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How machine monitoring helps with a kaizen process
James BrookJul 10, 2023 3:13:46 PM15 min read

Implementing Kaizen in Manufacturing

In the fast-paced, complex, and busy world of manufacturing, the concept of Kaizen has emerged as a powerful approach for driving continuous improvements and enhancing efficiency.

Kaizen, which translates to "change for the better" in Japanese, has become a cornerstone philosophy for organisations seeking to optimise their manufacturing processes. This article explores the fundamentals of Kaizen in manufacturing and highlights its significance in achieving sustainable growth and success.

Understanding the Kaizen Concept

At its core, Kaizen embodies the philosophy of continuous improvement through small, incremental changes. It emphasises the importance of ongoing learning, adaptation, and optimisation.

By recognising that even small improvements can have a significant impact over time, manufacturers can create a culture that embraces change and encourages continuous growth.

The Three Pillars of Kaizen

The successful implementation of Kaizen rests on three pillars: 

  1. Standardisation: Standardisation ensures consistent and efficient processes across the organisation. By defining best practices, creating standard operating procedures, and promoting adherence to them, manufacturers establish a solid foundation for continuous improvements.
  2. Sustaining Discipline: Sustaining discipline involves maintaining rigour and adherence to standardised processes over time. It requires ongoing training, regular audits/review meetings and management commitment to reinforce the importance of maintaining standards.
  3. Employee Empowerment: Employee empowerment involves creating a supportive environment where employees are encouraged to contribute their ideas, share knowledge, and actively participate in the improvement process. By empowering employees, organisations tap into their expertise, creativity, and problem-solving capabilities.

These three pillars provide the necessary framework for Kaizen initiatives to thrive and yield sustainable results.

The Five Elements of Kaizen

To understand Kaizen fully, it's important to grasp its five key elements, each of which contributes to its effectiveness in manufacturing:

Teamwork and Collaboration

Encouraging teamwork and collaboration is crucial for successful Kaizen implementation. By involving employees from different departments and levels, organisations can tap into diverse perspectives, knowledge, and experiences. Teamwork fosters a sense of ownership, collective problem-solving, and shared responsibility for driving improvements.

Personal Discipline

Personal discipline plays a vital role in Kaizen. It involves an individual commitment to follow standardised procedures, maintain workplace cleanliness, and adhere to safety protocols. With personal discipline, employees can consistently contribute to a productive and efficient work environment.

Improved Morale

Kaizen initiatives can positively impact employee morale. When employees are actively engaged in the improvement process, they gain a sense of empowerment, as their ideas and suggestions are listened to and considered by peers.  In turn, this boosts motivation, job satisfaction, and overall morale within the organisation.

Quality Circles

Quality circles are small groups of employees who come together regularly to identify, analyse, and solve problems related to quality and process improvements. These circles are platforms for sharing knowledge, brainstorming ideas, and implementing innovative solutions. Quality circles promote a culture of continuous learning and improvement within teams.

Suggestions for Improvement

Encouraging employees to provide suggestions for improvement is a fundamental aspect of Kaizen. Organisations should establish channels for employees to share their ideas, observations, and suggestions related to process enhancements. This creates a culture that values employee input and fosters a mindset of continuous improvement.

The Two Types of Kaizen

Kaizen can be categorised into two types: Flow Kaizen and Process Kaizen.

1. Flow Kaizen focuses on optimising the flow of materials, information, and processes throughout the value stream. It seeks to eliminate bottlenecks, reduce lead times, and enhance overall flow and efficiency.

A value stream map displays all the critical steps in a specific process and quantifies the time and volume taken at each stage, showing the flow of materials and information as they progress through the manufacturing process. An example of Flow Kaizen is using machine monitoring software to capture machine data allowing you to see your production line in real-time. By doing so, you can identify when jobs are taking longer and proactively remove bottlenecks. 


Machine monitoring software captures machine utilisation data and can display a timeline view by machine. 

