Yokoten: Multiplying Lean Success in Ceramic and Glass Manufacturing
When properly implemented, yokoten thinking can continuously improve processes throughout ceramic and glass organizations.
The concept of lean manufacturing has continued to gain use and visibility on a number of fronts. As highlighted by Rick Spence, president of Canadian Entrepreneur Communications, in a recent article about a lean conference in Toronto, “Lean is often heralded as manufacturers’ best hope for cutting cost and regaining their innovative edge.”
Operating a lean factory is critical in the ceramic and glass industry. Most would agree with the Lean Enterprise Institute that a bottom-line enabler for manufacturing is the core idea of “maximize[ing] customer value while minimizing waste” and “creating more value for customers with fewer resources.”
The Benefits of Lean
One user states, “The advantages of lean manufacturing go beyond just productivity gains and decreased cycle time and inventory. Because new system enablers can link together the entire enterprise, as well as the entire supply chain, administrative productivity improves with redundancies eliminated. Orders can be processed without adding layers of paperwork that often waits in queues, sometimes with unknown or uncertain priority.”1 An article on the topic in USA Todayreports that “thousands of manufacturers have remained profitable during the recession by using…lean manufacturing to become more cost-efficient.”2
Much documented evidence in industry has authenticated lean benefits. Some advantages to consider include: improved productivity and customer service, reduction in defects and quality issues, less waste, and improved lead time and stock turns. With these types of improvements, ceramic and glass manufacturers are in a better position to spend more time on innovative solutions, improvements, and employee involvement—instead of fixing problems.3
In short, lean is a management philosophy centered on preserving value with less work, and thereby a reduction in waste. It is not a one-time program; it is a continuous journey.
Once a company starts its lean journey, how can it keep the momentum going? There is, in fact, a lean strategy to maintain momentum that focuses on the idea of sharing learning gained in one department across the company. It’s called “yokoten.”
What is Yokoten?
The Kaizen Institute defines this Japanese word for the lean concept as “meaning ‘horizontal deployment,’ and refers to the practice of copying good results of kaizen in one area to other areas. Yokoten can also apply to copying product design ideas and business processes, or better machine setting, materials or methods in general. Yokoten requires a culture of ‘go-see’ information sharing between departments, both for successes and failures.”4 When you think of yokoten, think of knowledge and solution sharing.
One of the key foundations of this concept is organizational culture. Spreading knowledge and solutions among departments, divisions, or business units requires that an organization’s culture is not only comfortable spreading wisdom and learning, but is also willing to share problems and “lessons learned.” In a recent article, the Lean Bloghighlights the following considerations for organizational readiness:
• Preferably, ideas should spread horizontally by people seeing things for themselves. This tool does not have a top-down approach. However, seniors in an organization do have to point out various Kaizen ideas that employees will benefit from observing.
• If a particular department cannot copy a specific best-practice process, then the thought process behind that particular successful practice should at least be used.
• Successful solutions should be adapted and improved in order to make them suitable for different work processes. Simply copying ideas and processes does not always work.
At a recent International Council of the Sheet Metal Presswork Association (ICOSMPA) conference, Brian Krinock, vice president of production engineering at Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, highlighted an application of yokoten.5 As part of Toyota’s effort to remain competitive and raise the performance bar, yokoten has become a key component of rethinking and reinventing. In order to make this happen, yokoten uses a management-driven Kaizen activity where leadership identifies areas in need of continuous improvement and spreads information through the organization to stimulate Kaizen activity.
To do this, Toyota North American Manufacturing Co. (NAMC) divisions send members to participate in joint sessions. Teams use problem-solving methods to develop countermeasures or improvement suggestions. Changes are implemented with documented results. The final step is to share the knowledge developed during these joint meetings and roll out the improvements to other NAMC locations.
When applying yokoten, it is helpful to understand that this lean concept is not a tool in the vein of value stream mapping. Yokoten is more of an organizational strategy that strives to multiply success. In order to implement yokoten, it is important that the company nurture “an atmosphere of openness in the organization whereby information regarding success and failure of particular processes is shared freely within different departments.”6
As a complement, there should be a strong focus on gemba—the process where leadership and engineers go the manufacturing floor to understand the full impact of the problem while gathering data from the source. This means that leadership must be present in manufacturing to see and recognize good work, and should require the manufacturing staff to do the same. In doing so, they are better positioned to share their learning from successful (and not so successful) Kaizen projects, and to invite colleagues to learn from their experience.
In addition, this behavior drives a view of lean as being a long-term, strategic process. With the right people working on the right projects, yokoten thinking will support the right infrastructure to achieve, multiply and sustain excellence.
1. Donovan, Michael, “Lean Manufacturing: Is it Really Worth It?” www.reliableplant.com/Read/138/lean-manufacturing.
2. Davidson, Paul, “Lean Manufacturing Helps Companies Survive Recession,” http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/industries/manufacturing/2009-11-01-lean-manufacturing-recession_N.htm.
3. “Benefits of Lean Manufacturing: Advantages of Lean Production,” http://leanman.hubpages.com/hub/Benefits-of-Lean-Manufacturing.
4. “Kaizen Glossary Part 2,” www.kaizen.com/knowledge-center/glossary-2.html.
5. Krinock, Brian, “Strengthening Stamping Capability for Competitiveness in a Global Marketplace,” www.icospa.com/2008/pdfs/Krinock.pdf.
6. “Yokoten–5 Ways It Has to Be Used to Ensure Workplace Improvement,” www.getkaizened.com/blog/yokoten-5-ways-it-has-to-be-used-to-ensure-workplace-improvement/.