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Kaizen can help notch-up output in a changing world

Aged machines can catch-up to newer machines by improving efficiency, says Suresh Kaushal, head mission quality, Wipro Consumer Care & Lighting Division

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Suresh Kaushal.
Suresh Kaushal.

The interplay of emerging technologies is changing the world of manufacturing fast. It is unfolding new choices and challenges at an unprecedented pace and scale. Earlier, there were a fistful of options to make a product. Now, the same thing can be done using a variety of configurations, blending the old ways and the new, to develop efficiencies throughout the value chain. But factory heads cannot keep changing the machinery every time there’s a new one in the market. Nor one can change the processes overnight to accommodate a new intervention. It will only complicate production and affect downstream functions.

The decision one needs to make is to maximise the output from existing assets by improving efficiencies. It is difficult because a) achieving 100% production capacity is dependent on supply dynamics and b) associated cost of production like utilities (air, water, fuel) also have fluctuating prices. By using fewer resources and maximising output, manager can delay decommissioning machines by a few years until there’s something completely disruptive that beats the legacy setup by a factor of two or three (at least).

Aging machines, if well kept, can achieve 1.3x of their installed capacity. It just requires conscious interventions by controlling external variable inputs that can mitigate redundancies and exploit latent potential. This is because the machines (which are now aging) were designed within the constraints of tech available then. Same is the case with latest machines now. They function within the limits of resources available today.

For FMCG companies, which foray into new markets and are required to introduce innovative products, it is a challenge to make their factories achieve the same level of efficiencies every time the products or markets change. The spectrum is crowded with competitors ready to encroach the shelf space.
Additionally, automation, IoT, Big Data Analytics, AI, predictive maintenance, among others, are all coming together to make industries smarter. Startups and tech consultancies prescribe them to make manufacturing more efficient. There are a few bumps—like compatibility of technologies—that makes implementation a tricky proposition. Compatibility and effectivity issues aside, disturbance in standard operating procedures can also put a strain on men, machine and capital.

Here, the concept of Kaizen or continuous improvement is the battle-tested methodology that delivers results. It makes a difference when organisations are not merely conscious about it but build it into their culture. When done correctly, the process humanises the workplace, eliminates overly hard work, and teaches people how to spot and eliminate inefficiencies  in business processes. It engages people to utilise their capability and relentlessly drive waste out of the system.

But how does one build the culture of Continuous Improvement. This requires a clear direction from the top that the improvement  ideas (however small) would be valued and recognised. This is the starting point. Then it comes down to the managers to cascade the same message, repeatedly and encourage the culture of doing beyond what your work stipulates you to do.

In simple terms there would be three steps to follow to inculcate the Kaizen culture and make it into a mass movement, which we could call as the  three pillars of observation, obedience and obsession.  This would  enable people witness the changes first-hand and then empower them to take ownership for improvement.

Kaizen helps in smoothening the implementation of different configurations, of blending the old and new ways, to drive incremental improvements through rigorous analysis. This helps in solving the challenge of ensuring cost control and product quality for FMCG companies with a network of manufacturing facilities.

With the three pillars of observation, obedience and obsession at the core, every year, companies can establish what should be the consumption rate of utilities (air, power, raw material) for production. Then all facilities work towards reducing consumption (by around 10%) per tonne. This generates project opportunities. And the sure shot way to optimise the utility consumptions is by increasing the production output per line. Which again has to directly do with the Machine Upkeep and Uptimes.

By doing small kaizens on the machines, observing what is working well on another machine or another technology , identifying replicable ideas or improvising with basic laws of science is what it takes to prolonging the life of the asset. This identifies scope for maximum savings. By targeting modest improvements, a network of factories can help the organisation save a lot cumulatively.

First pillar of observation: Doing the same things over and over again builds certain confidence and the production teams tend to take them for granted. They think, “What has worked fine till now, can continue to deliver results.” Here, new executives in the system have a higher propensity to bring fresh perspectives by observing the processes. Employees should be encouraged to observe and think of ways to do the same thing more efficiently. Even if it means improving a small component by 1%. Remember, cumulatively, it can add up to a lot.

Second pillar of obedience: Every plant can be made to produce with high efficiency. Focus on improving productivity and quality; and reduce cost of production by continuously evaluating utilities that are consumed for production. Quality project focuses on improving yield by analysing rejection rate and then systematically removing inefficiencies.

Every quarter, teams from different factories can meet and present the work done at their factories, and the company can leverage this shared repository of knowledge to gradually implement learnings throughout its network. To implement learnings from these sessions, plant managers must organise “quality and safety week” every quarter to put thoughts into practice. This helps in replicating proven solutions at plants of similar age or of similar technology.

Lastly, one has to obsessed with improving itself. Major impact can be achieved through Kaizen projects. There are cases where plants have achieved 1.2x to 1.3x of installed capacity. For an ever-dynamic markets, Kaizen can support a company adapt to new challenges with more confidence and agility.

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