What Does Kaizen Mean? Guide to Lean Manufacturing

Worker in lean manufacturing system

Kaizen is a business philosophy of continuous improvement of all functions and involving all employees. The use of kaizen in manufacturing is rising in popularity due to its ability to improve quality and efficiency. It allows manufacturers to create a better product and a happier workplace. 

Here’s more about kaizen and its many advantages. 

What Is Kaizen?

Kaizen is a key element of lean manufacturing, a management-based approach focusing on reducing waste while maximizing value. The word “kaizen” means “change for the better” in Japanese and is partially attributed to the ideas of automobile workers and adopted by Eiji Toyoda of the Toyota company. 

There are six areas to focus on when transforming a manufacturing process to kaizen. 

  1. Waiting: Try to avoid equipment and procurement delays. 
  2. Motion: Avoid any unnecessary physical or mental strain on workers. 
  3. Transportation: Move the materials to the right location the first time. 
  4. Inventory: Properly store equipment and materials for the next activity. 
  5. Defect: Try to avoid having to redo work or processing due to human error or technicalities. 
  6. Intellect: Don’t waste valuable human resources on meaningless tasks. Assign workers to areas that best suit them. 

There are several steps to improve in each area and achieve kaizen manufacturing. The following is necessary when working toward lean manufacturing. 

Find Areas of Improvement

Which of the six points can a company focus on? Are workers under stress due to poor schedules or unfair work distribution? How is transportation? Watch how often equipment is moved and the reasons for it. Are there any unnecessary stops or processes that are correctable?

Is there proper organization of materials? Is the manufacturing process smooth, or are there bumps to correct?

Once the needed improvements are identified, a more thorough analysis can occur. Speaking to workers and reviewing documentation can help determine where things are going wrong. 

Come up With New Ideas

After identifying improvement areas, develop strategies to improve the process. 

To do this, hold brainstorming sessions with employees to get different perspectives and gather as many ideas as possible. Encourage honesty and creativity. Those directly involved in the manufacturing process know it the best.

After several of these sessions, compile the best ideas and work to implement them into the lean manufacturing process. 

Develop an Implementation Plan

As exciting as it is to have new ideas to implement, it’s vital to avoid wasting time with trial and error. Cycle analysis and workflow diagrams are necessary before adding these new strategies into the process. 

Consider how much time it will take to train employees on the new process to implement it smoothly. Maintenance is also vital, as broken or neglected equipment can lead to wasted time

Also, consider the potential problems that could arise during the implementation and plan how to handle them. Ensure that whatever changes will improve the quality of the completed work. 

Assign Responsibilities Appropriately

Companies that know what changes to implement should determine who is most fit to complete each task and assign them appropriately. 

Each employee should be given the task best suited to their needs. Top-quality products are delivered when talent is in the right place. 

Implement the Kaizen Plan

It’s also kaizen to distribute the workload fairly to reduce mental strain on employees. Health and safety are crucial for their well-being, and employees must learn how to handle the physical and psychological stress they may face when transitioning to the new process. 

Communication and accountability are a large part of keeping a positive and safe environment in all areas of the manufacturing process. Quality checks and reviews should be regularly conducted to ensure the plan is implemented per the standards set. 

Conduct a Plan Evaluation

Once the lean manufacturing process is in place, companies should evaluate whether the plan is as beneficial as hoped. Track data throughout implementation to verify that every aspect of the new procedures is performed correctly by reducing waste while improving quality. 

While evaluating, rely on an old-school pros and cons list to see whether each new part of the process is worth keeping versus what needs to be changed. 

It’s simple to assume that the hard work completed during the planning and training process ensures a successful program. However, it’s never evident that the techniques will work until they are actually in place. 

Implementing Kaizen in Manufacturing 

The kaizen approach simplifies manufacturing by eliminating extraneous tasks that hold companies back. There’s a reason lean manufacturing is catching on. It helps businesses accomplish more while keeping a fair and positive workplace.

About the Author:
Evelyn Long is the editor-in-chief of Renovated, a web magazine for real estate and construction professionals.