04. Dec. 2018

KAIZEN™ in Process Industries

by NARASIMHAN GOPALKRISHNAN-SENIOR CONSULTANT AT Kaizen Institute India and Africa

Kaizen™ is not for us; it cannot be applied in our type of industry, unlike manufacturing, we are process industry and hence this is not suitable for us” – This is a statement made in a generalised manner and is often heard in the circle. To an extent, we need to agree that Kaizen™ or Lean is not as popular as they are in Manufacturing & Assembly Operations. Facilitating Flow, Single-piece flow, frequent changeovers, small-lot sizes – these are few irrelevant terms as far as process industry is concerned. However, this does not mean that Kaizen™  is not applicable in process industries.

How a process industry is different from others? If Kaizen™ can be practiced in a premises where cars and carrots are produced, can be applied from factories to farms, Hospitals to Offices, Government to Educational Institutions, then why cannot Kaizen™  be practiced in Pharmaceuticals, Paper & Pulp mills, chemical or food processing industries? They can! Yes, they can be practiced and applied. However, one cannot have an universal approach while implementing Kaizen™  in these type of industries. There can be few elements which are common like culture building, creating a learning organization, developing a structured problem solving methodology etc., however, we should not be ignoring the basic differences between a process industry and an Assembly-Manufacturing industry. We need to consider the differences and customize our approach accordingly.

We can classify the Industry nature by means of how the production is accomplished.

Broadly, we can classify them into 3 categories:

  1. Manual: – Whether it is an assembly unit or manufacturing unit, here, it is the People who does the production, meaning People are producing! The process is 100% manual. Here, whenever a value-adder takes a break, the line stops. Such premises are best-suited for implementing KaizenÔ initiatives like load-balancing, flow facilitation, cell creation, reduced lot sizes, frequent changeovers, etc., that can reap lots of benefits.
  2. Automated: – In this case, machines produce or assemble the parts and the process is semi-automated or fully-automated. However, the loop is closed with the interface of humans. Closing of the loop means resolving minor issues as and when occurs, correcting minor flaws, monitoring the current production and preparation for the next lot etc., This is also highly suitable for KaizenÔ  implementation with focus on Poka-yoke, Low-cost automation, Equipment reliability, reduced-lot-sizes, frequent changeovers etc.,
  3. Processes: – This is slightly different from Automated production. Here, the machines keep producing as the operators observe or control (seldom they do so) the processes from a centralized room through advanced computerized systems. If the production is going on well, then there is no work left for the operators to do. Unlike in other two categories, where we can strive for perfection or 100% value-added work, in this case, it is not practically possible. All the perfection in the processes is anticipated and incorporated in the production-preparation-process stage itself. The focus in this type is Effective utilization, stabilized processes and reliable maintenance of the equipment.

Kaizen™  implementation in process Industry:

As we have seen earlier, there are few elements which are common in KaizenÔ  implementation irrespective of the nature of businesses. They are:

  • Shift in Paradigms (Change Management)
  • Identifying abnormalities & Resolving them
  • Structured Problem Solving
  • Sustenance of KaizenÔ practices
  • Building of KaizenÔ  Culture

As we have seen earlier, the focus in Process industries revolves around Effective Utilization of the facility, Reliability of the Equipment and a Stabilized process. Hence, KaizenÔ  with a focus on these three factors should be addressing

  • Achieving High level of Safety with the involvement of all Value Adders
  • A better understanding of the processes as to enable us keep improving them
  • Identifying and implementing the best way of operation and adherence to the laid standards

Daily Kaizen™ : Formation of Natural teams involving Value adders across the facility and making them accountable for their daily KPIs will bring in a sense of ownership among the employees. This process will make people as Root-cause problem solvers by adapting the structured problem solving methodology. Addressing Safety issues by tracking Near Misses, Unsafe conditions, Unsafe practices drives employees to be safety-oriented. Tracking the progress of 5S initiatives is another way of bringing togetherness and developing the ability of identifying abnormalities. It is not about keeping the place or the equipment clean but to make abnormalities glaringly visible.

Increased Equipment reliability: Any stoppage, planned or unplanned is a spoke in the wheel of production. The irony is, the duration of the unplanned stoppages remain higher than the planned one where KaizenÔ  is not practiced. An unplanned stoppage might take hours to restore the condition which could be crucial. However, this does not address only to the uptime but a perfect equipment with zero tolerance to all possible abnormalities. Autonomous Maintenance of the equipment helps us identification of abnormalities that can lead to breakdown at a very early stage itself. The tagging also helps us develop a time-based maintenance schedule of an equipment based on its behaviour. Planned Maintenance helps the team to develop a practice of condition-based maintenance that enhances the life-time of spares.

Standardisation: As we all are aware, problem occurs only if there is a variation in any of the Standards.  The objective is to optimize the processes in such a way that the potential of quality errors are eliminated. This might require application of DoE and other proven techniques which are scientifically oriented. Apart from standardizing the processes, we should try and standardize the training methods for new comes through TWI-JI. 

The approach of implementing Kaizen™  is same be it a Foundry or a factory. However, we need to customize little bit based on the requirement of the environment.

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