A Japanese Perspective on Building Long-Term Success
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a laser focus on how businesses ensure continuity of operations under trying circumstances. For many companies, social distancing mandates have triggered a massive shift to teleworking, while other companies, like Amazon, have had to modify how and when they procure and deliver goods and services. In the middle of such tumult, having a framework for evaluating what is working and how to make necessary modifications can mean the difference between economic survival and irreversible damage to a company’s reputation and bottom line.
Even before COVID-19, the uncertainty of supply and demand has always existed, driving companies to rethink how they can come out stronger from economic situations similar to our current one. When production output may be at its lowest, these situations open opportunities to tackle those to-do items that may be long overdue. Those items could include machine evaluations or repairs, cleaning, reorganizing paper storage, and much more. One way to successfully tackle that to-do list is to begin to adopt the practice of lean manufacturing pioneered by Toyota and the foundational principle of kaizen, which puts a focus on continuous improvement. Recent articles on kaizen and lean manufacturing provided insight into how companies in the West apply these principles.
Founded in 1923 and based in Tokyo, Komori has successfully implemented the principle of kaizen for almost 100 years. As service project manager for Komori, I thought I’d share what it means to implement kaizen in business from a Japanese perspective. For Komori, kaizen is more than just a theory. It is a practice. By following these guidelines, print providers can adopt similar practices to apply kaizen to their own success and long-term viability.
Practice kaizen before there’s a problem.
All too often, companies wait until something goes wrong to implement change. Conversely, a focus on continuous improvement is a core tenet of kaizen. By integrating kaizen into your daily operations, you will look for ways to significantly improve efficiencies, even when there are no problems. For example, at Komori, we hold daily meetings to review previous suggestions and evaluate their effectiveness using quantifiable data. Then we brainstorm new ideas for improvements in order to set goals and procedures for the coming day.
Of course, kaizen can also be invaluable when something does go wrong. Say the count on a print run for a customer comes up short. Using kaizen practices, you can identify where the process broke down by analyzing every step of production. Once it is pinpointed where things went off track, steps can be taken to prevent the same errors from happening again.
Create a culture of kaizen throughout your organization.
The true power of kaizen is found in being thought-driven in a culture that looks for ways to make small improvements to increase efficiencies. To successfully implement kaizen, every member of your organization needs to embrace this philosophy from your top-level executives to your press operators, engaging in a continuous analysis of existing processes.
Ensuring employees internalize kaizen as an automatic process requires more than corporate mandates. It requires ongoing coaching and education, but the result is well worth the effort. When companies get complacent, work can feel like a scene from “Groundhog Day,” endlessly repeating the same events without purpose. By contrast, companies that embrace kaizen are always evolving with forward-thinking employees who continuously seek ways to innovate.
The most beneficial improvements aren’t always the most profitable or efficient in the short-term. Instead, with a kaizen mindset, one begins to think of improvements as stepping stones that build incremental value over time. Be willing to invest in employee education, new software, capital equipment or even office furniture to realize greater benefits from the process of continuous improvement.
Understand the value stream.
One great thing is that it isn’t necessary to make dramatic changes to realize the value of kaizen. A kaizen event can be as simple as reorganizing your desk. A kaizen event for manufacturing, (sometimes called a “blitz”) is a technique for applying an intensive, short-term effort to improve part of a value stream. Kaizen events typically involve a diverse group of team members who can offer a variety of insights on a particular issue.
For example, the Toyota Production System emphasizes the elimination of waste and non-value-added activities and materials in the manufacturing environment. In a print operation, waste is typically thought of in terms of inefficient use of paper, ink and other material inputs due to errors such as ink marking, color issues or problems with substrates; however the Toyota (or kaizen) approach looks at waste from the perspective of the customer, defining it as anything in the production process that does not add customer value. The value stream consists of all the activities necessary to bring a product from its initial order to delivery to the customer.
Develop a systematic approach.
Along with cultivating a kaizen mindset, successfully implementing kaizen can be challenging unless you adopt a systematic approach to implementation. Doing so helps turn the philosophy of kaizen into quantifiable benefits. Start by auditing existing processes from start to finish. As you examine processes, ask yourself questions such as:
- How can we make production run faster?
- How can we reduce makeready waste?
- Can we regroup jobs to take better advantage of efficiencies?
- Do we need to try a new supplier?
Identify and implement changes, then document your findings. Once you have data-driven results, reevaluate your changes and start the process over to engage in a continuous cycle of improvement.
There is no doubt that adopting kaizen takes commitment, particularly for companies that are new to the philosophy. However, the resulting innovations and efficiencies can help your business weather challenges in the here and now and prosper well into the future. Some printing plants have reported that they have been able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars because of ideas that were implemented because of kaizen events. For printers large and small, driving efficiencies in business is essential to success in today’s competitive marketplace. A firm and lasting company-wide commitment to continuous improvement and greater efficiency is sure to advance your organizational goals and help your print business stand out from the crowd.
Daniel Shinomiya is service project manager for Komori America, a manufacturer of offset and digital presses. Shinomiya’s in-depth experience applying kaizen improvements within manufacturing environments supports Komori in its commitment to help printing companies navigate the changing market landscape.
Daniel Shinomiya is Service Project Manager for Komori America, a premier manufacturer of offset and digital presses. Shinomiya’s in-depth experience applying kaizen improvements within manufacturing environments supports Komori in its commitment to help printing companies navigate the changing market landscape.