By Kevin Meyer
This week I'm taking a little time to look back on the factories I
toured in Japan nearly two years ago as part of the Gemba Research Japan Kaikaku Experience, thinking about what I
learned and took away, and comparing that to what I've done with the new
Today we'll look back on the tour of TOTO, the famous manufacturer of faucets and toilets. The original tour report is here,
and a listing of all the factory tour reports and discussions on the
lessons learned is here.
Wednesday's reflection on the Saishunkan Cosmetics tour is here, Thursday's revisiting of the Toyota Kyushu tour is here, and Friday's look back on the tour of an electronics manufacturer is here.
This TOTO facility has 2,300 employees and 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. They have been on the lean journey for several years, with the most notable aspect of their conversion being a focus on work cells.
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.
Similar to the other companies we visited, everyone works standing up. 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
The entire operation is organized around flow, even when it meant putting a dirty casting operation next to a dust-sensitive plating operation. Once again the value of brains is recognized, with robots only used for dangerous operations, such as moving cast molds
through the furnace. 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.
Perhaps most interesting to me was the planning process. 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? Interesting – and in many respects it aligns with lean accounting. Traditional "budget to the wall" accounting practices produce tremendous waste in analyzing backwards rather than making decisions on a rolling basis with the best current information.
Takeaways? Standing up, again. Eliminating walls, again. Those two themes were reinforced over and over, which is why I immediately implemented them upon my return. We were already going down the lean accounting path, so we had already eliminated traditional budgeting and were planning on a rolling forward basis. However it takes some serious guts to only look out a month, and I'm still not sure that's really a good idea. It probably depends on the industry, economic stability, and so forth.
The preponderance of cells was intriguing. Being in a process industry, we've found work cells to be a difficult bugaboo to implement. We're getting there by focusing on naturally symbiotic processes and activities, sometimes product based, sometimes grouped around sets of processes. More importantly is the concept of self-management of segments of workflow, and that has taken root. Flow is important, but investing in significant advances in technology just so two antagonistic (such as dirty and clean) processes can be physically together probably won't happy for a while. There are far too many other low hanging apples.
As a final comment on this series of reflections, I believe it is very important to take off the blinders and see how others are operating. I believe it is equally if not more important to not assume some other method is better – it must be evaluated within the context of your value creation process. There is no right way, no best way. That's the fallacy and danger of best practices.