Experience Kaikaku, Day 2: Fun with Pipes & Joints

We have fun on the Japan Kaikaku Experience, but not that much fun. We’re talking about the kinds of pipes and joints you use to build things, not smoke. Here is an example of a parts picking station with sensors built in as a pokayoke (mistake-proof).
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Practically every company in Japan that is serious about kaizen now recognizes that the Toyota Production System is a superior model and should be copied. One thing you will see a lot of in these factories is the home-made, pipe & joint style of cart, workstation, even frames of production equipment such as clean rooms. On our first day our group visited two companies doing an excellent job of making flexible equipment suited for one-piece flow using the Yazaki (Creform in the U.S.A.) brand of pipe & joint. Here’s another example of an assembly workstation built using this material.
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What are the advantages of the pipe & joint system? There’s a cost advantage compared to buying a ready-make shelf or cart, there’s reusability since you can dismantle and rebuild the cart if your needs change, and there are two other factors.
At one company there were clear divisions of “I design”, “I build” and “I use”. With this material since the equipment you want can be made and changed so quickly you can create a team and do this very quickly, in effect forming a small kaizen group to build factory equipment or office furniture. This lets you make what you need quicker if the person using it can design and build it, and it also breaks down organizational walls between these functions.
The biggest learning perhaps was the way the pipe & joint material lets you answer the question: “How fast are you improving?” Our host drew this chart to illustrate his point. On this chart, which would you rather be, company A or company B?
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What about on this chart? Would you rather be company A or company B?
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The lesson is that it’s not where you are today but how quickly you are getting better by doing kaizen.