Kaizen involves making incremental improvements in your businesses production process to give your customers better products that work longer at a lower cost. Its goal is small changes and improvements that reduce errors and optimize performance for machinery and workers. Kaizen’s improvements follow a four-step format, called PDCA, that allows you to evaluate each change on a small scale before you introduce it factory-wide. Before you begin, though, be sure you’re ready.
Prerequistes to PDCA
Any time you make changes in procedures, someone is going to squawk, unless those changes make his life easier. Before you begin making Kaizen-type changes, standardize all of your work methods to avoid problems that stem from variations in procedure. While standardization is not a part of the Kaizen PDCA procedures — plan, do, check, act — the principles of Kaizen depend heavily on it. Standardized work methods may eliminate some problems as well as point out others.
The first step in Kaizen procedures is making a plan by defining the problem, reviewing possible causes and laying out possible solutions. Include your machine operators in the process, as they deal with production every day and can provide valuable insight. For example, if a machine’s hydraulic system progressively loses pressure until plant maintenance installs a replacement hose, the plan might be as simple as switching to a different brand of hose.
Many production issues involve several elements. Once you decide on a course of action to resolve an issue, implement the plan on one machine or one production line. If you decide to use a new brand of hydraulic hose, for example, do so on only one of the machines affected by the problem. You then return the machine to operational status and wait.
The value of the PDCA cycle lies in its iterative nature; if something doesn’t work, try something else. Let your workers watch the machine’s performance. If this small change solves the problem, move onto the next step in the Kaizen cycle. If not, return to the first step — plan — and start looking for other machine-related conditions that interrupt the flow of hydraulic fluid to the hose. Implement your new plan’s solution on a small scale and monitor its performance.
Once you find a workable solution that solves the problem on your test machine, implement the solution factory-wide. If you replace cheap hydraulic hoses on one machine, make the same changes to the other machines. Because Kaizen is an incremental process, the changes you make may solve only one element of a larger problem. Continue to watch and evaluate, and encourage your workers to do the same.
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