Whitepaper - Kaizen Principles

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1 Foreword

The Japanese word "KAIZEN" means improvement. Kaizen is a popular word in industry, worldwide, to claim practising innovative management methods.

Japan has long been sensitive about waste, as the land and raw materials are scarce. Waste can be turned into profit if it is eliminated and everybody is encouraged to participate improvement efforts.

2 Document Details

Version: 1-0
Author: http://membres.lycos.fr/hconline/kaizen_us.htm
Adaptations: Philip Lacey
Date: 2009-03-20


kaizen 001.png

The Japanese word "KAIZEN" means improvement, improvements without spending much money, involving everyone from managers to workers, and using much common sense. The Japanese way encourages small improvements day after day, continuously. The key aspect of KAIZEN is that it is an on-going, never-ending improvement process. It's a soft and gradual method opposed to more usual western habits to scrap everything and start with new.

Kaizen activities can be conducted in several ways. First and most common is to change worker's operations to make his job more productive, less tiring, more efficient or safer. To get his buy-in as well as significant improvement, worker is invited to cooperate, to re-engineer by himself and with help of team mates or a Kaizen support group. The second way is to improve equipment, like installing foolproof devices and/or changing the machine layout. Third way is to improve procedures. All these alternatives can be combined in a broad improvement plan.

Anyway, the first stage is reviewing the current work standards to check the current performance and than estimate how and how much performance can still be improved. When new leap is done, upgrade the standards.

Kaizen is controlled; It is not acceptable to let anybody change designs, layouts or standards for some pretended "improvement". Most often Kaizen is controlled by improvement groups and everybody, regardless to rank or position, is encouraged to suggest through suggestion submitting system (TEIAN in Japanese). Suggestions will be discussed by authoritative committee. Suggestions likely to be turned into application are usually rewarded according to the global gain. Improvement idea can be a response to a problem exposed by KAIZEN committee or come out spontaneously.

4 Good Housekeeping: 5S

I often wonder how consistent the Japanese way is. It provides a global philosophy as well as the simple associated methods. One of these methods are the 5S, five steps, basic rules of good housekeeping and discipline.

Housekeeping is both part of Kaizen and a prerequisite for further improvement. 5S, yet so simple, are not just a way to maintain order, but also provide a kind of elementary maintenance checks and ideas for improvement.

5 What are 5S?

5.1 Seiri

Sorting, keep the necessary in work area, dispose or keep in a distant storage area less frequently used items, unneeded items are discarded.

Seiri fights the habit to keep things because they may be useful someday. Seiri helps to keep work area tidy, improves searching and fetching efficiency, and generally clears much space. Seiri is also excellent way to gain valuable floor space and eliminate old broken tools, obsolete jigs and fixtures, scrap and excess raw material.

5.2 Seiton

Systematic arrangement for the most efficient and effective retrieval. A good example of Seiton is the tool panel. Effective Seiton can be achieved by painting floors to visualize the dirt, outlining work areas and locations, shadow tool boards. For improving changeover time with SMED or reduce machine downtime through Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) it is necessary to have tools at hand. So a specific mobile tool cart was designed. An other example of Seiton are "broom carts". As cleaning is a major part of 5S we custom made carts to hold brooms, mops and buckets. Several carts have specific locations and all employees can find them.

Seiton saying would be: "A place for everything and everything on its place."

5.3 Seiso

Cleaning. After the first thorough cleaning when implementing 5S, daily follow-up cleaning is necessary in order to sustain this improvement. Cleanliness is also helpful to notice damages on equipment such as leaks, breakage and misalignment. These minor damages, if left unattended, could lead to equipment failure and loss of production. Regular cleaning is a type of inspection. Seiso is an important part of basic TPM; Total Productive Maintenance and Safety matter through cleanliness is obvious.

5.4 Seiketsu

Standardizing. Once the first three S have been implemented, it should be set as a standard so to keep these good practice work area. Without it, the situation will deteriorate right back to old habits. Have an easy-to-follow standards and develop a structure to support it. Allow employees to join the development of such standards.

The 3 first S are often executed by order.

Seiketsu helps to turn it into natural, standard behaviour.

5.5 Shitsuke

Finally, to keep first 4 S alive, it is necessary to keep educating people maintaining standards. By setting up a formal system; with display of results, follow-up, the now complete 5S get insured to live, and be expanded beyond their initial limits, in an ongoing improvement way; the Kaizen way.

The effect of continuous improvement leads to less waste, better quality and faster lead times.

6 Eliminate Muda

An other Japanese word muda made its way into western industry languages. Muda means waste, but the word carries a deeper connotation. Any non-value activity is muda. Searching around to retrieve tools is muda. Muda exists in many forms and is to be eliminated:

  • Overproduction and Inventory, items not immediately needed
  • Defective products requesting repair or scraping
  • Motion; unnecessary movement and energy used to perform tasks
  • Process imposing inefficient and/or unnecessary tasks, fail to synchronize systems
  • Idling; by excessive set-up or equipment breakdowns
  • Transport, poor timing; too frequent or infrequent movement of goods and deliveries.

All categories of muda result in direct loss of money or at least fail to increase efficiency and customer satisfaction. Turning loss into profit by muda elimination is one of the easiest ways for a company to improve its operations. Elimination of waste, one of the manifold aspects of Kaizen, does not request many efforts.

Go to gemba, observe, recognize muda and take steps to eliminate it.

7 Gemba

What is "Gemba" a word sometimes associated with Kaizen?

