Most companies are looking to hire or appoint a lean champion that is just on the manufacturing floor. But to understand and undertake great change, the executive staff also has to understand the plight of manufacturing from a ground floor level. The first step begins with understanding lean manufacturing basics and goes back to listening, observing and understanding core issues from the ground floor up.
I believe that the second law of thermodynamics applies to companies as well as energy. The second law of thermodynamics states that all energy will fall to a base form and entropy will increase over time. Entropy can be defined in many ways. Usually entropy is defined as a decrease of energy to a baser form—energy converting eventually to heat—or an expression of disorder or randomness increasing over time—chaos. With time, a company, which has many inherent variables, also becomes more chaotic; the bigger the company, the more entropy by definition. As complexity increases within a system, so does chaos. This is why Kaizen is needed to simply stay competitive and healthy.
Many companies find themselves fighting fires within the organization, which leaves them taking care of only the immediate issues of the company. Root cause issues are not solved or understood, including at the executive level, and the fires are created by key critical problems not getting resolved. The executive needs to understand that the collective individual gripes expressed on the manufacturing floor are indeed the keys to the solution.
So often, observable waste is being overlooked in order to not rock the proverbial boat. Major changes may be needed that companies fear, such as capital cost expenditures and potential down time. Too often manufacturing companies in North America have a management mindset that in order to increase efficiency and decrease cost, you must simply demand your employees work faster and harder. Simultaneously, they reduce spending on small but vital items, and completely avoid large capital repairs or moves—considered the sacred cows due to someone’s cost reduction agenda.
When the system gets so bad that there are too many fires to put out and not enough capital to fix even immediate problems—despite draconian cost saving measures—the company collapses, often blaming the wrong people in the process. A shortsighted mindset is a sure path to bankruptcy.
But Kaikaku is not just used to undo or overcome poor management budgeting issues, but to also re-examine why the current system or model should even be used.
Kaikaku in Action
To dispel notions that Kaikaku can only be used at the OEM level, here’s an example of a company that had been on a lean journey for six years. In that time, they had become a lean leader in mould manufacturing and had many refined systems that put them ahead of their competition. They had created a good lean culture and top-down lean mindset.
When we first entered the company, Active Burgess in Windsor, Ont., we recognized their tremendous strides and endeavoured to analyze their current flow, questioning some of their core layout.
Redundancies could be consolidated between the two plants that they occupied. An overhaul of machine location and plant organization could be rearranged to improve productivity at both sites but would require a capital commitment. Many machines and operations were consolidated to reflect the real flow within the two organizations.
Cost savings and an improved value stream were revealed. New foundations were laid and cells were reorganized to achieve time and movement reductions that revolutionized the operations’ function.
Fortunately, the innovative executive staff, including the President and CEO, Mike Bragagnolo, as well as Vice-President of Operations, Doug Brockman, understood the power and profitability in the proposed changes and decided to make some decisions that involved investing in the future, resulting in a 30 per cent reduction in mould build hours and a repayment of capital costs within the first few mould builds.
Shortly afterwards, new prospects toured the renovated plants and were so impressed that new business came as a result. Many companies do not realize that a commitment to lean has an effect on not only employee and company efficiencies, but also on how customers view an organization.
If you find your company has gone as far as it can using standard lean refinement tools and is unable to progress further due to your current paradigm of business, it is time for Kaikaku. Because sometimes, if it ain’t broke, you have to break it.