Eric’s Lean Benchmarking Trip to Japan, Part 1

Last week Eric Sander joined a group of clients on our Lean manufacturing benchmarking trip. It was Eric’s first trip to Japan. Eric survived a week of fish and rice. When he got back to the United States, he had a nice plate of steak and potatoes.
Here are some of the things he saw:

Lean Bolt Making
“We visited bolt manufacturer Saga Tekkosho. It was a good example of how a batch manufacturer can still implement Lean principles.

They are very clean, with well organized material flow and they empower employees to make decisions on the shop floor. For instance, in the heading department, employees are given weekly schedules and are responsible for setting up the work sequence of the orders to best minimize changeover work.

Saga only hires high school graduates. The company’s philosophy is to hire people for life and train them under the Saga philosophy. In addition, they felt hiring experienced people escalated the wage scale unnecessarily.”

Classic Work Cells and Good Humor Trucks
“We visited JBK who manufactures drive shafts, engines and other drive train parts. Less clean than Saga, nonetheless very well organized. JBK had the classic work cells with operators circulating on the inside of the cell, working to well timed work elements.
Of particular interest was a system of Automated Guided Vehicles that delivered parts to the engine assembly line. These are home designed carts that travel a magnetic path to the delivery point. This has eliminated fork lifts and material handling positions. As the cart moves through its route, it plays music that indicates it is coming; sounds like a good humor truck.”

Building Houses the Lean Way
“We visited Misawa Techno, a company that manufactures custom homes in its factory. The process includes their sales office designing the home with the customer the factory constructing the shell and interior walls, floors and roof.

The order is received, and within two weeks it is delivered to the construction site. The assembly sequence is loaded in a computer and each workstation constructs its part of the process. Parts move along a conveyor and through the proper machine.

The key technology that makes this system effective is the gluing of the wall, ceiling, and floor surfaces to the frames. The glue is very fast drying and extremely strong, a major selling point they demonstrate by lifting a car with a glued wood block. In addition, windows and the outer facade are added.

Once the frame components are completed, they are delivered to the building site and unloaded in the order that they are constructed, which takes one or two days. Then the plumbing, electrical and finishing work is done. To support the process of building the home Misawa utilizes several Lean techniques.

Although the process is push in the factory, Misawa concentrates of removing waste from each process to make the cycle time as small as possible. Each home is scheduled and constructed as a one piece flow, one home at a time. It utilizes Kanban to pull all its materials from its raw materials and from its suppliers. Visual management is also emphasized and utilizes visual instructions, and uses andon lights.

Following the factory visit we went to the site of the model homes. These were very nicely done and in the current modern Japanese style. Misawa is the premier home builder and is noted for construction that is earthquake resistant. One model is constructed with a special ceramic facade that is very resistant to earthquakes.”