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Kaizen The Many Ways of Getting Better

G. Wittenberg
Every day in every way I am getting better and better was a slogan coined by the French psychotherapist Dr Emile Cou in the 1920s; Kaizen or continual improvement is the current watchword in Japan and about to become widespread here, because the kaizen concept is said to be crucial to understanding the differences between the Japanese and the Western approaches to management. In Japan, people are bombarded daily by the media with statements concerning, for example, the kaizen of the trade balance with the USA, the kaizen of the welfare system or the kaizen of diplomatic relations with other countries. Management and labour speak of the kaizen of industrial relations. This article is about the application of the kaizen strategy to manufacturing, as demonstrated at a workshop event run by the Kaizen Institute of Europe and described in Masaaki Imais book[1]. time, productivity improvement, robotics and automation. What is not included in this extensive, but by no means exhaustive, list is innovation, because kaizen is the antithesis of innovation. Innovation, which is implemented by abrupt changes, and kaizen, which is a gradual process, are alternative means of introducing improvements. While kaizen is claimed to be widely applicable there are circumstances in which it yields to innovation. Both are required in many companies. The kaizen philosophy is said to be better suited to a slowlygrowing economy while innovation is better suited to a fast-growing economy. If this is accepted it may account for the increasing interest in kaizen in this part of the world at the present time. Standardization is an essential feature of kaizen. The drill is to establish a standard, maintain it, then improve on it. In this context, standards are defined as a set of policies, rules, directives and procedures established by management for all major operations as guidelines that enable all employees to perform their jobs successfully. If people are unable to adhere to a standard, management must either provide training or review and revise the standard so that it can be followed. A concept following standardization is that of The Obvious Factory, in which locations are clearly marked so as to make product flow and scheduling easy, standards are conspicuously displayed and floors are painted to make spillages and dirt obvious, all encapsulated in visible management. The more senior the manager, the more he is concerned with improvement. An unskilled worker is expected to work to existing standards. As he becomes more proficient he is expected to contribute to improvements in his working methods, either by individual suggestions or through group suggestions. Improvements are made by establishing higher standards. Given a new, higher standard it becomes managements job to ensure that it is observed. Lasting improvement is achieved when people work towards higher standards. In a successful Japanese company top management always presses managers for improvements. Improvement can be by kaizen or by innovation. Kaizen means small improvements made as a result of continuing effort. Innovation involves a drastic improvement as a result of a large investment in new equipment or technology. Kaizen promotes process-oriented thinking because processes must be improved before improved results are obtained. This may be very different

The Kaizen Umbrella

Because every activity and every product is capable of improvement, the kaizen umbrella covers many of the management techniques that have been developed over the last 40 years or so, including quality circles, total quality control, total productive maintenance, suggestion systems, kanban, just-in12 Assembly Automation

Vol. 14 No. 4, 1994, pp. 12-17, MCB University Press, 0144-5154

from the result-oriented thinking of most Western managers. Moreover, kaizen is people-oriented, being directed at peoples efforts. Of course results count, but kaizen assumes that improvements in peoples attitudes and efforts are more likely to produce improved results in the long run than mere result-oriented thinking would do. Kaizen q starts with people;
q q q q q

(5) Correct mistakes at once. (6) Do not spend money for kaizen. (7) Wisdom is brought out when faced with hardship. (8) Ask why five times and seek root causes. (9) Seek the wisdom of ten people rather than the knowledge of one. (10) Kaizen ideas are infinite. A deviation from normal production is the enemy. It is countered by six gemba principles: (1) When an abnormality occurs go to the gemba first. (2) Check the gembutsu (!): machine, materials, rejects, safety. (3) Take temporary countermeasures immediately. (4) Find the root cause. (5) Remove the root cause. (6) Standardize, to prevent the trouble from recurring. Next, kaizen turns attention to the elimination of muda, in plain English: Waste. There are seven classes of muda: (1) Overproduction. (2) Waiting time at the machine. (3) Waste in the transport of units. (4) Waste in processing. (5) Waste in holding inventory. (6) Waste in motion. (7) Rejects.

focuses its attention on peoples efforts; people work on processes; processes are continually improved; improved processes improve results; improved results satisfy customers.

