This unit describes a Kaizen event from request through completion.
It is based on an actual event; the names of the company, locations,
and participants have been changed to honor our confidentiality responsibilities.
This example applies Kaizen to a manufacturing business and improves
both human and machine performance. (We have also applied Kaizen to office
and service-oriented work processes with equal success.) Use this description
to help you form a personal experience of Kaizenwhat it does and
how it does it. If you have already studied the Overview of Kaizen unit,
look for how the concepts and procedures described there are applied
in a real event. If you are beginning here before you have read the Overview
of Kaizen unit, use this virtual experience of a Kaizen event to
formulate your own mental image of this method for improving business
Be forewarned. A Kaizen event requires a great deal of hard work to
complete. It may seem overwhelming as you imagine yourself leading such
an event. Remember, however, that there is detailed guidance in the Kaizen
Desk Reference Standard to support you in performing each task described
in the following example. There are also tools (e.g., paper and electronic
forms, handouts) to make the tasks easier. Finally, be aware that we
have trained both shop floor and office workers to lead Kaizen events
successfully, many of whom have had no more than a high school education.
Understanding What Is
ABC Gases produces commercial gases for use in the electronics, home
healthcare/ MRI, metals finishing, export, and chemical process industries.
The company has 109 plants engaged in filling and distributing cylinders,
liquid dewars, tube trailers, and other containers of industrial gases
and non-electronic specialty gases. These facilities are distributed
across the United Sates and Canada. The three largest sites are in Newark,
Delaware; Madison, Wisconsin; and Oakland, California. ABC Gases's revenue
was $240 million in FY 2001; it employs 1,200 people and has an operating
budget of approximately $200 million. The company produces over 100 different
flammable and nonflammable gas products including argon, carbon dioxide,
helium, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and neon, and many combinations of
these products. ABC customers care most about quality products, on-time
deliveries, and price.
Mike Fellows, head of ABC Gases, has requested a Kaizen event for the
blending area in the Oakland plant (1234 Industrial Boulevard). The process
is done in four ABC plants, but Oakland is the largest site.. Mike
hopes that improvement there will have the biggest initial impact and
then be rolled into the other plants (i.e., Canton, Ohio; Jackson, Florida;
and New Orleans, Louisiana) for even greater benefit. In the blending
area, workers create custom mixes of gases (e.g., methane-argon mixes,
hydrocarbon mixes). Mike is concerned because products are not getting
done on time and unit cost is rising. He reports that customers are getting
angry about delayed receipt of orders and that profit margins are shrinking.
He further reports that the company has this year set reducing cost as
its major improvement target. The company's key business driver is to
increase profit margins while not increasing prices.
The blending process is done in the flammable and nonflammable fill
areas. Mike wants the Kaizen event to focus on the nonflammable area,
where approximately 50 different mixes are blended. Mike agreed to have
the event focus on the backbone of the work process, meaning those operations
that every mix goes through. Forty-three people work in the Oakland plant:
21 fill blended gas orders, and 12 are assigned specifically to the nonflammable
blending process. These are full-time employees. The plant operates seven
lines that fill blended gases (three nonflammable, four flammable), three
shifts a day, five days a week. Mike directed us to contact Sandra Shore,
manager of the Oakland plant, to get more information and set up the
I, as the Kaizen leader, contacted Sandra the day after talking with
Mike. Sandra provided additional details about the blending process.
She said that the work is done almost always in a batch of two cylinders,
meaning multiple cylinders are produced as one unit of output. "These
are highly customized mixes of gases, and multiple orders for exactly
the same mix are uncommon." For efficiency's sake, the fill operator
interweaves blending and filling different orders so that at any one
time there may be eight cylinders hooked up to the manifold and being
processed. "It can look like the operator is working on a batch of eight
cylinders, but actually he is filling four different orders each of which
is at a different point in processing. While one is being purged, for
example, another is being filled with its blend of gases."
talking with Sandra to get a definition of the scope of the proposed
event, she shared some details about the blending process. The process
uses three pieces of equipment: a manifold, scale, and a rolling machine.
The blend booth manifold is a four-sided device with eight filling lines
(two per side) to which cylinders can be connected (see Exhibit 1). The
manifold executes the vacuum, purge, and fill. It is connected to large
liquid gas tanks stationed outside the building from which it draws the
gases to be placed in the cylinders. At the base of the manifold, there
is a scale on which the cylinders stand. The weight of the cylinder is
monitored to ensure that the proper amount of each gas component is filled.
