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Keep Purchasing Simple In Your Dental Practice with Kanban

June 15, 2021

People first processes drive compliance. With the right systems and workflows, a little work goes a long way (otherwise known as increasing efficiencies).  If you’ve been to a grocery store and have seen the cards (also referred to as tags) at the end of an empty row of cans, you know what a Kanban system is.

In Japanese, the word kanban means billboard or signboard. It is a visual method for managing inventory flow and is a valuable Lean tool in achieving just-in-time (JIT) inventory. Although industrial engineer Taiichi Ohno originally developed it at Toyota, today, the method is recognized by businesses across industries.

using kanban to improve dental inventory management

Kanban is a pull (demand-driven) system, meaning the purchasing signal isn’t reliant on estimated or forecasted usage, but the actual physical movement of the product. Those cards you see on the store shelves? Those are Kanban cards that trigger an order to be placed once a certain quantity is left in stock. This helps to avoid over purchasing during slow periods. However, large spikes in requirements are also not accounted for and may cause a shortage, making Kanban best suited for items that have a relatively level and stable demand. Staple items that are regularly consumed and replenished are the perfect fit.

The Kanban Inventory Management Method for Dental Offices

Much like ROP and ROQ, the kanban inventory management method is designed to allow you to hold the minimum amount of inventory on hand that is necessary while avoiding stockouts and production disruptions. As we’ve said before, carrying high inventory on your dental supplies is costly and can run between 20 and 30% of the total cost of inventory. Essentially, Kanban works on the same principle, ordering a pre-set quantity when you get to a pre-set inventory level. The main difference being Kanban is a physical system, and ROP/ROQ is systems-based.

Since it’s inception, Kanban has since been adopted for many different applications by many different industries. It’s derivative, Personal Kanban is essentially a “live,” interactive to-do list made out of sticky notes. It sounds lame, we know, but there’s genius in its simplicity, it’s an extremely effective way to manage and prioritize workflow or team projects and keeps people focused on the most imperative tasks.

But we digress. Let’s get into how you can set-up Kanban for managing your dental supplies.

Intro to Using Kanban for Your Dental Practice

Setting up Kanban is a reasonably straightforward process. Using our handy little guide, calculate your reorder points and reorder quantities for your dental supply needs, grab some tags, and follow a few relatively easy-to-follow rules:

Rule #1: Never pass on defective dental products. Upon receiving, and preferably before signing the packing slip, deliveries should be looked over and confirmed to be accurate (what you ordered) and fit for use. Pushing damaged or incorrect product upstream puts you at risk of a shortage, as well as risking having to pay for unusable items.

Rule #2: Only take what you need. Do not hoard or keep your dental items in various locations. Remember the toilet paper scare of 2020? Kanban is not built to withstand spikes in demand. Falsifying demand by pulling product to hold rather than use causes over buying, hurts your bottom line, and risks a stockout.

Your Kanban tags should be placed at the reorder point and contain the following information:

  • The item identifier (supplier SKU or manufacturer number)
  • The reorder quantity
  • Who or where the card should go to 
  • Any additional information you feel the buyer will need to place the order for more dental products

Pair Kanban with Method

To achieve sustainable results and ease your dental supply ordering, implementing new systems and processes must be done with a “real-world” mindset. More mature inventory control and dental procurement procedures such as Methods system based ordering processes which utilizes reorder points come with added benefits. And ultimately, we believe that should be your goal. In the meantime, however, keeping it simple with tools like Kanban is one step in calming the chaos in your dental office and jetting you off in the right direction towards better dental procurement and improved dental supplies management.

For more information, contact Method to discuss how our tools can help you achieve Kanban principles and streamline your dental procurement process!