You may be thinking, “what the heck is that word, and why is a portable toilet manufacturer using it”? Well, today we’re giving you a lesson in Continuous Improvement (Kaizen – kīzan), and showing you how we apply this philosophy to our business!
First, let’s start with a simple definition:
Kaizen (改善), is the Japanese word for “change for better”. In business, kaizen refers to activities that continuously improve all functions and involve all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers. It also applies to processes, such as purchasing and logistics, that cross organizational boundaries into the supply chain. It has been applied in healthcare, psychotherapy, life-coaching, government, banking, and other industries.
By improving standardized programs and processes, kaizen aims to eliminate waste (see lean manufacturing). Kaizen was first practiced in Japanese businesses after the Second World War, influenced in part by American business and quality-management teachers, and most notably as part of Toyota. It has since spread throughout the world and has been applied to environments outside business and productivity.”
How to Kaizen
The best way to explain this style of improvement comes down to four little words: Plan, Do, Check, Act – or PDCA for short.
- Plan – This is the process of assessing a current process, or a new process, and figuring out how it can be improved upon. Knowing what types of outputs that are desired helps to develop a plan to fix the process. It is often easier to plan smaller changes during this phase of the plan so that they can be easily monitored and the outputs are more predictable. The old saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is true during this stage. Don’t try to solve every problem at once. Plan something you CAN improve, and start there. In our case, we’re looking at plastic scrap and waste that can be eliminated in our manufacturing process.
- Do – Enacting the plan and begin to make changes. Small changes are usually tested, and data is gathered to see how effective the change is.
- Check – During the check phase, the data and results gathered from the do phase are evaluated. Data is compared to the expected outcomes to see any similarities and differences. The testing process is also evaluated to see if there were any changes from the original test created during the planning phase.
- Act – Here’s where it get a little difficult, but with hard work, it will definitely pay off! If the check phase shows that the plan phase which was implemented in do phase is an improvement to the prior standard (baseline), then that becomes the new standard (baseline) for how the organization should act going forward. Instead, if the check phase shows that the plan phase which was implemented in do phase is not an improvement, then the existing standard will remain in place. In either case, if the check phase showed something different than expected (whether better or worse), then there is some more learning to be done… and that will suggest potential future PDCA cycles.
Kaizen at PolyPortables
In 2014 PolyPortables began its journey in continuous improvement. There are always ways to improve, but in true PDCA form, we focus on one area at a time. Today, we’re focused on our main AXXIS and Vantage Oven.
Our Improvement team for this project consists of staff members from each department of our Georgia operation. From IT, to Workshop and Maintenance, to Oven Operations, we want input and brainpower from as many people as possible.
The idea behind all of the team’s hard work is to get rid of waste. They covered everything you can imagine:
- The process and time to change tools, for running various products
- Scrap, produced during manufacturing
- Loading and unloading plastic sheet for thermoforming
- Employee training and equipment use to maximize productivity
These are just a few examples, pulled from days and days of meetings and the constant asking of ‘why’? Kaizen is about breaking down every part of your businesses process to its simplest forms, and one by one, addressing any areas of improvement.
Yes, it’s taken weeks to get through the process, but it’s worth it. The more productive we are, the better your experience as a customer will be.
What it Means to You!
From the layout of our warehouse, to perfecting our assembly process, the goal of continuous improvement is all about you – the customer. The better our process, the better our products and the faster you can get the equipment you need.
For over 50 years we’ve been striving to Listen, Learn and Deliver. We’re sticking with our motto and taking it to the next level. We can guarantee that you (our customers) at the front of our hearts and minds in every decision we make. We’re here to help your business grow.
Special thanks to:
The Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) is a program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute and is a member of the National MEP network supported by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. With offices in ten regions across the state, the GaMEP has been serving Georgia manufacturers since 1960. We offer a solution based approach through coaching and education designed to increase top line growth and reduce bottom line cost.
Last year they helped their clients:
Invest $106M into their plants, Generate $105M in sales,
Reduce Operating Costs by $25M, and Create or Save 2,149 jobs.
Visit www.gamep.org to find out more about their services.