The rolling machine (Exhibit 2, next page) is a table-like device which
literally rolls the cylinders to mix their contents. The manifold and
rolling machines account for the majority of the work process's cycle
time (90%) but not much of the product's unit cost (10%).
said that the process begins with getting an order and then completing
a pre-fill inspection of the manifold and scale. "The operator wants
to make sure the manifold lines have no leaks and the scale is properly
zeroed out. The pre-fill inspection requires hooking up a cylinder so
that the lines and scale can be tested. This is called a 'scale check
cylinder.' Then the operator removes the scale check cylinder and loads
the line with cylinders to be filled. This means placing the cylinders
on the scale that sits on each side of the manifold and hooking them
up to the fill lines.
"The blend booth itself is an enclosed structure in which the filling
process is completed. The upper half of each wall of the blending booth
has shatter-proof glass panels which allow viewing into the booth. Its
purpose is to protect the workers and work area from hazards. The worker
directs the process from a control panel located outside the blend booth.
The panel allows the worker to control the fill to each cylinder separately.
Once the cylinder is loaded onto the manifold, the worker inspects it,
touching up bare spots with paint when needed and making sure damaged
labels are replaced. Next, the operator allocates a cylinder to its customer
by scanning the bar code on the cylinder (called 'shooting the cylinder')
and associating it with the order number it will satisfy. Once the cylinder
is allocated, the operator vacuums and purges the cylinder and figures
out the weights for each gas that will be blended to satisfy the customer's
order (termed 'fixing grams'). Then the operator fills the cylinder with
the prescribed mix and, when finished, checks for leaks.
"Next, the operator moves the cylinders from the blend booth to the
rolling machine which rolls the order to ensure that the gases are fully
mixed. Finally, the operator labels the cylinders, places a protective
net over each cylinder to prevent the labels and paint from being rubbed
off as cylinders bang against each other in transit, and moves the filled
cylinders to the lab for testing. The point of variation occurs before
prepping a cylinder. If a cylinder is being filled with a medical mix,
then special paperwork must be done before prepping it."
In doing this work, the blending area must relate to a number of other
work processes in the total value chain that ultimately delivers a filled
cylinder to a customer. The other groups involved are the Maintenance
Department, which prepares cylinders for filling; the Mix Identification
Group, which approves the mix as safe and assigns an identifying number
for each mix so that it may be tracked; the Bulk Product Group, which
ensures that the liquid gas tanks are full; and the Lab, which tests
the filled cylinders for purity and correctness of mix.
I asked Sandra whether the plant was using takt time to regulate the
flow of work through the work process. Takt time is the pace at which
customers require a product. It is an essential piece of information
in establishing a just-in-time work process. "We don't use takt time.
We did set up kanbans though." Kanban is a Japanese word which
means signal or card. One use of kanbans is to tell an upstreammeaning
one that occurs earlierwork process that an output is needed downstream.
Sandra did say that the current cycle time of the work process was about
an hour and a half for one order, "assuming nothing unusual happens." She
continued, "Now remember, we rarely do one order at a time. Our operators
work on multiple orders at a time, which gives us a better average cycle
time to fill an order. I can't say exactly what that is."
With respect to work process measures, Sandra said that she watches
unit cost and on-time delivery. "If we can get the cost down and on-time
delivery up, we should be able to meet both our profit and customer satisfaction
goals. Right now, our on-time delivery rate is 84%. That leaves too many
customers unhappy. Also, if we can free people up as a result of shortening
the cycle time, I can redeploy them to the flammable side, where we expect
demand to grow. As to when to do the event, we can pretty much accommodate
the dates you select."
Sandra indicated that she expected at least a two-to-one return on the
cost of the event in hard benefits. Hard benefits are cost reductions
or revenue gains that begin to flow as soon as the event ends. She also
said that safety is a priority of the company, so improvement in safety
is also a desired outcome. "By the way," she added, "you will need some
safety equipment while in the workplace. You must wear earplugs, safety
glasses, safety shoes (steel toes and metatarsal plates), and gloves." As
to the team's authority, she said that it could make decisions about
improvements in the blending process as long as there were no negative
effects on the other organizations with which blending interacts. If
an idea required an adjustment by another department, that department
would have to be consulted and agree to it prior to its execution. She
also said the event should stay within regular working hours and require
no overtime. She offered the names of people to be on the Kaizen team.
Three proposed team members were fill operators: two filled blended gases
(Reggie B. and Thomas C.), and one filled straight gases (James L.).
One team member was a supervisor (Vincent L.), another a maintenance
worker (Nathan H.), and the last member was a lab technician (Clarice
T.). I also obtained from her a list of stakeholders (Exhibit 3) other
than the work process employees. Stakeholder is the term we use to identify
any person or group who may either affect the success of an event or
be affected by its occurrence.