Field Report from Gemba Tour #62, Part 4

By Jon Miller Updated on May 29th, 2017

Today was day-long visit to a company who is 13 years on their lean journey. The many valuable points of learning were a mixed bag of lean principles, practical advice and seeing systems in action. We saw many world class examples of low cost intelligent automation. Chaku-chaku lines were built essentially from spare parts and basic building materials. There were a few pieces of low cost mechanisms and sensors which are this company’s proprietary knowledge, but otherwise the bare-bones equipment design was genius. The costs of the home-built equipment are low enough to expense, not amortize as capital equipment. Absolutely brilliant.
The factory was extremely clean and visual and this extended to the work areas of the office staff. The support staff such as purchasing, safety, planning and engineering were located directly on the factory floor. This company has aligned their support staff organizationally, practicing what would be called a value stream organization in English. They were experimenting with a method of making the daily work of the office staff visual by putting it on the wall digitally. Office work is harder to standardize and visualize, but this company walks the talk.
One of the tour participants asked what a company just getting started in a lean enterprise transformation should do first. The answer was sensible and simple, to the point of being stunning.
1) Set rules
2) Follow the rules
3) Improve the rules
In Toyota Production System terms this would be setting standards, following the standards to identify what is difficult to do, and then practicing kaizen so that a better standard is created. Repeating this process is the continuous improvement cycle. They key is to start simple in order to gain speed, confidence and discipline.
Finally, their method for total involvement in kaizen by their workforce was something we can roughly translate as the “oops! that was close” suggestion system. This company’s level of mistake proofing, low cost intelligent automation and automatic error detection means that workers are rarely the ones to find the problem. However, the concept of jidoka means automation with human intelligence, and machines can only detect what they are programmed to detect, while humans have a much wider range of sensory input and can predict or point things that may become the root cause of future faults. This activity focuses on finding near misses or close calls rather than finding problems or defects after the fact. Early prediction and prevention of potential hazards and errors has helped this company maintain excellent performance in safety, quality and delivery. Cost performance naturally follows.
When logical thinking and human creativity are taken to their extreme the result is beautiful in its simplicity.

  1. Anonymous

    December 23, 2008 - 7:25 am

    Very simple and to the point, which I believe truly exemplifies lean methodology. I would add a # 4. Measure the rules. What gets measured gets improved. Great post.

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