Virtual JKE Day Five

Kent Bradley
VP, North America
As someone who only recently joined the consulting world after 25 years directing manufacturing, assembly, and distribution operations, I can say with absolute conviction that I have never seen a lean assembly implementation the equal of Ricoh’s much written about program.
The effectiveness of materials administration and flow at Ricoh has resulted in near zero waste of transportation and motion for line assemblers. What remaining transportation required has been carefully mitigated using a small fleet of inexpensive home-made AGVs.
Effective examples of Jidoka are pervasive. Visual control for self management is well thought out and executed. Safety is impeccable. The plant has just received ISO 140001 environmental certification.
Line documentation is simple, graphical, and current–and is therefore used. Mistake proofing is widespread, and quality is untouchable. Assembly is on takt. Product flows. There are 3.5 kaizen improvement suggestions per month per employee. Most are implemented, all are recognized. Morale is high.
And profit dollars are greater on $200 million in current sales than they were in 1995 at $400 million prior to offloading segments to Ricoh’s Shanghai plant.
Perhaps more impressive to me than all those facts and figures, is the knowledge that the current — Lean– version of Ricoh only came into being about 10 years ago, as the realities of a required shift of production orientation from high volume, low mix to one of low volume, high mix became evident along with the inability of the current (at that time) horrifically expensive mass production automation, robots and conveyor system to adapt.
Face it. Most businesses in that situation would have tried desperately (and fustily) to adapt the existing equipment to the new requirements and eventually destroy themselves trying to pound a square equipment peg into a proverbial round hole of need.
Faced with drastically reduced revenue and a plant full of expensive but extremely valuable equipment assets, Ricoh chose to demonstrate faith in the principles of Lean and the ability of its people, scrapping virtually all of the previous equipment, retraining its people, and changing virtually overnight (and at considerable cost) to a lean system relying on one of 6 different production assembly processes each designed to fit with the high variation of models at low volumes.
Our group debriefed together for 3 hours on the week’s learning after leaving Ricoh, and we did it in style – a 17th floor conference room in the Imperial Hotel in downtown Tokyo overlooking the Imperial Palace, drinking superb tea and sampling excellent Japanese desserts. This was the summary planning session for each of the four companies represented on this particular JKE, and each team will do a report out to the group on their specific action plans tomorrow morning. I look forward to them all.
– Kent Bradley