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Kaizen, the mantra for success
Surinder Kapur
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January 23, 2007

In the maintenance department of an auto component company, the original grinding wheel motor was drawing 18 amp current using a delta connection. Considering the motor's function, this seemed high to the motor operator.

He analysed the issue and concluded that the motor was drawing more power because of the delta connection; instead, he suggested that the delta mode be changed to star mode: a small change, but one that would reduce the energy consumption to 6 amp.

The suggestion was implemented, leading to a saving of Rs 87,285 a year. This is an example of complete employee involvement leading to small but continuous improvement, or Kaizen activity.

This activity of carrying out small improvements in large numbers with total employee involvement, on a continuous basis, is known as Kaizen.

To be effective, Kaizen needs 100 per cent participation from everyone involved. It is better implemented by a person who has created the improvement idea. It is still better if the idea is carried out in his/her own department.

Making investments, borrowing technology or engaging consultants can lead to improvements. But making improvements with ideas provided by  employees on a continuous basis helps create an asset that cannot be purchased. It creates a unique lasting culture in an organisation.

Moreover, the operational environment today is highly constrained with costs going up and prices on  the downswing; the customer is demanding, operating margins are getting depressed and obsolescence of products and processes is speeding up. If we change, the situation can improve. It we don't, it won't.

It is essential here to understand the meaning of improvement in the context of Kaizen. "Improvement" means making changes for better value for the customer by focusing on quality, cost reduction, delivery to customers, morale of employees and safety.

Requiring little or no investment, Kaizens can be implemented in the industry for improving every aspect of the business process in a step-by-step approach, while gradually developing employee skills through training and increased involvement.

Its basic principles are:

  • Human resources are the most important company asset;
  • The process must evolve by gradual improvement rather than radical changes;  and
  • Improvement must be based on evaluation of process performance.

    By practising Kaizen culture, managers demonstrate commitment to quality. Also, workers, with adequate support from managers, become a major source of improvement. The Kaizen system is simple but its implications are far reaching.

    In the initial stages of implementing Kaizen, any organisation is likely to face problems. However, it must be implemented in a manner such that it becomes a group activity and finally a movement within the organisation.

    For instance, when Sona Koyo started the Group Kaizen Activity, it formed a team of eight people who met once a week and discussed a particular problem.

    They were given a maximum of three months to find a solution. Once these eight people understood the concept, they  made and led eight other groups comprising eight people each, who further made groups of eight people each.

    Slowly, every individual working in the organisation was involved in the process.

    A set of useful steps to start a group Kaizen activity are:
  • The Confederation of Indian Industry is committed to making Kaizen a movement in India. To this end we have committed to the prime minister that we will submit to him 100,000 Kaizens that can be replicated in various organisations.

    CII has also set up a Web site, for this purpose, where it has uploaded 1,971 Kaizens over the past six months. There are 130 Kaizens from Bharat Seats, 127 from Vikrant Auto Suspension, 112 from Sona Koyo Steering Systems and 70 from Inspros Engineers. The website is open to all companies to contribute their Kaizens.

         The father of Kaizen speaks!
         The 5 Ss of Japanese efficiency

    Dr Surinder Kapur is chairman, CII Mission for Manufacturing Innovation, and chairman and managing director, Sona Koyo Steering Systems.

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