Kaizen for Quality

Much of kaizen thinking relates to quality, not only the quality of products but first and foremost the quality of people. The three pillars of a business are hardware, software and humanware. Humanware should be properly in place before the hardware and software aspects of a business are considered. Putting quality into people means helping them to become kaizenconscious. In Japan, knowledge of quality control and other engineering techniques is transmitted to everyone so that people can solve their own job problems better. Training is regularly provided for top management, middle management and blue-collar workers and it is said that quality control starts with training and ends in training. With a fondness for peppering the technique with Japanese words the implementation of kaizen starts at the gemba the workplace or, more specifically, the manufacturing shopfloor. Gemba is where the work is done, value is created and problemsolving is delegated. There are ten basic rules for practising kaizen at the gemba: (1) Discard conventional, fixed ideas concerning production. (2) Think of how to do it, not why it cannot be done. (3) Do not make excuses. Start by questioning current practice. (4) Do not seek perfection. Do it right away, even if for only 50 per cent of the target.

The elimination of overproduction embraces the just-in-time (JIT) concept, not only in the supply of materials and components from outside but also in the quantities produced, by minimizing stock levels. This not only cuts capital employed but also helps to show up production problems quickly. The idea is represented in one of many useful illustrations contained in the manual issued to participants, where a water container in which a high level (= excessive inventory) hides rocks (= problems) below the water surface. As the water level, representing inventory, is reduced the problems become exposed and can be tackled (see Figure 1). Automation is criticized for encouraging the overproduction of parts without regard for the requirements of subsequent processes. Again, JIT improvement advocates what is termed flow production as against lot production. The advantages of flow production are given as small quantities produced in large variety; small, low-cost, slow, singlepurpose equipment; small space requirement; company-wide approach; eliminates transport; zero defect; more possibilities of setting improvements; no work-in-progress. Examples of reducing waste in motion include reducing the distance between machines or operations, using both hands, reducing the number of motions and making operations smoother and more relaxed. From the shopfloor, kaizen spreads to all other functions of the business, including product planning, product

Reduce water level When the inventory is full... After the unnecessary inventory has been removed... Abnormal operation Water surface Generation of defective products Delay in delivery Problems Imbalance in become apparent workforce performance Breakdown of production facility

Inventory (Excessive) Unseen obstacles and defects

Kaizen Institute of Europe Figure 1. Reduce Water Level

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design, production planning, purchasing and sales. Because kaizen employs so many management techniques and is intended to be applied to all aspects of a business it has many more facets than can be described in one article but it is time to see how these ideas work in practice.

A Kaizen Workshop
A gemba kaizen workshop event was held on 13-17 December 1993 at the premises of Paddy Hopkirk Limited (PHL)[2], by the Kaizen Institute of Europe[3]. There were 19 participants, including the managing director of PHL and staff members. There was a preponderance of representatives from the metal can industry and a wide geographical distribution: UK, France, Greece, Hong Kong, Canada and the USA.

The manufacturing processes employed at PHL include stamping; presswork; MIG, spot and seam welding; degreasing; dip and powder painting; assembling; packing. The health of the company is greatly affected by the situation in the UK automotive industry. The company is at present expanding and wishes to review and change its approach to manufacturing processes. Challenges faced by the company include:

The Programme
Monday was the first of the five days, and was an intensive Training Day, devoted to introductions and to explaining the kaizen philosophy, its constituent aspects, like JIT, and the methods used in implementing it. A large and well-produced working manual was issued to each participant. The 19 participants were divided into three teams and each team was allocated one of the product areas in the plant: (1) ramps and axle stands; (2) dog guards; (3) cycle carriers. Each team was also given office space. On the second day each team was introduced to previously-briefed operators in its product area and assigned roles. The team appointed a leader and began to study opportunities, list problems and set targets. At the daily meeting at 3.00 p.m. all team leaders met the workshop organizers and the PHL management to co-ordinate results and proposals. By the end of the second day, proposals for making changes on the shopfloor were formulated and put into effect by maintenance staff assisted by team members. Day three followed broadly similar lines, after an assessment of the results obtained by the changes made the previous evening. The morning of the fourth day was given over to standardization while the afternoon was spent on discussions with operators and the preparation of presentations of each teams work and results. Finally, Friday was a half-day, when the main activities were a 20-minute presentation by each team and a questions and answers session.

competition from Far East suppliers of cheaper, though inferior, products; responding quickly to large orders from new customers without recourse to stocks; accommodating the seasonal nature of the market 70 per cent of sales in seven months; accommodating expansion with its existing human and material resources.

