Pull System Explained With Examples

Editorial Team

Pull System Explained

Manufacturers and producers across the world use the pull system mainly to save on resources and reduce wastage. But what exactly is a pull system? This article answers this question and explores the benefits of the pull system, and its use in lead manufacturing. It also looks at how Kanban is implemented in pull systems, and how a pull system differs from a push system.

What is a Pull System?

A pull system is a lean manufacturing process used in the production process to reduce waste. Ingredients or components used in the manufacturing process are replaced after being consumed; Companies make products that will meet customer demands. This means all the company resources will be used for the production of goods that will be sold immediately.

The pull system works backward. It starts with the customer order, which acts as visual signals to bring about actions and steps undertaken during the production process. In other words, the product is pulled by the consumer demand.

Pull System vs. Push System

The push system is also another system used mostly in supply chains. In a push system, components are produced according to forecasted demand then pushed to the market, unlike the pull system that uses actual demand. Companies that use the pull system face many challenges because they must predict what quantity needs to be produced and what will satisfy different customers.

Besides, markets can be very unpredictable. In the push system, companies ensure to make enough products that will satisfy future demand. But in the pull system, products are made with the sole aim of satisfying the current demand. In the push system, products remain in inventory until the day or time the products are needed. This can take weeks, months, years, or not happen at all, leading to a financial gap.

Benefits of Using A Pull System

Suppose you are shopping for cooking ingredients it will take an hour, cooking takes 30 minutes, and delivery takes ten minutes.  When using a pull system principle in your chain supply, you wouldn’t start buying the ingredients until a customer sits down at a table and order something. This results in the customer enjoying a fresh, high-quality meal, having inventory, and the flexibility to conduct your processes perfectly.

How many people are willing to wait for an hour and a half before they get their meal ready? This is how long the entire process takes, from procurement to manufacturing to delivery. Imagine 15 customers who showed up in intervals of 5 minutes apart, and all of them order the same thing.  What would you do?  Will you repeat the entire process from scratch every time customers show up?

That doesn’t seem very effective, and also, it will take time before you serve all of them. Even though there are many advantages when using the pull system approach – higher service levels, lower carrying costs, decreased inventory levels, and fewer markdowns – there are some serious drawbacks.

Manufacturing companies highly benefit from switching from a push to a pull system. Using a pull system within the company reduces waste since there is no overproduction. Using the pull system will help free up some space around the workplace, and it also reduces the cost of storing excess inventory.

Companies that use a pull system have great, and experience increased customer satisfaction as they manufacture specifically to fulfill the customer’s demand and interest. Businesses that use the pull system have high-quality products compared to the push system since they are in small quantities.  It can be easy to identify products with damages or poor-quality products since they are not in mass number and there will not be a big loss.

A pull system allows manufacturing facilities to save time because there is no overproduction and prediction. They only produce products that are sure to meet the customer’s demand instead of worrying and planning for future demand and mass-producing goods that may never be sold.

There is also increased flexibility for businesses using the pull system. It allows team members to work on one certain item after time. This will help the company work unit or team members to adopt the changes in the working process quickly, increase production, deliver work items faster and in time and improve workflow efficiency.

How to Implement Kanban in the Pull System

Signals which permit production materials to be replaced are called Kanbans. Kanban is the most used pull system framework. It is widely known because of its simplicity in application and how effective it is when delivering results. Kanban is originally applied in the manufacturing industries, but today it is being used by organizations and teams from various business companies. Implementing a kanban system can be easy if you exactly what you need to do to get it started and running.

Let’s explore ways to implement Kanban in the pull system

  • Visualize your workflow 

Before establishing Kanban, it is very important to know all the processes. When you map your process through a flowchart, it will be easy to visualize the correct steps that get your raw materials to become actual products.

The process flow is necessary for designing the main tool for implementing Kanban, known as (Kanban board). The kanban board has three columns, to do, in progress, and done. It helps identify improvement in your workflow.  When you can reduce unnecessary waste in your process, you can be establishing a steady stream of work through Kanban. 

When you have a high-level Kanban board with three columns will not help you surface those improvement opportunities.  When your Kanban board is ready, make sure you start creating task cards and establishing pull guidelines in your system. Prepare your team to pull in work when there is a demand for it. This will enable your team to increase and meet customer satisfaction at the right time.

  • Limit your work in progress (WIP)

Introducing this element limits to your workflow and helps your team focus on the current work and prevent them from switching tasks. WIP should reflect your team’s work capacity. Using WIP for the first time can be difficult to get it right but, checking the workflow regularly will enable you to adjust the WIP limit, which will let you see your team’s progress and what is suitable or best for your team.

  • Improve your pull signals

A pull signal is a clear indication that a task is ready to be pulled or processed to the next step. The major essential component of a pull system is the use of pull signals. They help indicate that new tasks are ready to be processed. A pull signal is activated in a Kanban pull system when the number of cards in a column drops below the limit. This is signal shows the column that a new task can move to the next step. Once the process limit is reached, no work or other process will occur until the outstanding one has been completed.

This prevents team burnout by ensuring that they only have as much work they can be able to conduct and handle. This also helps the overall workflow management and sets the guidelines for how your team will work.  

These process improvement models like; Kaizen, Six Sigma, and Value Stream Mapping will refine your Kanban Pull System. When you gather kanban metrics, these models will help surface and address bottlenecks and inefficiencies in your process.

Advantages of Kanban Pull Systems

Using kanban pull system will help you to:

  • Increase production since your team will be focused on.
  • Predict what time you will complete your work.
  • Eliminate wastes, reduce costs, and excess handling of work.

Pull System in Lean Manufacturing

Implementing lean manufacturing into any company or business can facilitate better efficiency, increase team morality and culture, and a healthy bottom line. The challenge comes when getting the ultimate goal of operations efficiency along the supply chain from how the business is currently operating.

Lean is a journey that involves everybody in the business, including external stakeholders, to eliminate waste and optimize all business processes, not only manufacturing companies.

Below is an example framework structure approach

  • Evaluation of business processes

This is the first crucial step to see whether the business performance financially and can be measured in a vast array of ways; mostly, by a set of KPIs and understanding the process analysis tools like process flow charts and gap analysis.

  • Identifying the right tools to apply to opportunity areas

Many lean terms, techniques, and concepts can address performance issues in manufacturing, the service industry, and the office environment.

  • Identifying the needed resources to achieve results

Without having appropriate resources, the lean or operations, it will be hard for the team to achieve their goals perfectly. As we know, resources are of different forms like financial capital, human and knowledge resources.

Pull System Examples

An example of a pull system isa local coffee shop that prepares coffee or hot beverages depending on customer orders. The hot beverage manufacturing process can’t start until an order is received from the customer.

So, the customer makes a signal when he/she buys a coffee, effectively pulling materials through the coffee-making system; this is an example of a pull system.

If there are no other orders, coffees can stock up since not sure if customers will come. They were making a lot of coffee without the correct prediction if customers would order or not consume a lot of time and resources.