Field Report from Gemba Tour #62, Part 1

The last few weeks haven’t been very productive ones for writing blog articles due to travel between the US, UK and Japan. However the interaction with clients and changes in scenery have been good stimuli for future article ideas. This week I am in Japan, participating on our 62nd Japan Kaikaku Experience with a group of 15 people. I will share insights, findings or fresh perspectives from participants on the trip this week.

Day 1 of our Gemba tour took us to an consumer electronics manufacturer outside of Tokyo. Worthy of note at this company is their effort over the past 10 years to implement the Toyota Production System. They began with a traditional mass production environment but were forced to change because of a drop in product demand due to a technology shift in the market and also the off-shoring of high volume product to China. The result was an innovative method for designing production layouts according to the volume, weight and quantity of parts of their 127 product varieties. Production volumes range from half a dozen to the low thousands per month.

Over 10 years they reduced over 1,000 meters of conveyor (the traditional method) to zero meters, step by step. The use of flexible tube and joint materials (Yazaki pipe) helped them create cells, workstations, linked carts, relay method several other production layout approaches. The result was double digit productivity improvement, inventory and space reduction, as well as reduction of energy cost to operate a line from 115 kwh per day to less than 3 kwh per day. In addition, the elimination of automated conveyor equipment reduced their maintenance cost from over $1,000 per day to zero.

Their 5S was excellent, the suggestion system was going strong and visual management and problem response (andon) systems were world class. They have a mature supplier development program, lean new product development process and leading lean environmental and energy reduction programs. What’s the next frontier for kaizen at this company? Their focus is to streamline the non-value added areas such as kitting and inspection, as well as introduce kaizen across office functions.

It was a good reminder that “more conveyor” is almost never the correct answer to a manufacturing challenge, just as “more offices” and “more walls” are almost never the right direction towards a lean office.

2 Comments

  1. David Moles

    December 16, 2008 - 2:29 am

    There’s a Futurama episode where alien mind control rays are turning all of Earth’s inhabitants into idiots, causing, among other things, a major commuter train collision in Grand Central station.
    “People won’t be late for work though –” says the even more than usually bubble-headed newscaster reporting the story — “’cause the Governor lady said: ‘I’m sending in more trains!‘”
    Cue: another train crashes into the burning wreckage; commuters pile aboard the wrecked train.
    This is what I think of whenever “more anything” is someone’s first response to a problem.

  2. Jon Miller

    December 16, 2008 - 7:10 am

    Spot on David. Just like more dollars for the Detroit Three.