JKE Update: Reflection and 122 Degree Sand!

ron-sandThe final exam for those of us on the Japanese Kaikaku Experience was like none other I have ever taken.

We were buried in 122 degree Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius) sand and asked to recite the 10 kaizen commandments wearing nothing but our cotton Yukatas.

OK, it wasn’t really an exam and we didn’t have to recite anything. This activity was more for us to reflect, relax, and mentally prepare to get back to business in our home countries.

We were actually at a sand bath hall called “SARAKU.” In the Kagoshima dialect (where we were) SA means sand and RAKU signifies happiness and relaxation.

This sand bath is the only natural sand bath in the world. The sand is infused with hot spring water that comes naturally from the beach. And let me just say this… it is hot, really hot… but oh so very relaxing.

When you are laying there under the sand your fingers actually start to pulse. It was actually very nice. I stayed under for around 15 minutes which is longer than my wimp tour guide Brad who only stayed under for like 14 minutes! And to think I had such high hopes for him.

Review and Reflection

Our last day was spent reflecting and discussing what we saw and experienced this week. We visited 5 plants in total and saw everything from a Toyota Highlander being assembled to toilet seats being produced at a company called TOTO. I will write more about TOTO in the coming days.

With so much to take in it will take me weeks, maybe longer, for it to all sink in. But for now, I’d like to share some immediate take-aways from the week that was.

Toyota is amazing

kyushu.jpgWithout a doubt, seeing Toyota in action was the highlight of the week.

While the other 4 plants we visited were excellent, Toyota stole the show for me.

I briefly wrote about our visit there in this article… but it doesn’t come close to doing justice to what we saw.

It starts with 5S

5s-desk.jpgIf there was one consistent theme in all 5 plants it was their superb level of 5S.

One plant we visited actually made their own castings followed by heavy machining – yet the place was as clean, if not cleaner, than any plant I have ever been in (including Motorola and Nokia plants all over the world).

The picture is of one person’s stand up only desk. How does your desk compare?

Energy efficient

The Japanese are very energy conscious. For example, if the line operators go on break the factory lights are immediately turned off in that work area. In many places, including hotels, motion sensors turn lights on and off.

Additionally, each plant we visited used highly efficient light bulbs.

Finally, one plant actually powered their plant by solar panels. On the day we were visiting their solar panels were providing 125% of their power needs. The excess 25% was being sold to their neighbors at a discounted rate.

Employee involvement

Several of the plants we visited were passionate about their employees making improvements.

One plant actually allowed the various cell areas to decide what metrics they tracked. The only things they had to track were whether or not they were making money and quality performance.

Visual management

If there is one word to describe how each of these plants handled visual management it would be simplicity.

At Toyota, for example, a simple electronic production board displayed 4 numbers. The first was the daily production goal. The second was how many cars they should have produced thus far. The third was how many they actually produced. The fourth was the ratio of actual to plan in a percentage. Simple, but very effective.

By the way, their goal was 97% effectiveness – not 100%. I will write on their rationale for this in the near future.

It’s about Flow

In addition to 5S, the level of flow exhibited in each plant was out of this world. Not every plant used kanban, but they all ensured things flowed in near perfect fashion.

And, not to worry, the plants that didn’t use kanban in the traditional sense definitely had their production signaling process mastered.

NGK, for example, didn’t use kanban yet they had approximately one days’ supply of inventory in their plant. How do you like them apples?

We can do this

The last thing I came away with was although Toyota seems to be in another universe… there was nothing I saw at the other plants that we cannot do in the west.  And to be honest, there is nothing Toyota is doing we can’t do either.

It won’t happen tomorrow or be easy. But we can do it. I can’t wait to get back home to get cracking.  America, here I come… and look out as I am highly motivated!

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  1. Sheila

    March 14, 2008 - 6:42 pm

    Thank you for the updates this week. I almost felt like I was there with you. I am very interested in this trip and plan to investigate it further. I hope you have a safe and uneventful flight home.

  2. Ron Pereira

    March 15, 2008 - 10:57 am

    Thanks Sheila. I am back in the USA now… jet lagged big time! But my kids look pretty cute in their kimonos!