Kaizen Blitz

Dec. 21, 2004
A growing number of companies are discovering that highly focused kaizen events can be a great way yo unleash employee creativity and upgrade manufacturing operations in a hurry.

IN A GOOD YEAR, THE U.S. manufacturing sector might chalkup a 4% overallincrease in productivity. At the plant level, some top-flight produc-tion operations have achieved gains of 20% or more in a 12- month period. But you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone with a more impressive productivity story than Dino Clark in Building 102 of AlliedSignal Inc.'s jet-engine manufacturing complex on the south side of Phoenix. Clark, a veteran machinist, is one of six multiskilled production workers who operate a nine-station manufac-turing cell that produces fan discs, a critical jet-engine component featur-ing highly contoured grooves. In the last year, the productivity of that oper-ation has soared by 885%. That's not a misprint. The increase was 885%. "Before," says Clark, "we were lucky to get out one part per day. Now, we're getting 10 out in a day-and we're do-ing it with fewer people." On display near the cell is a "spaghetti chart" depicting the circu-itous 2,686-ft route that parts once traveled through the plant, not includ-ing trips outside the building for special processing. Now, the travel distance is just 667 ft, through a simple loop, and outside processing has been elimi-nated. "We're now doing one-piece flow," Clark says. One result: work in process (WIP) in the cell has been slashed by 89% and cycle time by 79%. What caused the quantum leap in performance? The short answer is kaizen-the Japanese term for continuous-im-provement activity. But that's really only half the answer. In its traditional context, kaizen means making small, incremental improvements over an exItended time period. In recent years, however, a growing number of manu-facturers in the U.S. and around the world have been catching on to a meth-odology that accelerates the kaizen process and produces dramatic results in a week or less. More commonly referred to as "kaizen events" or "kaizen workshops," the ap-proach targets a particular manufacturing cell or other segment of the produc-tion chain. Typically, the participants are a cross-functional team including managers, engineers, support staff, maintenance workers, and production operators-sometimes supplemented by marketing or finance personnel, and even people from outside the company. The team generally spends five days in the target area, studying the process, collecting and analyzing data, dis-cussing improvement options, and im-plementing changes-which may in-volve moving or modifying equipment. The five-day kaizen event (some companies do it in two or three) is a quick-hitting way to get results. Expe-rienced practitioners, however, point out that the job is never really finished. That's why many companies that have adopted kaizen techniques deploy them over and over again-of-ten revisiting the same target area. "The goal of a kaizen breakthrough event is not to create a perfect production line. The goal is simply to create a better production line," says Bill Schwartz, a partner with TBM Consulting Group Inc., a Durham, N.C.-based firm that specializes in helping companies develop kaizen programs. "It unleashes the creativity of a group of people who are empowered to make changes. It gives you 400 or 500 hours of improvement activity focused in one area for a week. And it does accelerate the improvement process." One advantage of squeezing all the activity into a single week, says Anand Sharma, founder and president of TBM Consulting, is that "it doesn't give you the luxury to think of big, expensive solutions. The emphasis is on solutions you can implement quickly. And you get immediate reinforcement by getting results." Because of the compressed time frame, the Assn. for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) has dubbed the technique "kaizen blitz." To popularize the concept, AME has been staging a series of public blitz events during which company outsiders are in- vited to participate as members of kaizen teams. The University of Dayton's Center for Competitive Change and administrators of the Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing at Utah State University have also sponsored in-plant public kaizen events, as have TBM Consulting and the Kaizen Institute, a consulting network with branches in Europe, Japan, and the U.S. A solution One explanation for the recent surge in interest: Although most manufacturing executives now have a fairly good grasp of the principles of the Toyota Production System-the basic framework of "lean" manufacturing- many have been looking for a way to introduce the concepts into their plants. And that's just what kaizen events originally were designed to do. In his new book, Gemba Kaizen: The Common-Sense Approach to Business Management (1997, McGraw-Hill), Masaaki Imai, founder and chairman of the Kaizen Institute, points out that af-ter Toyota Motor Corp. had developed and implemented just-in-time (JIT) production methods within its own facilities, company executive Taiichi Ohno formed an autonomous study group to spread the practices to the automaker's suppliers. "Each month," Imai notes, "the group visited a gemba [workplace] of a different supplier and conducted gemba kaizen there for three or four days. . . . [This] proved to be such an ef-fective way of spreading Toyota's JIT know-how and practices among its sup-pliers that the primary suppliers soon began involving their second-tier suppli-ers in the activities as well." Robert W. Hall, professor of opera-tions management at Indiana Univer-sity and a long-time AME official, re-calls that Toyota began conducting its kaizen blitzes with suppliers in the early 1970s. "When Toyota did it, it was more like a blitkrieg - total war on waste,"he says. While researching his 1983 book, Zero Inventories, Hall talked to one of the floor leaders at Tokai Rika, a Toyota supplier firm in Japan. "He told me that he went home only three nights during the five-month pe-riod while they were going through it. They went end to end and transformed the entire plant," Hall says. Although today's kaizen events may be some-what less intense, team members often put in 12- to 14-hour days, and maintenance crews are fre-quently on call to work through the night-moving machinery and modifying equipment or electrical drops after other team members have left for the day. But the effort does pay off. With adequate preparation and strong man-agement support, a series of kaizen events can produce a significant transformation. "As a tactical approach, it is an idea whose time has come," asserts Kenneth J. McGuire, president of the Manufacturing Excellence Action Coalition (MEAC), a South Yarmouth, Mass.-based consulting firm. But, he points out, kaizen is more than just a tactical weapon. It is also a set of tools and a basis for building a competitive strat- egy. The kaizen toolbox includes the five Ss of good house-keeping- derived from five Japanese words beginning with the letter "s"-along with standardization of procedures, and elimination of muda, the Japanese term for waste. From a tactical perspective, McGuire stresses, "kaizen deals with breakthrough change, done swiftly, and adher-ing to the principles of the Toyota Production System. . . . And, as a strategy, if your problem is disconnection-batch manufacturing and erratic demand inside your factory- then kaizen may be the perfect prescription." Steady gains Many companies that have embraced the concept would agree. While the 885% productivity leap achieved in the Al-liedSignal fan-disc cell may be an aberration, steady across-the- board gains are common. "At the business-unit level, our productivity goal is a 6% improvement each year-and we've been exceeding that," says Marc Hoffman, vice presi-dent- operations for the firm's Phoenix-based jet-engine business. "At the factory level, it has been much higher. Most of our buildings are getting about a 20% year-to-year productivity improvement." But productivity isn't the only benefit. At AlliedSignal, kaizen events have targeted improvements in quality, leadtime reduction, on-time delivery, and even improved cash flow. The 2,000- employee business unit now stages about 200 kaizen events a year, and occasionally conducts them for supplier firms. Hoffman, who brought in TBM Consulting to help spread the kaizen gospel, says that the kaizen principles mesh very well with the aerospace unit's overall business strategies-one of which is growth. "It fits very well," he says, "because it frees up resources and capacity to accommodate that growth." In Building 102, where rotating-engine parts are produced, the results of the kaizen strategy are evident. Since early 1995, WIP inventory has been reduced by 42% (from $14.2 million to $8.3 million), the defect rate slashed 31%, and manhours/part cut 32%. Meanwhile, the facility's customer-satisfaction index has soared. Achieving those gains took a series of kaizen events and a good deal of effort. "Over the last two years, we've moved every machine in this building- about 300 machines," says George Kolb, man-ager of production systems, who heads AlliedSignal's kaizen promotion office in Phoenix. Kaizen activities require the support of hourly produc-tion workers, Hoffman points out. "On the Tuesday or Wed-nesday after a kaizen event, people have to continue to do things the new way. And that is often a struggle, because change is uncomfortable." Companies that have climbed on the kaizen bandwagon have found ways to institutionalize the changes made. For example: ??Standard Products Co., a $1.2 billion automotive-components manufacturer headquartered in Dearborn, Mich., has introduced kaizen events at all 39 of its plants worldwide. "We've gotten productivity improvements of 25% to 30% in each workshop, and typically we've reduced WIP by 80% or 85%," says Mark Griffin, corporate director of continuous improvement and quality assurance. Working with the Kaizen Institute, Standard Products ini-tially conducted five-day events, devoting the first day to train-ing team members in the basic principles. "But we're doing them a little faster now," Griffin says. "We've been through [the training] with a lot of our workforce, so now it is not uncommon for us to go right to work and do them in three days." In fact, CEO Ted Zampetis has instigated an even faster version, one-day events, which he calls "lightning kaizens." When Zampetis goes on plant tours with manufacturing staffers, Grif-fin notes, "he'll send people back to get stop watches and time the activities in an area-and make changes the same day." Standard Products' workshops often focus on achieving one-piece flow through takt time analysis and work balancing. "If your takt time is 30 seconds," Griffin points out, "then every 30 seconds a [finished] part should be going into a box." Getting to a smooth one-piece flow, Griffin explains, often requires detection of inefficient worker movement-which can be obscured in a traditional plant. "If you are producing in batches, a guy can look busier than the dickens-but what you don't see is that he was in the john for 25 minutes. In other cases, people may be putting in unnecessary motions." ??Black & Decker Corp.'s Household Products Div. began staging kaizen events at its Asheboro, N.C., plant in 1994, with assistance from TBM Consulting. It has since spread the practice to its plants in Queretaro, Mexico, and Kuantan, Malaysia, and has been doing "office kaizens" at division headquarters in Shelton, Conn. Last year 300 people participated in 42 kaizen projects at the Asheboro plant, which makes