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Kaizen Interventions: A Tool for Industrial Engineers in Continuous Improvement Activities


Companies today are under increasing pressure to accomplish increased productivity and effectiveness in use of people, space and equipment with the same or fewer production resources. After careful evaluation of the production processes in use, companies are often turning to Kaizen rapid improvement projects in targeted, short-term improvement activities. These activities often take no more than two to four days and can result in dramatic improvements in productivity and use of resources. However, conducting such an activity and more importantly maintaining the improvements realized are often more difficult than they might first appear to be. In fact, many of these projects fail to result in lasting improvements. These approaches can be of great benefit to the industrial engineer in providing leadership for continuous improvement activities in the companies in which they work. The authors of this paper have conducted many such improvement activities in a variety of industrial settings. Companies involved have produced computer equipment, electrical hand tools, steam pressure products, electric meters, transformers, industrial actuators, automotive products, and aircraft components. This paper will briefly describe the basics of lean production and Kaizen concepts. It will then describe the process followed in conducting a Kaizen rapid improvement project, sometimes called a Kaizen blitz. Next the paper will present some of the results obtained from these activities. Most importantly, the experience of what has worked and what has not will be discussed. An assessment of reasons for success or failure will be presented. Finally, actions to ensure success and avoid failure will be presented as well.

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A Strategic Approach to Sustaining Lean Process Improvements

Many organizations have successfully used Kaizen rapid improvement projects to guide the elimination of process waste and improve the effectiveness of the use of their resources. However, often these organizations have failed to sustain the process improvements that have been demonstrated initially. Companies often are puzzled about why they have not been able to sustain the achievements once gained through Kaizen interventions. The answer often is that the improvements have been made as isolated events and not as a part of an overall operations strategy. This strategy needs to include the relationship existing between all areas of the enterprise. The relationship between the areas of focus for lean operational improvements and the functions of management, purchasing, supply management, financial analysis, marketing, sales, and new product development must be represented in the improvement strategy. If a strategy is not developed identifying these relationships and the changes that must result in all of these additional functions when lean improvements are made, the improvements very often are not sustained. The authors of this paper have developed and applied a process in which Kaizen rapid improvement projects take place in the context of an overall strategy of improvement established by a manufacturing company. This approach has been demonstrated to be superior to one in which Kaizen improvements are developed for specific operations when not preceded by the development of an improvement strategy. This paper will describe how to develop a lean improvement strategy and relate lean production and Kaizen concepts to that strategy. It will then describe the process followed in implementing a lean strategy for a manufacturer and will describe the dramatic changes that resulted. Most importantly, the experience of what has worked and what has not will be discussed. An assessment of reasons for success or failure will be presented. Finally, actions to ensure success and avoid failure will be presented.

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Reducing Total Lead Time By Focusing On Transactional Processes


Lean management processes have had their inception in manufacturing operations. However, when value stream mapping the entire process, one often learns that more time is consumed in the pre-manufacturing, transactional processes than actually is used on the production floor. Sometimes as much as 80 percent of the total time to produce a product after receiving the order takes place in the pre-production operations.

This paper will present the authors’ experience with applying lean production principles to these pre-manufacturing operations and the dramatic improvements that have resulted. Wasted time and effort occurs because of problems with layout, information flow and availability, organization of the work area, and operational processes.

Application of lean principles to office areas can result in decreasing sales order processing times by 90 percent or more, accounting process times by more than 50 percent and office space requirements by as much as 60 percent. This paper will describe lean implementation in a sales service center for a valve manufacturer and a raw material approval process for a solvent manufacturer. The paper will describe both the methods used and results obtained.

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Success Factors for Lean Business Process Implementation


When the time from order to receipt of cash from customers is considered for most production operations, the business processing time in office or non-production areas can account for as much as 60 to 70 percent of the total time. For this reason business and transactional processes are increasingly the focus of lean production investigations. However, implementing lean principles with business and transactional processes poses problems not found in manufacturing areas. Among these are definition of processes, work products and information flows.

This paper will describe the authors’ experience in implementing lean principles in business process areas in a variety of different companies and will define implementation methods. Difficulties in identifying work products, defining and measuring information flows, and taking into account business structures will be discussed. Use of lean tools in office areas such as value stream mapping, takt time, speeding changeover time, introducing cellular arrangements and conducting Kaizen improvement projects will be presented. A process for implementation including preparation, training, use of lean tools, improving process flows and implementing changes will be described. Key elements ensuring success in implementation will be defined. Results from actual applications will be used to illustrate the approach.

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Methodology For Enterprise Value Stream Mapping


In our current competitive climate, organizations are being forced to improve performance or become extinct. Delivery speed is one of the key elements to compete. In many markets cost and quality have become order qualifiers. To aggressively win orders (grow), service to the customer has become the key to be competitive. But service alone will not win orders, and the concept of service may mean different things to different customers.
There are 3 key elements to any process: 1. Material flow 2. Information flow and 3. Business flow. In many instances, material flow and business flow are addressed through the use of lean tools such as value stream mapping, value analysis, and waste elimination, but what is left behind is the information flow. Information is the backbone of any process. Without it, it is impossible to execute the business and the material processes. It is eye opening, when we measure the number of hand-offs and cross functional boundaries that happen in an information flow process. In most information flow processes, cross-overs are always present. Hand-offs is where most processes break down. In most instances, the initial steps in the information flow are the most critical. If bad or inaccurate, the ripples or impact to an organization is in the order of magnitude of 10X or greater.
Systems in the business process play a big role. For whatever reason, most organizations have several systems in which information resides. Due to impracticality of these systems, many users develop their own processes to achieve the end result, but along the way a multitude of inefficiencies are also developed. As information is routed through multiple systems and is interfaced with multiple users, elapsed time is stretched to many times 100X the actual Value Added time of the activity. It is not unusual to review process with lead-times of 80 to 90 days and Value Added time of just minutes. In most transactional improvements, the business process (the interface with the user and the information process) contains the majority of rework, delays, errors and information break-down.
In order to improve the Order-To-Cash (OTC) process, we first need to understand how the information is being managed. This is done by mapping the flow and determining how many systems are being used and how many functional cross-overs information goes through. The typical OTC transactional steps may account for up 85% of the total process time. For this reason business and transactional processes are increasingly the focus of lean initiatives. However, implementing lean practices in transactional processes pose a challenge not found in manufacturing areas. Among these are definitions of processes, functional boundaries and silo mentality.

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