A new

strategy must be adopted to meet new challenges

PHL realizes that it has to adopt a new manufacturing strategy to meet these challenges and to achieve world competitive status. The kaizen approach had been studied by the management team and was explained to the 130-strong workforce in preparation for the workshop and kaizen implementation. It was recognized that the plant presents all the opportunities targeted by the kaizen policy which are available to a traditional manufacturing company of any size:

Reduction in inventory of raw materials, components, work-inprogress and finished product. Connection of dissimilar processes to reduce space and transport and to allow one-by-one rather than batch production. Changing the layout of facilities so as to create comfortable and balanced workstations which eliminate waste and allow valueadding activities to be increased. Introduction of operational standards to assure quality, safety, cost and delivery. Organization of the workplace so that everything is made obvious and more easily manageable. Establishing control systems to facilitate JIT rather than a reactionary or just-in-case approach.

PHL is a leading manufacturer of automotive accessories. It is Europes largest manufacturer of fuel cans and dog guards, one of Europes largest manufacturers of cycle carriers, axle stands and ramps and its sixth-largest manufacturer of roof racks and roof bars. There were plans for recruiting 65 temporary operators for the period January-September 1994 but hopes that by implementing kaizen this number could be reduced. The products have, for many years, enjoyed a reputation for quality and reliability in the home market and exports some to Japan have recently much increased, contributing to an increase in turnover to around 6.5 million in 1993.
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On the Shopfloor
The manufacture of cycle carriers, studied by Team 3, has the greatest assembling content of any product manufactured by PHL. Cycle carriers are one of the newest and currently most successful PHL products, but export opportunities are being lost through inability to meet demand. Labour has been thrown at the job in attempts to meet demand; now everyone gets in each others way in obtaining and working with components. Not much thought has been given to facilities or activities. There are two varieties of the present

CH3 model of cycle carrier, one of which includes a number plate. Two new models are to be introduced in 1994. There is thus every opportunity and incentive to establish an efficient manufacturing process and a need to accommodate the assembling of new products.

What the Team Found and Did

There were 16 operators assembling, making number plates, cartoning, shrink-wrapping and stacking. Seasonal demand varies between 2,200 and 18,500 units per month. Current output is 500 units per day; say 10,000 units per month. The seasonal demand variation is a considerable challenge. The problem was how to accommodate

it without accumulating inventory; kaizen was expected to have a significant part to play. Team members observed the present method of assembling and packing, and recorded operation times. Mudas or Wastes categorized by the kaizen system were searched out and recorded. Each team members observations and ideas for improvements were recorded on slips of paper, to be displayed and discussed later. Originally ten assemblers worked at a common bench, five aside, with two operators cartoning at the end of the bench. Each assembler had an assembling jig and carried out the entire sequence of assembling operations. The working area was extremely crowded; there was too little space for materials and components with
Pair of assembling jigs on an open structure

Original assembling layout and equipment


consequent rework through damage; operators could not pass each other without disturbance. By the end of the second day the major improvements arrived at were to divide the assembling operation into subassembling components to each of three frame units and to cut up the workbench so that each pair of assemblers would work at a separate bench. These changes were put into effect the same evening, by a considerable effort on the part of the small maintenance staff assisted by team members. When the results of the changes had been discussed with the operators and assessed by the team on the third day, ideas for further improvements arose, as predicted by the kaizen principle that small improvements lead to further improvements. While the idea of subassembling was retained, the main assembling operation was divided into two successive operations, carried out by two assemblers working side-byside. The team also realized that workbenches for assembling were an obstructive nuisance that contributed nothing useful; they quickly designed an open structure on which two assembling jigs and accessible component shelves could be mounted. The floor layout was changed to accommodate the new structures, reducing space wasted on component storage and improving access, material flow and operator movement. Again, all this was put into effect by working late into the evening.
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New layout

Another team had learned that: the kaizen process produced dramatic improvements quickly; time spent at the workplace was by far the most valuable; their entire team operators and advisers could achieve almost anything; there is waste everywhere; and kaizen is people doing things together. When it came to what they would do about kaizen in the future, some participants said they were committed and raring to go and that they are starting eight hothouses in 1994. Others said that they were forming a manufacturers college and, with help from the Kaizen Institute, would make dramatic improvements in their plants.

