Note: Links to all of four Japan factory tour posts and the various lessons from those tours can be found here.
Today the Gemba Japan Kaikaku Experience took the train to visit a large TOTO factory that manufactures faucets. This is a large facility initially built in 1967, with 2,300 employees and a 1.5 million square feet of space. Over 3,700 faucet permutations are manufactured at this facility, which includes all operations from casting through distribution and division administration. The new "auto faucets" with sensors reduce water consumption by almost 70%.
The mission of this division is threefold: 1) Make products easy to use through universal design, 2) Build trust with customers, and 3) Be environmentally friendly. This factory has aggressively pursued lean manufacturing for several years. The following are some key accomplishments, in no particular order.
What used to be long conveyorized assembly lines have now been converted into over 200 one-person work cells. These work cells do complete assembly, receiving the finished cast and polished components, performing full assembly, and then packaging and labeling the boxes. In front of each cell is a metrics chart detailing three things: 1) Quality, 2) New training completed, and 3) "Am I making Money?" That last item is critical and not the same as "cost". It is literally whether the cell has made money after final product sale.
Here's the real kicker: each cell (remember, that's one person in 95% of the cases), has the authority to purchase up to $1,000 in equipment without additional signatures. Those expenditures are tracked as part of the "am I making money" metric. Examples of expenditures include new test equipment, new fixtures, a shelf for the workstation, and especially PVC pipe. Like the other companies we've visited, there is extensive use made of PVC to create newfangled ways to present parts.
There are no chairs on the manufacturing floor or test areas. All cell operators stand up, all day. There are two 10 minute breaks and one 40 minute break. They have determined that there are actually more ergonomic issues from sitting down and twisting than from standing up. It is not a problem with the operators. All supervisors and managers also work from stand-up desks. The office/admin areas are located on the factory floor behind glass walls.
If a problem is detected the area supervisor is alerted. An immediate root cause analysis activity may be started, but at the very latest it is attacked during the next morning's group meeting. There are no work instructions used; after the initial six months of training it is expected that the cell operator knows the job. All parts for each faucet are kitted in groups of twenty, providing visual indication that all parts are used. The kits used to be for batches of 100, and they are working to have the batch size reduced from 20 down to 1. A kanban train delivers parts to each cell, and picks up completed boxes for shipment.
A person must train for at least six months before being allowed to work in a cell alone. All non-operators (engineers, administrative personnel, managers) must work on the shop floor for 3-6 months before moving into the office area.
Every possible piece of equipment is on wheels to facilitate quick rearrangement to take advantage of improvement ideas. This includes large pieces of machinery, including some monster CNC machines. The only equipment that is permanently located are the large sand casting work centers and the plating baths.
Equipment is arranged to optimize flow, period. In some cases this creates difficulty, but flow takes the upper hand. For example, the large sand casting work cells are located immediately next to the large plating baths. Typically a dirty operation is the last thing you want next to a dust-sensitive operation, but in this case they insisted on flow and devised methods and technology to eliminate contamination.
Robots are only used for dangerous operations, such as moving cast molds through the furnace, and the initial polishing operations. However even with polishing there are humans also doing the job, generally with an experienced person working with an apprentice. The robots are then programmed to exactly mimic the human movements, and the humans create improvements that drive changes to the robot programming. Even highly repetitive operations are intentionally done by people in order to obtain the human touch, which drives improvement ideas.
Kaizen and other improvement boards are located next to each cell, detailing even small improvements. There are parties each Thursday where improvements are recognized. Each cell and significant piece of equipment has a flag on it with a person's name, proclaiming "I'm in charge of this equipment." The further increases ownership and responsibility.
Each department is responsible for cleaning up one part of the factory, including the exterior landscaping. This creates pride in ownership as well as accountability to each other. There is no janitorial or landscape service for a 1.5 million square foot factory. The maximum height of any rack, shelf, and most cells is 1.4 meters… they height of a small Japanese woman. This both gives the factory floor a very open feeling, but also eliminates a potential safety hazard of workers walking into each other when rounding corners. The aisleways are painted different shades of green to indicate where visitors, internal visitors, factory workers, and general company employees may walk.
This facility operates to one month plans. No plans extend out more than one month, and when pressed on this issue the answer was simple: we don't know what might happen in a month, so why waste time planning if it is probably going to be wrong?
This TOTO facility, like the other factories we've visited, has aggressive environmental programs. Although it includes notoriously messy operations such as casting and plating, it has a 100% recycling rate and has reduced power consumption by 40% in ten years. They also generate all their own power, although it is petroleum-based, but it is cogenerated and therefore also provides direct heat. This makes it cheaper than simply buying power off the grid.
Once again, many thought-provoking ideas! We have another tour tomorrow, and we've met to discuss common themes and opportunities for some of these ideas to be implemented. After reading the last two reports from Toyota and Saishunkan you are probably recognizing some similarities as well. Stay tuned.