Experience Kaikaku, Day 4: The KTC Way

One of the highlights of this Japan Kaikaku Experience trip was the visit to KTC. This company has more than 40 years of history making strong, high quality hand tools. They supply tire wrenches for new Toyota cars and they also make the tools used by Toyota F1 pit crew. They were fortunate enough to have Toyota managers introduce them to kaizen and TPS. They have been doing kaizen for over 20 years. After 20 years of kaizen you might expect to see so-called “advanced Lean manufacturing”. At KTC this takes the form of a diligent execution of the basics.
Their 5S wasn’t perfect, but it was practical. I’ve been in drop forging, machining, and plating operations that were much, much worse. The focus of 5S activity at KTC is not looks. For them it’s 5S for safety, quality and productivity. Posted on a large signboard outside one of their buildings is the green safety cross showing days without a lost time incident. The record of 8,900+ days (24 years) without a lost time incident told the story. As a factory heating, forging and machining metal day in and day out this is quite an accomplishment.
“How is this level of 5S maintained?” one of the members of our group wanted to know. Daily, weekly and monthly 5S activities exist at KTC but this is not the secret. For KTC 5S is not an activity that is separate from the day to day running of the business, it is an integral part. For instance in the sales office as well as the R&D offices you bring out only the files you need to do today’s work because it makes it clear and visual what you have to do. You clear your desk at the end of the day because this is the most effective way to work. This is one of those “non-negotiable” items that make up a culture of a company.
Another non-negotiable item is involvement in kaizen. At the level of foremen, supervisors and workers there is what they call “jishuken” or autonomous kaizen activity. This involves all employees and the ideas tend to be small, local improvements that make your job a little bit easier or safer. Doing kaizen is a condition of employment and not something that you can opt out of. People have to work while thinking about how they can make their job easier. It sounds so simple that we were left thinking “Why wouldn’t everyone want to do this?”
At the management level kaizen takes the form of projects that last several months. A manager’s job is mostly kaizen, and the lesson here was that the more you do kaizen the less you have to manage. Kaizen projects are focused on cost reduction, and even the quality, safety and environmental kaizens are linked to cost reduction. “How do they train the managers to be able to run kaizen projects?” another member of our group wanted to know. The answer was that they don’t, since it is by learning how to do kaizen as part of your job in engineering, production control, etc. that you become a manager at KTC.
“How do you motivate people to do kaizen?” was another question, and here again we received some valuable advice. At KTC it’s the job of leadership to effectively link external motivation (desire for promotion and pay raises), internal motivation (desire for growing and developing as a person) and kaizen activity. Directing people to accomplish their goals by doing kaizen – in my understanding that’s the KTC way.