Comments on Kaizen
Nobody can quarrel with the idea of producing improvements. A policy of gradual, continuous improvement, at little cost, has attractions for many companies. The cost may be greater than appears. Introducing improvements quickly may be good for morale and retain momentum but assessing results too soon afterwards may lead to false conclusions, to the disadvantage of the practitioner and to the detriment of the kaizen concept. One must guard against changes which may turn out to be only temporary improvements resulting from change as such. The Hawthorne Effect, discovered in the famous 1920s experiments, showed that output increased when a change was introduced and again when the change was reversed. Much of the kaizen methodology appears to be good old-fashioned workstudy. If this were expressly stated it could embrace the substantial knowledge recorded in the workstudy literature and in the accumulated experience. All of the kaizen philosophy can be applied to assembling operations. Automated assembling may appear to fall outside the scope of kaizen, if only because improvement without significant expenditure is one of its cornerstones, but it does not ignore this activity. Of course, automated assembling can be subjected to continuous improvement. Simple improvements should be made first. Ejection should be automated before parts placing. The simplest method of fastening should be employed. Kaizen goes hand-in-hand with design for manufacture and assembly.

Operators discussing the refined assembling method with PHLs managing director, Steve Marshall

The working of these improvements was observed and timed early on the fourth day, after discussion with the operators. Analysis of the results showed that, on the face of it, they were disappointing. Output had been reduced from 500 to about 420 cycle carriers per day and the floor space had not been reduced. However, the number of operators had been reduced to 15. Team members felt disappointed and frustrated and were anxious to explain away the results: the operators were slow while learning and getting used to the new method; not all of them were initially co-operative; the two assembling stages were not yet optimally balanced. There was a strong feeling that the new method must be
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better and would in due course be shown to be so.

What the Teams Concluded

At the presentation session on the final day all teams expressed their unreserved enthusiasm for the kaizen concept. One team said that the kaizen philosophy had demonstrated the benefits of one-piece flow and that it can identify problems and opportunities. It is capable of overcoming peoples prejudices. It had shown to the team how inventory could be reduced dramatically. It had shown to them how teamwork can solve problems and overcome difficulties. It had demonstrated how much muda there is in a gemba (and increased their knowledge of Japanese).

Comments on the Workshop

Participants and PHL staff worked enthusiastically and hard. Two teams achieved useful results; those of Team 3 were initially disappointing. It was impressive how much could be devised and implemented in no more than three days. That time was not enough to refine the improvements adequately or to establish working patterns that reflected the value of the potential benefits. The changes made were neither gradual nor small, in relation to the size and resources of PHL. Team 3 wasted a good deal of time on the second day while at cross-purposes during discussions on methods and objectives, which showed that the Training Day, while extensive and thorough, did not provide all participants with the concepts needed to enable them to work through a kaizen project efficiently. Worse, because this team happened to have no member experienced in time study, the operations were timed at instances and in a manner which would perhaps have been avoided by an experienced timestudy practitioner and this may well account, at least in part, for the unfavourable conclusions reached.

The Kaizen Institute of Europe (KIE)

This institute was set up in 1991 to provide consultancy support to European companies wishing to develop kaizen activities. It has 12 consultants of its own and can draw on the experience of over 30 Japanese consultants. It offers gemba kaizen workshops, consultancy and public seminars. It has offices in London, Paris and Frankfurt and has undertaken work in the UK, France, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Germany. In Germany projects carried out strictly in the kaizen spirit are illegal, according to the Betriebsverfassungsgesetz (Basic Company Working Law). Kaizen calls for prompt implementation of gemba changes. The law demands 14 days notice to be given to the Works Council of any such proposed change. If the Works Council disapproves the proposal goes back and forth within the company and may finish up in the Industrial Court; meanwhile the kaizen spirit will have been defeated on this occasion. If co-operatively minded, the Works Council can waive its right to object to a change.

The hospitality offered by Paddy Hopkirk Ltd in the course of the workshop deserves special mention. This relatively small company made excellent facilities available and took a great deal of trouble to make participants feel welcome and at home throughout the five days. The chairman, Mr Paddy Hopkirk, was present whenever he could be and gave the teams much encouragement. The inevitable interruptions of the companys activities by the teams were accepted with good grace and there was friendliness throughout. There was an enjoyable pre-Christmas dinner on the evening of the fourth day.
Notes and Reference 1. Imai, M., Kaizen The Key to Japans Competitive Success, McGraw-Hill Publishing, London and New York, 1986. 2. Paddy Hopkirk Ltd, Eden Way, Pages Industrial Park, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire LU7 8TZ. Tel: 0525 850800; Fax: 0525 850808. 3. The Kaizen Institute of Europe, 4 Tavistock Place, London WC1H 9RA. Tel: 071 713 0407; Fax: 071 713 0403.

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