innovative, quick turn, single point of contact metal processing faculty in Hillsboro, Oregon, delivering confidence to customers.
Roger Jensen, the company's Lean Project Manager, was kind enough to share his team's experience of Kanban Tool with us.


Please, tell us what is your work about - could you describe your workflow?
We are a small sheet metal job shop with about 45 employees (a job shop doesn't design/manufacture/sell its own products, but rather builds parts to customer specification in small, periodic batches. In our case, we cut, form, add hardware, powder coat, and print sheet metal). While we have an ERP system that provides reports of customer orders (jobs), we lacked an effective method for all employees to align on daily priorities, and view future and late orders because the ERP system required system access (most shop floor employees don't have accounts or access to computers), the canned reports are only up-to-date when printed, and the canned reports aren't customized to provide all the information necessary for employees to have complete job knowledge.

To promote better alignment and communication, we took the following actions:

  • Started a morning stand up meeting with account managers, production leads, and production managers to review the day's jobs, share status, and establish priorities
  • Created a physical board with a grid arranged horizontally by week day, and vertically by these categories: Late, This Week, Next Week, Out-to-Subcontractor, on Hold
  • Defined and implemented tagnets (magnets with a wet-erase writable side) with: Customer, Job#, Part Number, Quantity, and Due Date. Quite rapidly, the following information was also added: Special Process Codes (ex. Powder coating, silk screening), whether or not it was out-to-sub (OTS), whether it was a kanban item, etc.

Each tagnet had to be handwritten, and once the job was shipped each one needed to be rinsed and dried...tagnets were a significant time sink. Furthermore, acquiring the ERP system information required to fill out the tagnets was time consuming, requiring multiple screens or reports with much exporting and clean up. The weekly effort to create, post, and clean the tagnets consumed at least 4-5 person-hours each week.
While these actions permitted us to pilot the visual job board in terms of layout and required information, we knew we'd want to automate the process, including an electronic board that could be more easily managed and that could be accessible throughout the shop. We therefore began three parallel efforts:

  • Evaluate options and select an electronic tool to replace the physical board and tagnets
  • Work with the ERP provider to develop a single custom report designed for a single, easy export
  • Develop a Excel VBA 'macro' to filter the custom ERP report and prepare job data for import into the electronic board

We evaluated started with 6-10 potential electronic board solutions, all designed, like Kanban Tool, for project management, and we did the free trial on 3. Only Kanban Tool met our requirements for card and board settings (including using the various plug-ins), usability, and cost, so we purchased two licenses and set about developing our board and processes.
Once we were confident that we were ready to go to a pilot phase, we purchased a 3rd license, and more recently a 4th since we've gone live. And, recent improvements in Kanban Tool's import capability have made the entire process very fast, reliable, and more automated (it takes only 3 minutes a week to run the ERP report, extract and clean up the data, and import it into Kanban Tool). Finally, we are able to quickly edit the board during our stand up meeting to change status (card color), edit information (such as quantities, due dates), assign actions, move cards between grid locations, or delete them, ensuring the board is up to date and reflects priorities and status visually to anyone passing by or viewing remotely. And the search and filter functions enable area leads to quickly locate jobs and filter for those specific to their area scheduled any time in the next two weeks.

What kind of processes do you manage using Kanban Tool?
We manage a visual shop floor job board showing a 2-week window for scheduled shipments. In our implementation, each card represents a discrete customer job, and its location and color represents the job's requirements, current status and schedule. This permits users to see the daily work load, and whether jobs are on schedule, in jeopardy, late, or at sub-contractors. As a result, we don't flow the cards between columns or swim lanes, but place them based on due date, and move only occasionally between swim lanes.

What does your board and card template look like?
Click on the image below to see the full size in new window: MetaFab board NDAed

What features or integrations do you value most in Kanban Tool and why?

  • Import feature - permits us to drop data into all 15-20 column-swim lane locations to create 100+ cards in one quick process
  • Card definition – allows us to customize cards to our needs to convey the information relevant to each job
  • Search & filtering – permits users to quickly locate job cards, or filter the board to see specific statuses
  • Power-ups – anything I couldn’t do with the vanilla version I have been able to do with the added capabilities of the plug ins
  • Tech support – all questions answered quickly, competently, and in a friendly manner

What are the most important benefits of using Kanban Tool for you?

  • Significantly reduces non-value added labor to create and maintain a visual shop floor scheduling and status board, plus permits the board to be viewed/edited by users at their work location, not the single physical board site (from hours/week to minutes/day)
  • Easy navigation and card editing/movement/deletion
  • Allowed us to automate an existing process, not change a process to fit the tool.