a variety of appliances such as toaster ovens and coffee makers, as well as the "Snakelite" flashlight. All told, those 42 projects yielded a 29% plantwide productivity increase, a 74% reduction in WIP, a 39% reduction in floor space, and total sav-ings of $4.6 million. In the Snakelite area, one kaizen subteam studied takt time utilization and experimented with work rebalanc-ing. It implemented changes that improved worker productivity by 36%, while freeing up 1,800 sq ft of floor space. A second subteam built a simulated U-cell that achieved 52% higher productivity than the main production line. "Previously, we'd been involved with implementing de-mand- flow technology-which puts a lot of emphasis on analyzing the situation and studying it for six months. But kaizen is much more a hands-on, 'let's go do it' approach," says Dennis Harrison, division vice president-quality. "We have a tendency in the U.S. to not want to move until we have all the answers. But if you study something too long, it never gets done." ??Pella Corp., a manufacturer of window systems based in Pella, Iowa, launched its kaizen event program in December 1992. "We call them PIEs-or process-improvement events," says Mel Haught, senior vice president of operations. "We started doing them on the shop floor, but we have since deployed the discipline in a number of other areas. We created a spinoff effort for rapid quality improvement, and we are expanding into the administrative area." Through November 1996, Pella had conducted 762 events-about half lasting five days and the others ranging from two to four days. As for the cumulative impact, Haught estimates the firm's overall productivity has increased by 40% to 45% since 1993-"and we are still delivering an 8%-to- 10% improvement per year." Other improvements since 1993 include: a 60% reduction in order-to-shipment lead-time and an overall WIP reduction of 50%. "It's not due entirely to the kaizens, but that has been an important tool," Haught says. "A lot of it comes about be-cause of what the [kaizen program] has released in terms of employee empowerment. We've had more than 2,600 people participate in the 762 team events." Typically, about 40% of the team members are hourly production employees. Team structure Companies have taken different approaches to assembling teams for kaizen events. When the activity is relatively new to a company, often there is a high level of senior-management participation-to foster understanding of the principles and to build management support. As a company's kaizen program matures, it may shift to smaller teams composed primarily of production workers. Typically, when the target area is a specific manufacturing cell, several hourly employees in the cell are tapped to join the kaizen team, while their coworkers continue to do their nor-mal jobs. "The team members need to observe the line during normal production, so you need a running line," explains Black & Decker's Harrison. "The people on the kaizen team don't do any actual production work during the event ." It is important to include hourly workers as team members, he adds, because "they know the operation. They can help the team to understand why things are done a certain way." But it is equally important, in many cases, to include people unfamiliar with the operation-like salesmen, secretaries, or company outsiders-because they are more likely to question why things are done a certain way. Bill Schwartz at TBM notes that salesmen and outsiders are more likely to ask the tough questions. By challenging ac-cepted practices, they often trigger critical analysis of an operation. The ideal team, Schwartz suggests, might include: three to five production operators, a supervisor, a quality ex-pert, a manufacturing engineer, two or three management people, and possibly a cost accountant or a salesman. "A cross-functional, diagonal slice of the or-ganization usually gives you the best team," he says. "You're more likely to get a lot of good ideas that way." Preparation While a kaizen event takes place within the span of one week, the advance preparation may take much longer. The first step is to identify target areas where improvements will have a significant competitive impact. It's also important to analyze the physical layout to determine what equipment would be difficult to relocate. "A kaizen mandate should be prepared before every event," stresses MEAC's McGuire. "The mandate narrows the boundaries-for example, changing the production scheduling system or the choice of materials may be out of bounds. The mandate also should identify the objectives that you are trying to achieve. "It is easy to have eyes that are big-ger than your stomach when you are do-ing a kaizen event. But you have to be realistic about what you can accomplish in five days. That's why you string a bunch of events together-because you can never fix everything all at once." "The scope of an event is awfully important," concurs Pella's Haught. "You don't want to bite off more than you can chew-or you run the risk of frustrating the team." At Pella each week-long event winds up with a Friday morning meeting-often attended by senior management-at which the team mem-bers report on their efforts. In terms of sustaining enthusiasm for continuous improvement, Haught says, "there is a lot to be gained in those Friday sessions"- especially when teams are able to report significant successes. In organizations where kaizen activity is a relatively new phenomenon, training of team members-usually done on the first day-is an important aspect of the preparation. "The training sessions aren't intended to make people kaizen experts in a single day," says Harrison at Black & Decker. "But you explain the goals,youexplainhow tocollectdata,and how to begin to implement change."

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