Job Shop Kaizen

A continuous improvement specialist from a UTC group company e-mailed us today with the question “What principles should I look to implement for Job Shop Kaizen?” Kaizen in a job shop should aim to implement the same principles as in a shop that mass produces widgets, or in a clinic that treats patient. Namely, all of them.
All Lean principles apply in all processes to a greater or lesser degree, eventually. This is not a very helpful answer to our friend from UTC who is asking “What should I do first?” or “What do I do next?” in a job shop. The answer depends on what one means by “job shop”. Presumably, things in a job shop are a whole lot different than in a volume production shop.
Gemba Research is a kaizen consulting company that started out in the Northwest. It’s a nice place to live but not exactly the manufacturing hub of the United States. What we lack in automotive manufacturing we make up for in aerospace to some extent in our neck of the woods. There are quite a number of small firms locally that fall into the job shop category as well. Much of our early work teaching Lean manufacturing and kaizen was with job shops.
One of our first clients was a job shop that made custom upholstered furniture based on third party designers, with order sizes ranging from one to fifty. By asking “What will make us money?” early on we identified lead-time reduction as a good way to prioritize Lean implementation and ultimately cost reduction. The biggest impact with Lean manufacturing came from everyone recognizing the 7 wastes in everything that they do and in starting a disciplined approach to getting rid of waste using kaizen newspaper meetings. Dividing up what were formerly one-person jobs into multi-stage flow, regardless of lot size, has helped wastes become visible in the factory. Efforts at 5S have started more recent at this company. They are developing standard procedures for dissimilar products with similar components and creating a training library to support this.
At another extreme, we worked with several job shop printers who set up and ran tens of thousands of units for each unique print run job. They called themselves a job shop. For these companies set up time reduction and Total Productive Maintenance focused on OEE improvement was important to create capacity without adding fixed assets. Each order required a new layout for the binding area, so the supervisors and team leaders needed to understand Just In Time and Standard Work very well so they could design a good layout to fulfill each new order efficiently.
One of our clients is a prosthetics (artificial limbs) clinic where each “job” is a unique limb designed and fitted to an individual person, referred individually from area hospitals. They never make the same thing twice. Yet they read The Toyota Way, saw how it all applied to them and they are now striving to establish Standard Work.
Another small client manufactured and installed railings. They worked for architects or general contractors and were essentially a construction crew with chop saws and welders in a garage. Each project used different materials, looked different, went together differently, and had unique challenges of installation at million dollar properties under the watchful eyes of finicky customers. Yet they essentially chopped, fitted and bolted on railings week after week.
Back when it seemed like almost every client was a job shop or custom manufacturer we used to joke that one day we’d walk into a factory stamping out thousands of identical widgets and the client would tell us “We’re not like Toyota. Everything we do is different.”
Today we have one client that is a global consumer electronics manufacturer. They produce tens of millions of units of their products each year. They have perhaps 40 to 50 active products at any one time. Each of these products does basically the same thing. All products follow essentially the same process. Almost the first thing out of their mouthes was “We have so much variation. Everything we do is different.” Laugh out loud.
All value added manufacturing processes fall into one of three categories of activity. In a manufacturing process energy is used to 1) add atoms (packing, assembly, welding, painting, plating, etc.), 2) remove atoms (cutting, drilling, milling, etching, etc.) or 3) reposition atoms (forging, casting, molding, bending, etc.). The process of how each manufacturer does one of these three things for each of their product is only as complex as they choose to design it to be. Toyota has just cut $1.2 billion from their manufacturing cost in their last fiscal year because of their understanding of the impact of process design on cost. Manufacturers are only as different as they will themselves to be.
So whether you are a job shop or not, whether your business is unique or not really doesn’t matter in the end. It’s just a question of which excuses you allow yourself to make for not doing kaizen. If you don’t have a process, define it and standardize it. If you have a defined process, improve it. The steps of observing the current condition, identifying the waste, sketching out the desired condition and applying the tools and principles of TPS to take out the waste are the same everywhere.
But here’s the twist: as a consulting company, each of our customers makes a different product. Their processes are different. The people are different. Their customers are different. They are located in cities and countries with climates, languages and laws that are different. Where we start and the sequence of events we follow to most effectively save money, develop people and make kaizen stick is different each time. We never work with the “same” client twice.
So… did I just prove or disprove my point?

3 Comments

  1. Jason Adams

    May 3, 2006 - 9:41 am

    This was a good start for me. I am in the construction industry and have some serious thinking to do about kaizen in our process

  2. Thomas

    July 31, 2008 - 9:02 am

    Hello,
    I am a bit confused with cycle times, and product families. I work in a small plant that transform glass. All products are made to order. I could say to simplify that all the products go through the same processing steps, but the processing time at each step can vary from 1 to 7 depending on the order.
    How should I define my product families for doing VSM ?
    Should I define the same Takt time for all products, or “create” different families to reduce the processing time variation within a family ; and then look for the Takt time of each family.
    Thanks a lot for your input.

  3. Jon Miller

    July 31, 2008 - 2:51 pm

    Hi Thomas,
    If the process flow is the same, we could say that they are all one product family. This is a difficult question sometimes when doing VSM in process industries. It sounds like you are making basically the same thing but different sizes and different cycle times, you are running a “mixed model line” but basically one product family with 700% variation in cycle time.