Many Australian companies have recently attempted to implement lean programs, but there are limited cases of its successful and ongoing implementation.

There are some key reasons behind this:

  • Companies have never seen a genuinely successful example to benchmark against.
  • Companies overlook the people and culture when implementing lean programs.
  • Companies miss the true essence of lean due to a flood of misinterpreted opinions and lean learning materials in the marketplace.

Lean learning in Japan – the home of lean

The Lean Japan Tour has been an annual initiative of the Australian Industry Group since 2007. It is a fully arranged opportunity to experience first-hand the world-class application of lean thinking at some of Japan’s key manufacturers. Generous time is allocated for open-topic discussions with managers of these companies, allowing participants to uncover how the Japanese have approached sustained productivity improvement efforts successfully over many years.

The tour is led by Shinka Management in association with Japan Management Association Consultants (JMAC), Japan’s oldest management consulting firm. With its clients, JMAC has been developing many of the famous tools of ‘lean thinking’ for almost 70 years. These are not new concepts for JMAC, and the company has accumulated a lot of know-how in the successful application of lean thinking across all departments of companies and industry sectors.

Past tours have included visits to companies such as Toyota, Panasonic, Rinnai, Sekisui Heim and Kewpie Mayonnaise. The shop floor tours give a comprehensive operator-level look at the factory operations.

Genuine Understanding

The tour will enlighten each participant’s comprehension of lean. They will come to learn the original Japanese thinking behind the concept and its true application across a range of companies today. Shinka Management lean consultants and interpreters will guide them through the concepts and culture behind the manufacturing success story that is Japan. Previous participant companies have come from food, beverage, steel, construction, metal fabrication, lighting, automotive, plastics and other sectors. They all returned reinvigorated and equipped with fresh ideas. Participants gained a better understanding of the application of lean concepts to their organisations, and how Japan, with a similar manufacturing cost structure to Australia, is approaching the challenge of increased competition from the likes of China, India, Thailand and Vietnam.

The tour group is immersed into Japanese culture for the week. Past participants have also used the opportunity to research the different marketing of their similar products in stores, understand what the Japanese retail environment looks and feels like, understand the domestic and international competition for their products, and experience the quality levels of product and service that Japanese consumers demand.

Whether participants are new to the concept of lean, or they are searching for that next level of achievement, everyone will come home with a better understanding of how lean can be achieved. There is no substitute for taking the opportunity to visit relevant like-manufacturers and learn from their experience.

2011 Tour Summary

Day 1 – JMAC Seminar (TOKYO)
Lean Implementation in Japan

Japan Management Association ConsultantsAn experienced Senior Consultant from JMAC’s Production Division conducted a presentation focusing on lean implementation in Japan and the direction of manufacturing in Japan. The session invited open discussion and involvement from all participants.

Considering the story of lean from a Japanese perspective threw new light on the true motive behind companies applying lean thinking in the first place and some of the critical aspects that generally do not receive much attention in the West.

Day 2 & 3 – Gifu Body (GIFU)
5S, TPM and Visual Management Tools

Gifu Body is one of eight suppliers of finished vehicles to the Toyota Group and recognised as a top-quality Toyota supplier. Their major product is the Toyota Hi-Ace vehicle, but they also manufacture emergency vehicles based on the Hi-Ace design, along with automotive components.

The tour group visited four separate factories on this visit; the welding/paint/assembly factory, the pressed components factory, the seat track factory, and one small external supplier.

Gifu Body has a clever use of space throughout the plant. This has been required over the years due to the expansion of operations within building size limitations. The life of older equipment has been extended considerably through excellent 5S and TPM programs. Highlighted are simple but effective visual management tools, automated guided vehicles (AGV) and specific examples of inexpensive improvement ideas that have had a considerable effect on productivity.

Day 4 – Toyota (AICHI)
Toyota Production System, Jidoka and Just-In-Time

Japan Lean Manufacturing Tour - ToyotaA tour of the Motomachi plant, one of the nine Toyota plants in Toyota City, was conducted by Toyota personnel. Facilities are set up inside the plant to give visitors a clear view of the operations and a true feeling of the shop floor atmosphere. Interactive training areas are also available to provide an indication of the extent and emphasis Toyota places on training its people.

The tour incorporated content on the two pillars of the Toyota Production System (TPS); Jidoka and Just-In-Time. TPS tools were explained through video and, where possible, actual shop floor examples of the tools at work. Supported by these pillars, TPS aims to offer high quality, short delivery times, and reasonable cost through employee creativity and intense efforts to eliminate waste. It is designed so that machines and people alike stop production when there is equipment failure, or any other irregularity, in order for it to be immediately corrected. Also, it improves productivity without waste by manufacturing and delivering the necessary parts at the necessary time in the necessary quantity.

The second half of the Toyota visit took the group to the Toyota Kaikan Museum. The museum, located adjacent to Toyota global headquarters, contains a showcase of Toyota’s philosophy and corporate direction.

Day 4 – Rinnai (AICHI)
JIT, Multi-Product Mixed Flow Production, Poka-Yoke

The Chairman of Rinnai, Mr Susumu Naito, spoke to the tour group directly in English about the DNA of the company that he has built over six decades since taking it over from his father. Rinnai’s mission states “quality is our destiny” epitomizing a corporate obsession with quality.

Rinnai keep production of key components in-house at four of their own factories and seven manufacturing affiliates under the Rinnai Group umbrella. The factory manager leading the tour explained that by realizing this high in-house production ratio, they have control over quality and strive for zero-defect status. All employees participate in improvement and TPM efforts. They maintain a multi-product, mixed-flow production system based on actual demand. Also, through their own logistics network, they can realise timely delivery.

Day 5 – Kewpie (AICHI)
TPM, Andon, Waste Reduction

Kewpie is a major player in the Japanese food sector, manufacturing products including mayonnaise, salad dressing and condiments. About nine per cent of all eggs produced in Japan, or 230,000 tonnes, are transformed into Kewpie products. The company has devoted itself to the challenge of pursuing the full use of eggs without any waste.

This shop floor tour gave a detailed story of how Kewpie source and store their eggs, produce and bottle their mayonnaise, and package and ship their product to maximise freshness. There were excellent usages of andon and visual management to control the production process and a TPM program to maximse equipment effectiveness.

2014 tour details

The Australian Industry Group and Shinka Management will again conduct its annual Lean Japan Tour from 18 – 24 May 2014. All expenses are included in the tour price except airfares and travel insurance. Learn more about the 2014 Lean Japan Tour, open to Australian and New Zealand companies.

This article appeared in the Australian Industry Group’s Exporters Guide 2012 – 2013.

Ben Sparrow is a Director of Shinka Management Pty Ltd, which works to help Australian Industry increase productivity through Japanese lean management practices and Japan industry study tours.

The Lean Japan Tour is open to professionals from across the world. Information on the tour can be viewed in English (Lean Japan Tour) and Turkish (Yalın Japonya Turu).