In our last episode we learned about the history of the concepts of lean manufacturing and how they ‘somewhat’ originated out of the procedures Henry Ford uses in his auto production plants; but, lean manufacturing as we really know today came into practice with the Japanese auto industry. Specifically, a production engineer for Toyota, by the name of Taiichi Ohno, was the first to implement the concept of Kanban using just-in-time principles. Ohno believed that happy workers were the key to healthy production.
Two of the concepts of Lean Manufacturing are Just-in-time and Kanban. When I was a young child, people commonly used a name for almost everything that came out of post-world-war-2 Japan, it was known as ‘Japanese Junk’. I bet most of our readership have either never heard that term, or can’t remember the last time they did. Today we think of things past and present like Sony, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Lexus as the highest quality examples of modern Japanese production, all of which have been using the concepts we will study more about within this series, including in today's article.
Speaking of Lexus, more than 20 years ago I purchased my first Lexus, it was at that time the only car I ever purchased that was totally defect free. Despite the fact that I put well over 100,000 miles on the vehicle, nothing ever broke. In fact, I was in a major wreck in that car, and it saved my life. The quality of the design and production kept me safe, while the ‘other car’ (a US product) was totally demolished in the collision. I tell this story solely to demonstrate that the principles and concepts implemented at Lexus, as with most modern production, have raised our entire ‘concept of quality.’
So what about Just-in-Time (JIT, for short)? Just-in-Tim is a production strategy based upon the elimination of all forms of manufacturing waste and variance while simultaneously raising productivity. Some of the benefits of Just-in-Time include, zero idle inventory, lowest total cost, and perfect quality. Yes, that is what I said, ‘perfect’ quality.
One means of achieving Just-in-Time is Kanban. Kanban is a scheduling system that streamlines the flow and regulates inventory control via the supply chain. It is aimed at promotion of the highest efficiency of man, material and facility. Typically, it includes visual cues and signals that regulate the sequence and timing of production. The benefits of Kanban include visual production where workers can see not only production in process but the outcomes of production, improved inventory control via JIT, reduction in wasted time looking for materials and floor space for production, and reduction or elimination of over-production.
There are a variety of other Japanese concepts associated with lean Manufacturing, and all of these are still in use today. Kaizen and Kaikaku are focused at improvement.
Kaizen is a process for on-going continuous incremental improvement. It is geared toward continuous improvement over time by eliminating waste through improving production activities and processes. Generally, it will involve the entire workforce of a production facility, or even an entire company with multiple related production facilities, not just a single aspect of production. Typically, Kaizen is implemented via small incremental changes in one or more aspects of production that then produce a compounding effect upon overall quality improvement. Many times Kaizen is initiated via small groups, or at least at the small group level; for example, this might be a team of engineers and workers given responsibility to implementing a change to streamline a production bottleneck.
Kaizen focuses on standardizing operations and activities, measuring those standardized operations (using valid production metrics), and then evaluating those measurements against needed requirements. Continuing with the process Kaizen provides an avenue for innovation to meet increased productivity and operational requirements. It then relies again upon standardizing the new and innovative operations, and starts over again to repeat the Kaizen cycle. In other words: standardize, measure, evaluate, innovate, standardize innovation, and repeat the entire process. By its nature it is ‘never ending.’
Kaizen is not a ‘top down’ process, it actually takes a teamwork approach in which management and labor work together, not apart from each other, to identify continuous improvements. Obviously that carries with it certain increased responsibilities of labor who might, in any other environment, be discouraged from bringing up ideas. It also brings management and labor into a common focus in which both recognize that the key ‘overall worth’ of the company is improved performance through labor accomplishments.
My friend Joe Woodard tells a story, he heard while attending the Disney Institute, about a maintenance man at the Magic Kingdom of Walt Disney World. It seems that a family had stopped to ask, the maintenance guy who was sweeping up a spill near the entrance, where a specific shop was located. Rather than simply tell them “go this way, then turn right’ and it will be the 2nd shop on the left” he picked up his broom, turned it upside down, and began to use it like a Drum Major’s baton to lead a parade of the family to the shop. He went ‘way beyond’ the specifics of his job description to apply Disney innovation in order to provide an ‘enhanced experience’ for those park patrons. He was striving for ‘continuous improvement’ for Disney, himself and most importantly the customers who are there for ‘the magic of Disney’. He was truly, “Kaizen.”
I bet many of us wish we had personnel who demonstrated such a commitment, rather than just a 'I only work to live' attitude; but really, we should probably be asking ourselves if we are doing our jobs at encouraging and motivating Kaizen in our own workers?
One small enhancement that can change everything for a future to come, that is what Kaizen strives for. I am certain that in some environments that type of innovation, product enhancement, and improvement might go unnoticed, or even be frowned upon, at worst. Can't you just imagine some ‘maintenance supervisor’ saying, “that isn’t your job, your job is to sweep”; but at Disney the focus is on the patrons. And ultimately the concept of Kaizen is all about ‘our patrons', those customers who purchase our products, who are expecting a ‘perfect’ product, the ‘best experience possible’ with the widgets, dongles, bobbles and bangles, or even automobiles we produce.
Kaikaku represents a fundamental and radical change to a production process as part of improvement. While Kaizen focuses on small incremental changes over time, you might think of Kaikaku as a type of Kaizen ‘blitz’ in which a whole series of changes take place all at once to produce a specific outcome. There are four different types of Kaikaku projects, but we will have to wait until our next episode to cover them adequately. For now, it is enough to say that when the enthusiasm wains, and Kaizen activities appear stagnant, it is time to Kaikaku things back into high gear within our lean manufacturing environment.