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Kawasaki Ditches Kanban Cards and Accelerates its Product Assembly Processes

IS Supervisor Jay Kamradt says automating its processes saves Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing $3,000 a day in payroll costs — Photo by Matt Miller


Customer: Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing Corp., U.S.A.
Headquarters: Lincoln, Neb.
Business: Manufacturer of all-terrain and utility vehicles, personal watercraft and passenger rail cars
Challenge: Reduce its reliance on manually intensive and costly kanban cards
Solution: Uses several tools from LANSA to electronically control many aspects of the assembly process
Hardware: An IBM BladeCenter PS700
Software: LANSA CodeStart ERP Frameworks, LongRange and Visual LANSA

Working an assembly line was once a painstaking and messy job—especially in disorganized shops where parts were scattered everywhere. That’s why many companies began using kanban cards, to help line workers keep track of parts inventory and locations. But these cards—which are actual, physical cards—created their own issues.

In the case of Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing Corp. U.S.A. (KMM), using the kanban cards added up to about $3,000 in payroll costs per day, according to estimates by Jay Kamradt, KMM IS supervisor. Not only was this process expensive, but it was also inefficient in some ways, despite the kanban promise of streamlining manufacturing processes. As Kamradt notes, the cards would sometimes be misplaced or lost, resulting in assembly line delays and too much inventory on hand. “Our goal has always been just-in-time manufacturing, so we had to find a suitable replacement for the cards,” he explains.

By using several LANSA tools, including LANSA CodeStart ERP Frameworks, LongRange and Visual LANSA, the manufacturer now employs the electronic equivalent of the physical kanban cards. This has eliminated the $3,000-a-day card-handling cost, improved assembly line processes and significantly reduced on-hand inventory.

Bucking a Trend

Headquartered in Lincoln, Neb., KMM is a subsidiary of the Japan-based Kawasaki Heavy Industries. Although Kawasaki was once known primarily for its high-powered motorcycles, it has since branched out to include all-terrain and utility vehicles, personal watercraft, and even passenger rail cars, most of which are manufactured at the KMM facility. The customers for its utility and watercraft products vary, ranging from ranchers and farmers to construction workers, hunters or speed enthusiasts.

“We build all sorts of things here, as well as assemble the final products,” Kamradt says. “Those products are then shipped and sold not only in the United States, but also throughout the rest of the world. We’re kind of bucking the outsourcing trend.”

It’s also bucking the stand-alone server trend. Instead of deploying one-off boxes—virtualized or not—the company is using a consolidated IBM BladeCenter* PS700 running IBM i that’s attached to an IBM XIV* storage system. The primary production application running in this environment was developed using LANSA CodeStart ERP Frameworks, which handles KMM’s financials and inventory, among other functions. “It’s homegrown, based on the LANSA framework, and over the years we’ve modified it to tightly fit our business model,” Kamradt explains.

The company has also heavily modified how its manufacturing process works. In the past, this involved using kanban cards. In KMM’s just-in-time manufacturing environment, these cards were used to signal the receiving department to deliver parts to the assembly line. For example, when parts inventory reached a predetermined level, the assemblers would turn a card in to the inventory department. The cards included information such as part numbers, part descriptions, the location of the parts in the receiving warehouse and where the parts should be delivered on the assembly line. “The kanban cards were the only way assemblers could get the parts they needed,” Kamradt says.

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.

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