University of Wisconsin-Madison

Print Preview

Return to previous page

POLCA The People-friendly Production Control System for High-mix, Low-volume and Custom Products See upcoming dates


Learn from the inventor of POLCA! Rajan Suri, founding director of the Center for Quick Response Manufacturing, will conduct this workshop.

POLCA (Paired-cell Overlapping Loops of Cards with Authorization) is a card-based visual control system that manages the flow of jobs through the shop floor.

At each operation it

  • controls which job should be worked on next to meet delivery targets.
  • ensures that upstream operations use their capacity effectively by working on jobs that are needed downstream
  • prevents excessive work-in-process (WIP) build-ups when bottlenecks appear unexpectedly.

POLCA is particularly suited to companies manufacturing high-mix, low-volume and custom products, for which Kanban systems do not work well. These companies often struggle with long lead times, late deliveries, and daily expediting. POLCA has delivered impressive results in such companies, including 50-75% reduction in inventory and lead times, and on-time delivery improved to over 98%.

POLCA Builds on the Capabilities of Humans in the System

Many software-based scheduling systems lose sight of the fact that such systems are deployed by people who need to buy in to the system and support it. This has resulted in ineffective or failed implementations. In contrast, experience with many companies has shown that people on the front line like using POLCA, and they help to ensure that it works well.

POLCA Builds on Cells, Teams and Ownership

Many companies are implementing cells and creating shop floor teams that have ownership of their areas. POLCA not only builds on this structure but also takes advantage of it to get improved performance from these teams. In addition, it supports better coordination and cooperation between different shop floor teams.

POLCA Eliminates the Daily Stress of Hot Jobs

Employees learn that the simple, visual signals from POLCA enable them to react quickly to shop floor realities such as bottlenecks, part shortages, and customer expedites without getting lost in the complexity. As problems are eliminated, management and supervisors’ time is liberated to focus on strategic improvements instead of daily fire-fighting.

The Crowning Aspect of POLCA is That it is Simple

Utilizing POLCA does not require any complex software implementation: it can be used without an ERP system or it can seamlessly complement an existing ERP system.

Workshop Content

  • The Need for a New Control Strategy: See why ERP/MRP systems and Kanban do not work well in low-volume or custom environments.
  • Understanding POLCA: Learn the simple rules that drive this visual card-based system, and the operational benefits that result.
  • Computer Simulation: Experience how POLCA works in an example company through this visualization.
  • Overview of book on POLCA: Get a “walk-through” of Suri’s new book with tips on how to use it to support your POLCA system design and implementation.
  • Industry Case Studies: See practical examples showing the effectiveness of POLCA for companies in many industries in USA, Canada, and Europe.
  • Implementing POLCA: Stepwise approach to designing and implementing POLCA in your company.


The Need for a New Material Control Strategy

Learn why MRP systems can result in an increasing spiral of long lead times and late deliveries, and why concepts such as Takt time and Kanban do not work well in low-volume or custom environments.

Detailed Explanation of POLCA

POLCA stands for Paired-cell Overlapping Loops of Cards with Authorization. This hybrid push/pull system combines the best features of card-based pull (Kanban) systems and push (MRP) systems while overcoming their drawbacks for low-volume and custom production. See how POLCA uses simple visual signals to manage capacity, while at the same time preventing excessive work-in-process (WIP) build-ups when bottlenecks appear unexpectedly.

Computer Animation of POLCA

A computer animation will demonstrate how POLCA works for a company making low-volume and custom-engineered products.

Operational Benefits from Implementing POLCA

You will learn about numerous benefits that companies experience after implementing POLCA, and understand why these benefits are the result of the POLCA system.

Industry Case Studies of POLCA Application

Case studies will show the effectiveness of POLCA for companies in many industries in USA, Canada, and Europe, including:

  • Using POLCA in an Aluminum Extrusion Operation
  • Applying POLCA in a Pharmaceutical Environment
  • Improving Delivery Performance at a Custom Hinge Manufacturer
  • Implementing POLCA at a Metalworking Subcontractor
  • How POLCA reduced lead times and improved quality in a Glass Factory

Steps to Design and Implement POLCA

Get an overview of the steps needed to design, implement, and launch POLCA successfully in your company.

Overview of Book on POLCA

You will get a “walk-through” of Suri’s book to provide you with an overview of the contents, as well as tips on how to best use the book as a resource to support your POLCA system analysis, design, implementation, and launch.


Rajan Suri

Rajan Suri is Emeritus Professor of Industrial Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He received his Bachelors degree from Cambridge University (England) and his M.S. and Ph.D. from Harvard University.

Professor Suri is the Founding Director of the Center for Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, through which around 300 companies have worked with the University on developing and implementing QRM and POLCA strategies. Dr. Suri is author of several books on QRM. He is also the inventor of POLCA and author of the first book on this system: "The Practitioner's Guide to POLCA".

Dr. Suri has consulted for leading firms including Alcoa, Boeing, AT&T, Danfoss, Ford, Harley-Davidson, Hewlett Packard, IBM, John Deere, National Oilwell Varco, Pratt & Whitney, Rockwell Automation and TREK Bicycle. Consulting assignments in Europe and the Far East have given him an international perspective on manufacturing competitiveness.

Professor Suri has received awards from the American Automatic Control Council, The Institute of Management Sciences and the IEEE. In 1999, Suri was made a Fellow of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), and in 2006 he received SME’s Albert M. Sargent Progress Award for the creation and implementation of the Quick Response Manufacturing philosophy. In 2010 Rajan Suri was inducted into the Industry Week 2010 Manufacturing Hall of Fame.

Take this event when it’s offered next!

Past dates