GEMBA is a Japanese word meaning real place, where the real action takes place. In business, GEMBA is where the value-adding activities to satisfy the client are carried out.

As later discussed, Kaizen activities can be carried out endlessly, but only Kaizen on "the real place" is likely to yield some efficient improvement. In Production (e.g industrial activity), Gemba is often used as "work place", shop floor. The workplace is often not recognized as the means to generate revenue, far more emphasis is on such sectors as financial management, marketing, sales, and product development.

When defining Kaizen action plan, go to gemba first. Get a sense of the reality at gemba, talk with gemba people.

8 Examples of Kaizen

Kaizen is generally easier explained trough achievement examples :

  • Setting up a new U shape machine layout in a workshop allows to downsize from a 5 machines/ 3 operators system to a 5 machines/ 2 operators system.
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  • This cart is also an example of kaizen; a tool board and a tissue roll have been set upon a standard tool rack.

This improvement was brought up in a quick changeover (SMED) project ..

  • Refilling in masked time electronics components from 2000 parts boxes into custom made 4000 parts boxes reduces machine stop frequency for reloading.
  • Using gravity (free energy !) to dispose finished parts or waste saves movements; a hole in work table let parts fall into a lower crate through a pipe.
  • Addition of a positioning jig on a bending machine allows to bend 2 chassis against only one originally.

Kaizen isn't a method itself, as all usual analyzing or creativity techniques will still be used. It's an incentive and formal system.

The KAIZEN concept stands for a panel of improvement activities; SMED, TPM, Zero defect, Fool proof Poka-Yoke, just in time, all this means improvement and in some extend is Kaizen.

9 Kaizen Vs Innovation

KAIZEN refers to improvement AND ongoing or continuity. Just carrying out business as usual contains the element of continuity but lacks the idea of improvement. Breakthrough refers to change or improvement but lacks continuity. Breakthrough with its strong innovative meaning is often preferred way to carry out changes, improvements. Yet the Kaizen way and Breakthrough are very different, the kaizen approach is t o make better use of existing resources.

This point is controversial; reader may later read my Breakthrough Innovation Vs small increment innovation article.

Kaizen improvements Breakthrough
Thinking We know well our outfit, can be improved for small expenses To improve yield, we need state of the art material
Habits Small changes To be modified
Material old one is improved changed for latest state of arts
operator's reactions good, they have been involved and informed distrust, haven't been involved nor informed
Reliability similar to before and generally even better adjustments, failures, flaws, poor knowledge of this new equipment...
Costs (investments) Reduced Important
Costs (maintenance, operating) similar first unknown then usually important
Pay off old material, already done important
Yield improved quickly important improvements, but long to come as it was necessary to get used to new equipment, to make it reliable, even modify it...

While Kaizen uses small steps, conventional know-how and a lot common sense, innovation comes in big steps and pursues technological breakthroughs. Kaizen is effort-based, while innovation is investment-based. Kaizen constantly reviews the process to check results consistency with targets, while innovation looks for results only. Are they slow to come or seem out of reach? the whole process might be changed.

9.1 Hints

  • Improvement incentive system must be formal, to avoid uncontrolled enthusiastic initiatives to modify design, process, standards.
  • If system rewards the good ideas, it is necessary to be very clear about the reasons to reject someone's idea, which will always look brilliant to its author.
  • Industrial Engineering staff, who's job is normally to constantly improve, must find their place.

10 Pitfalls!

10.1 Resistance to change

It is not too difficult to introduce something new into an organization, but to keep it going on and maintaining the momentum once it has been introduced is. One of the reason of the failure is the resistance to change, human reluctance to change something in his cozy routine. As changes were long top-down driven and "designed to squeeze" more yield out of workers, those need some education, information and most of all confidence in any new system. What better way to insure the buy-in as to involve the buyers?

Second frequent pitfall is lack of internal infrastructures, systems and procedures that would assure the continuing of the new activities. I unfortunately experienced myself many times projects kick off with great advertisement but some never went further than poster on a panel, others grew old and forgotten just because nobody was in charge to keep them alive. Upper management dedication to such activities is crucial. Middle management is then to work out the details for the passing over and maintaining at Gemba, on shop floor e.g.

10.2 When too much is..too much

In an industrial environment, the potential improvement points are numerous. One could even improve endlessly. However time, technical, financial and human resources are always limited. Improvement groups or individual may suggest changes just for the sake of suggesting. Yes, the purpose of suggestion system is to gather ideas, yet improvement should strive to increase added-value, meaning profit, or eliminate waste.

There is no absolute standard for judging improvement idea, but still I am surprised when I hear Work place improvement like bottle holder is Kaizen. I agree work place must have good ergonomics, but every action cannot be justified just by wrapping it into magical Kaizen word!

When it is time to select few ideas among several proposals, go to gemba first.

10.3 Poka-Yoke, fool proofing devices

Poka-Yoke or fool proof device are often small jigs or very simple, even makeshift devices set up to avoid or detect errors.

Some examples:

  • Processed part cannot continue on conveyor unless a specific sensor, to survey some operation, has not been activated.
  • Jig system holds odd shaped parts.
  • Pin system makes reverse tool setting impossible.

Poka-Yoke are often set up in Kaizen context; a problem comes up, analyzing finds out causes and Poka-Yoke will avoid it happening again.

11 Conclusion

The benefits to applying the principles of kaizen are many fold. Solutions emphasize common-sense, low-cost approaches, continual adjustment and improvement becomes possible and further desirable. It is not even always necessary to gain upper management approval to make changes.