Kaizen is a Japanese word made of two Chinese characters meaning “change for better”. The common translation of Kaizen is “continuous improvement”.
Kaizen is about small incremental improvements without spending much money, involving everyone from managers to workers, and using common sense. Kaizen encourages small improvements day after day, continuously.
It is an on-going, never-ending improvement process. It’s a soft and gradual method opposed to breakthrough or a disruptive approach like scraping everything and start from new.
Kaizen is about solving every days’ problems like avoiding small parts to fall from production line or searching tools, preventing errors, smartly limiting material handling and so on.
Examples of Kaizen
Here are some improvements examples done in the Kaizen way from my early days as production manager of a Yamaha hi-fi plant
- Refilling in masked time electronics components from 2,000 parts boxes into custom made 4,000 parts cardboard boxes reduces machine stop frequency for reloading. The refilling itself can be considered waste, but it saved much operator time allowing them to concentrate longer on more adding-value task, being less frequently interrupted by machine stops because of component shortage (box empty).
- The previous improvement help setting up a new U shape machine layout in the workshop, allowing to downsize from a 5 machines/ 3 operators system to a 5 machines/ 2 operators system.
- This cart is also an example of kaizen; a tool board and a tissue roll have been added onto a standard tool rack. Rolling the cart to the machine to tend saved motion and search time as everything needed was always handy.
- In manual assembly lines, the use of gravity (free energy!) to dispose finished parts or scrap saved movements; a hole in work table let parts fall into a lower crate through a wide diameter pipe.
- Adding a simple positioning jig on a sheet metal bending machine allowed to bend 2 chassis in one machine cycle against only one originally.
Kaizen isn’t a method itself, it is a state of mind striving to solve little problem and improve constantly.
Yet in most organizations people are not allowed to make changes at will. In the western world Kaizen is usually organized as workshops or events in order to keep control of the outcome and impact on processes.
Continuous improvement is meant to be continuous, ongoing, therefore done every day, always. This sounds obvious but is seldom the way it is done. The preferred approach is to conduct scheduled workshops focused on a specific issue to solve in a limited time. This is called Kaizen blitz or Kaizen event. I’ll discuss the pluses and minuses of these workshops in another post.
Kaizen is everyday, everybody, everywhere improvement