Moving toward lean manufacturing is a great way to reduce costs and waste, increase efficiency and improve the overall production process, and there are many methods that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can employ to reach their lean goals. The Kaizen Principle focuses on continuous improvement rather than making a few changes and letting the ship steer itself. Part of what makes it such a successful strategy is that it involves everyone at the OEM from factory workers to upper management, making it easier to spot weaknesses and come up with viable solutions to cut down on waste. In turn, OEMs can save money, reduce their carbon footprint and create a more efficient production process.
What is the Kaizen Principle?
Much like the kanban inventory monitoring strategy, kaizen was developed at the Toyota factory in Japan. According to Reliable Plant, the word "kaizen" translates to "incremental improvement," which is exactly how this principle functions. It is at once an action plan and a way of thinking and running a factory, as it can be applied to individual situations as well as the business model. The overarching idea behind this strategy is that when every employee is involved in the discussion, there will be more opportunities to reduce waste from the production process. This could be in terms of labor hours, production downtime or faulty or broken inventory and equipment. Kaizen involves more than holding one or two meetings, as its effectiveness is seen by adapting strategies to meet current conditions on the factory floor. Monitoring supply chain management helps to catch new problems as they arise, eliminating the opportunity for issues to hinder production.
What is a kaizen event?
To put this strategy to work, OEMs must first implement a "kaizen event," which is the term for creating a group to tackle a specific problem. Reliable Plant explained that when an event is triggered, a small team comes together and focuses solely on addressing the issue at hand, whether it's a broken piece of equipment or a delayed shipment of class C components. LeanProduction.com explained that the process taken during a kaizen event is often called PDCA, which stands for Plan, Do, Check and Act.
First, you plan a strategy to fix the issue, then you run a test to determine if it will work. Examine the results of that test and make any necessary adjustments as needed until you arrive at a viable solution. This strategy can be applied to virtually any aspect of the business. If, for example, inventory management is taking up too much time, you could look into a vendor managed inventory (VMI) program that will take the task off your hands. Talk to the supplier about the potential benefits, such as reducing strain on resources, freeing up employees to focus on other tasks, and reducing the budget being tied up in inventory. Compare these metrics with current expenses relating to the inventory, including purchase orders and lead times. Consider other ways to enhance the strategy, such as including kitting services to reduce the amount of work to be done on the factory floor.
How can kaizen strategies result in success?
For the kaizen method to be successful, it's important to be thorough during the implementation stages of the event. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggested one approach commonly used during a kaizen event: asking "why" five times. Focus on different aspects of the problem to assess the situation and determine the cause of the problem. Start with a broad question, like "Why did we run out of a certain part?" If the answer is "The replenishment shipment was late," the next questions should be to ask why that occurred. By the end of the five questions, the root cause could be that the purchase order took longer than usual to complete. Once the problem is clear, it is much easier to resolve.