What is Kaizen Manufacturing?
From the Japanese word meaning “change for the better,” Kaizen is also known as the Continuous Improvement method and is a strategy in which all employees work together to focus on improving the manufacturing process at all stages. It is about combining the talents of all workers to bring about the best results understanding that small changes over time add up to large impact.
Kaizen contains both a philosophical component as well as a specific action plan. The Kaizen philosophy dictates a company culture in which employees across the board are involved in suggesting and implementing strategic and technical improvements. Based on these suggestions, a specific action plan is put in place in order to improve specific areas. One of the keys to the Kaizen process is the engagement of all levels of employees, especially those who work on the plant floor.
The Kaizen process is sometimes known as Plan, Do, Check and Act (PDCA), meaning:
- Plan – formulate a planned solution for improvement
- Do – implement and test the solution
- Check – analyze and evaluate the results
- Act – determine follow-up actions based on results
One of the key features of the process is that it is not a one-and-done solution, but rather is an ongoing process in which all employees are always thinking about ways to improve. The process itself is made up of six steps that operate in a continuous cycle:
- Brainstorm – bring together a team that represents all departments and come up with ideas for repeatable processes that will provide improvements in different areas of the business.
- Measure – use quantifiable data and trackable metrics to monitor improvement. For example, measure how long it takes to finish a task using a new process as compared to the old way.
- Compare – look at the measured results and determine how they compare to the requirements – does the new process provide improvement?
- Innovate – keep looking for new ways to improve existing processes.
- Standardize – once a new process has been proven, standardize it so that it can be repeated and followed by all.
- Repeat – start the process again.
5 Kaizen Principles
Kaizen manufacturing is built on five key principles:
- Know your customer – understanding the customer’s needs and desires is key to being able to figure out the best way to meet their needs efficiently. It is important to also understand that these needs can change and the company should be agile in its response.
- Minimize waste – all employees should focus on minimizing waste and finding ways to improve the production process in order to meet the goals of zero-waste.
- Gemba walks – a Gemba Walk occurs when a senior manager walks around the factory floor to see firsthand and understand everything that is happening – how the production process operates, how the employees are doing, safety issues and more.
- Employee empowerment – teamwork is key to Kaizen, and all employees from the lowest level workers to the most senior managers have their role to play in the improvement process and should have their voices heard.
- Transparency – this method only works when changes are measurable and results can be analyzed and compared. Full transparency is needed to ensure accurate results.
Pros and Cons of Kaizen
The advantages to Kaizen manufacturing include:
- Less waste – focus on improvements means better efficiency and identification and elimination of areas of waste.
- Satisfied employees – people feel ownership over their work and that their opinions are respected and heard, making them happy to be part of the organization.
- Happy customers – improved work processes means faster delivery and higher quality products, making customers happy and loyal.
Some of the challenges involved with the Kaizen method include:
- Getting buy-in – the process requires a culture of teamwork and equality which can be challenging for some organizations.
- Need for change – it can be a challenge to make changes to systems and processes that have been in place for years, especially in an organization where the management team and/or workers are very set in their ways and resistant to change.
- Difficult to maintain – because Kaizen is an ongoing process and not a one-time thing, it can be difficult to maintain. It may be tempting to make one change and then continue with that new process for years, but the principles of Kaizen would say to keep analyzing it and looking for new ways to improve.
A tool like Matics RtOI system can help all employees identify areas for improvement as well as help measure and track results.