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Despite some good news, the sluggish economy continues to take a toll on manufacturing as a whole. The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond’s index of manufacturing activity fell to a -10 from -1 the previous month, indicating a contraction in manufacturing activity. However, the world of manufacturing is seeing some positive signs. The auto industry has again started to invest in new plants. In addition, news publications recently reported global factory expansions in the glass and ceramic industries. A new study from ABI Research entitled “Global Photovoltaic Cells and Modules Market” reports that the U.S. photovoltaic (PV) market is expected to become the largest market for annual PV installations by 2013.
What does all this mean for the global world of manufacturing? Essentially, manufacturers must respond by remaining focused on continuous improvement. In a tight economy, some companies may feel that they have limited resources to apply to this type of project. The result is that efforts to improve are often idled. Even in a world with limited resources, however, an organization must be mindful of what Goldman stresses: “There’s always a better way, and never a best way.”1
One way to put improvements into action is through the application of the Kaizen philosophy. Translated from its Japanese origin, Kaizen means improvement. Since its implementation after World War II, this philosophy has grown in acceptance in industries and organizations around the world.
What is Kaizen?Kaizen represents a change for the better. It refers to a philosophy or a set of practices that focuses on the continuous improvement of processes in manufacturing or any other organizational environment. It can be applied to both manufacturing and business processes, such as logistics, engineering, and supply chain.
When used from a broader business perspective and applied to the workplace, Kaizen refers to activities that continually improve all functions, and involves all employees from the shop workers and engineers up to the CEO.
In other words, Kaizen is “a system of continuous improvement in quality, technology, processes, company culture, productivity, safety and leadership.”2 As such, “everyone is encouraged to come up with small improvement suggestions on a regular basis. This is not a once-a-month or once-a-year activity. It is continuous. In Japanese companies, such as Canon, a total of 60-70 suggestions per employee per year are written down, shared and implemented.”3
It is important to keep in mind that Kaizen is a component of lean manufacturing. Contrary to a common belief, lean does not just mean running an operation with fewer employees. It is much broader than that. The Lean Enterprise Institute, an organization that advances lean thinking throughout the world, emphasizes that:
Lean thinking changes the focus of management from optimizing separate technologies, assets, and vertical departments to optimizing the flow of products and services through entire value streams that flow horizontally across technologies, assets, and departments to customers. Eliminating waste along entire value streams, instead of at isolated points, creates processes that need less human effort, less space, less capital, and less time to make products and services at far less costs and with much fewer defects, compared with traditional business systems. Companies are able to respond to changing customer desires with high variety, high quality, low cost, and with very fast throughput times. Also, information management becomes much simpler and more accurate.4
Thus, Kaizen is a building block for making improvements that reduce waste and inefficiency in the process. Another way of looking at this is to ask, “How can we make what we do better, so that we can add more value for our customer while building a stronger company and market position?”
Starting your learning process is the first key step. Numerous articles and books focus on the topic, along with consultancies and agencies that specialize in Kaizen, Kaizen events, and lean manufacturing. (The sidebar provides suggested sources.) After you have done some reading, a next step can be to institute Kaizen events.
Kaizen EventsImprovement consultant Greg Hart describes a Kaizen event as “a breakthrough workshop-planned, organized, and facilitated to challenge and enable a cross-functional team of five to 10 members to design or improve the designated process. Team members immediately apply what they learn about lean and other improvement tools to solve problems. Changes are dramatic. Analysis, brainstorming and targeted actions deliver operational performance breakthroughs.”5
Tom McBride of Partners for Creative Solutions provides a supportive point by stating that Kaizen events can be used when an organization experiences any of the following challenges:6
- Urgent need for a solution
- Competitive crisis
- High customer dissatisfaction
- Big impact projects
- Significant impact on sales or profits
- Intolerable, prolonged disruption
To conduct the event, you will need to make sure your team has dedicated enough work time (including preparation time) for the event. You will also want to have a trained leader or experienced outside resource to run the event. Preparation for the team should typically include the following:7
- Training (e.g., lean concepts, Kaizen basics, 5S and problem-solving techniques)
- Problem definition and goal setting
