Cutting Tool Engineering
September 2012 / Volume 64 / Issue 9

Improvement via Kaizen events

By Michael Deren

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a Kaizen event at our facility, which has about 150 employees. The event focused on improving the assembly of one of our electronic counters and reducing past-due orders. Prior to the event, I took time studies of the assembly of these units.

A typical Kaizen event runs from Monday through Friday. Each day is an all-day affair, even working through lunch. The participating group usually consists of people from various disciplines in the company. The core group includes employees from the department or cell the event is targeting, purchasing, engineering and quality. A department manager or supervisor participates during the first day, along with a facilitator, which, in our case, was the vice president of operations. The quality engineer was our event leader.

On Monday morning, the facilitator conducted training on how to participate in the event and defined the issues and goals. We discussed how long it took to assemble a counter. Based on my time studies, it took 35 minutes, on average. Our goal was 18 minutes, which seemed like a daunting task.

We observed and kept close track of where the assemblers went to gather their parts. I then generated a “spaghetti chart” of where they went. We were surprised at how much time was wasted.

At the end of each day, we discussed our accomplishments and whether we were on track to complete the improvement by the end of the week. The facilitator was apprised of what we did and what we planned to do next.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, we evaluated where we could make room in or near the cell to place parts that were stored a long way from the cell. We rearranged the cell, found room across the aisle for those parts and reconfigured the racks to handle them. In addition, purchasing spoke to a couple of vendors about changing the wiring configurations to lessen the assemblers’ work. One vendor could and the other couldn’t.

One important element in a Kaizen event is to listen to the people working in the area being targeted, because they know their area best. At first they were hesitant to make suggestions, but with some prodding from the engineers, the workers opened up. The rest of the group added suggestions, and, eventually, the combination of ideas created a new work cell.

On Thursday, I conducted more time studies. Lo and behold, we cut cycle time to 20 minutes—a 43 percent reduction! Although we came up short by 2 minutes, the goal is not necessarily to hit your target but to improve the overall process.

Within a week of the event, past-due orders on the electronic counters were eliminated, and lead time was significantly reduced. This was, by all measures, a successful Kaizen event.

I will participate in several Kaizen events during the next 12 months, some of which I will lead. They will target the assembly area and the machine shop.

It may have taken us a week, but we accomplished a lot. Smaller companies can do the same, possibly in a more affordable 2- or 3-day Kaizen. The important thing is to have your group focus on one major issue. Do not let participants become distracted. Talk about the issues, examine the work area and process, develop recommendations and then, most importantly, act on those recommendations. CTE

About the Author: Mike Deren is a manufacturing engineer/project manager and a regular CTE contributor. He can be e-mailed at
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