- Documenting the current state (e.g., flow charting and value-stream mapping)
- Brainstorming and developing a vision for the future process
- Implementation (e.g., how to standardize a process and monitor results)
- Developing a follow-up plan
- Presenting results
- Celebrating successes
In short, it will take the whole organization working together to make the improvement happen. In order to support this level of action, the team (along with others) needs to have the appropriate training. With this training, team members should then be able to standardize processes to the new, improved level, train everyone involved to the new standard and monitor the results over time.8
Benefits of Kaizen EventsMuch of the recent research and writing on Kaizen events highlights that there are qualitative and quantitative benefits. Anthony Manos speaks about the importance of qualitative results when he says that “we might be able to quantify a 5S event’s outcome in terms of shorter distance traveled within a workplace, fewer safety incidents and reduced supplies or inventories. But few companies actually take the time to understand the human side of lean.”9
Manos goes on to say, “If you listen to participants at a successful lean event, you’ll hear things like: ‘Now I can find things around here,’ or ‘These changes will help reduce my stress level,’ or ‘Look how much more room we have.’ These are important and lasting human results that are just as vital as the measurable ones.”10
Relative to quantitative results, the following are some results that users of the philosophy have achieved, based on research presented in The Kaizen Blitz:
- Inventory reduction: 30-70%
- Operating space: 50% of baseline
- Lead-time reduction: 40-80%
- Productivity improvement: 20-60%
- Setup time reduction: 70-90%
- Walking distance reduction: 40-90%
In 2007, Lincoln Industries held over 27 Kaizen events and identified over $630,000 in savings. In 2008, Lincoln Industries held over 35 Kaizen events and identified over $1,630,000 in savings. To drive consistency, each event is reviewed by the Continuous Improvement Team to make sure key actions have been followed through once the initial event has been completed. Eighty-four people participated in Kaizen events and 20% of the people were trained in lean thinking during this year . [In 2008], almost 200 people participated in Kaizen events, and 100% of the people have been trained in lean thinking during this year.11
Kaizen for Glass and Ceramic ProcessesKaizen, along with the broader philosophy of lean, has been successfully used in both assembly and process plants. Events can focus on small- or large-scoped efforts. Regarding the glass and ceramic industry, Peter King, author of Lean in the Process Industry, writes:
Process industry Kaizen events may require even more planning and data gathering than their assembly counterparts. In assembly processes, genchi genbutsu [meaning “go and see”] is often an effective way to understand the current state. Assembly operations, inventories, bottlenecks, and flow discontinuities are often readily visible. In a process plant, many of the operations take place in large vessels, ovens, or chambers so that the material being processed can’t be seen. Inventories are often stored in . . . tanks where the contents can’t be estimated by eye. Thus, in many cases, current inventory data cannot be tallied by walking the floor and counting. Therefore, much more thought must be given to deciding which data will likely be needed, as well as much more time in gathering that data.12
As you proceed with considering the application of a Kaizen event, understand that the essence of Kaizen is continual improvement. But Kaizen is not just continual improvement in a single or periodic opportunity; instead, it should be seen as a philosophy that is ingrained in the fabric of the organization. Starting your lean journey with a Kaizen event can become a building block for making improvements that reduce waste and inefficiency in the process for the long term.
For more information or to share your experience with Kaizen events, contact the author at (607) 974-8179 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
References1. Goldman, A., “Importance of Continuous Improvement, www.gaebler.com/Importance-of-Continuous-Improvement.htm.
2. “What is Kaizen?” www.graphicproducts.com/tutorials/kaizen/index.php.
4. “What is Lean?” www.lean.org/whatslean/.
5. Hart, G., “Kaizen Event,” www. hartinnovations.com/.
6. McBride, T., “Key Steps in Implementing a Kaizen Event,” www.nescon.org/docs/2005/McBride_Key%20Steps%20in%20Implementing%20a%20Kaizen%20Event.pdf.
7. Dolcemascolo, D., “When and How to Use Kaizen Events,” www.reliableplant.com/Read/8904/kaizen-events.
8. Manos, A., “The Benefits of Kaizen and Kaizen Events,” www.proferoinc.com/pdf/qp0207lean.pdf.
11. “Continuous Improvement,” www.lincolnindustries.com/who_we_are/culture/improvement.
12. King, Peter, Lean in the Process Industry: Dealing with Complexities, CRC Press, New York, p. 157.
SIDEBAR: Kaizen Event Implementation Steps1. Training and kickoff activities: lean manufacturing (if in production area), tools of continuous improvement (pareto, fishbone, run charts, 5-whys, process analysis)
2. Analyze current “state”
3. Select areas of focus
4. Create possible solutions
5. Select solution
6. Establish metrics for success
7. Plan and implement (repeat if necessary)
8. Standardize and sustain
9. Report results
Source: Tom McBride, “Key Steps in Implementing a Kaizen Event”