2. Process Kaizen zooms in on specific processes or workstations within the value stream. It aims to improve the performance, quality, and productivity of individual processes through targeted enhancements and problem-solving. A real-life example of process Kaizen is using productivity metrics such as OEE, that look at key factors like availability, performance, and quality. Machine monitoring software uses metrics that incorporate OEE considerations, allowing you to run flow and process Kaizen strategies simultaneously.

Both types of Kaizen contribute to overall process improvement, and their application depends on the specific challenges and opportunities within the manufacturing environment.

Kaizen and 5S: Are They the Same?

5S is a workplace organisation methodology that originated in Japan. Today it is used in various industries worldwide. It functions to create a clean, organized, and efficient work environment by eliminating waste and promoting visual management. The term "5S" represents five Japanese words that describe the steps involved in implementing the methodology. The steps are often translated as:

  • Sort: Sorting through all items in the workplace to determine what’s essential and disposing of anything that’s not required.
  • Set in Order: Organising all items logically so everything is in a convenient and accessible place.
  • Shine: Cleaning the workplace so that it’s tidy and free from dirt and hazards.
  • Standardise: Establishing standardised procedures that improve efficiency and ensure consistency.
  • Sustain: Sustaining and continuously improving on the progress achieved.

While Kaizen and the 5S methodology are closely related and often implemented together, they are not the same concept. Kaizen focuses on continuous improvements, whereas the 5S methodology specifically addresses workplace organisation and cleanliness. Both approaches complement each other, with the 5S methodology providing a foundation for maintaining an organised and efficient workplace, which then serves as a platform for Kaizen initiatives.

The main differences between Kaizen and 5S relate to the strategy.

Kaizen and 5S both share the goal of improving processes, but utilise different strategies to arrive at this goal. Kaizen can constitute daily events that identify incremental improvements in operations across a business. Its purpose is to involve all employees and identify small improvements across the board, with the ultimate aim of enhancing productivity, quality, and customer satisfaction. 

5S is an organisational strategy that aims to create the optimal environment and procedures for efficient work. It involves sorting through materials so that nothing unnecessary interferes with work, ensuring workspaces are clean, safe, and organised, creating and standardising effective procedures, and more. Once this methodology is achieved, a 5S strategy functions and sustains and improves upon these results across the business.

Ultimately, the key difference between Kaizen and 5S is that the former seeks out novel ways to improve working processes, while the latter seeks to cultivate and sustain optimal environments and procedures that can be made consistent across the company.

How can Kaizen be applied to manufacturing?

Kaizen in manufacturing refers to a methodology or approach that focuses on continuous improvement and incremental enhancements within the manufacturing process. 

Applying Kaizen principles within a manufacturing environment requires actively involving employees at all levels of the organisation to identify and implement small-scale improvements on an ongoing basis.

The goal of Kaizen in manufacturing is to eliminate waste, increase efficiency, optimise productivity, and enhance overall quality. It emphasises a bottom-up approach, encouraging employees to contribute their ideas and insights to drive continuous improvement in all aspects of manufacturing operations. 

What are the benefits of Kaizen in Manufacturing?

Implementing Kaizen in manufacturing offers a myriad of benefits for organisations:

  • Increased Efficiency: Kaizen initiatives streamline processes, eliminate waste, and improve workflow, leading to enhanced efficiency and productivity.
  • Improved Employee Engagement: By involving employees in the improvement process, Kaizen fosters a culture of engagement, empowerment, and ownership, resulting in higher job satisfaction and motivation.
  • Improved Quality: Kaizen promotes a focus on quality at every step of the manufacturing process. By continually identifying and addressing issues, manufacturers can enhance product quality, reduce defects, and increase customer satisfaction.
  • Fostering an Innovation Culture: Kaizen encourages a mindset of innovation and continuous learning. By empowering employees to share ideas, experiment with new approaches, and embrace change, organisations can foster a culture of innovation and adaptability.

A Typical Kaizen Process

A typical Kaizen initiative in manufacturing often involves the following steps:

Identification: Identify a specific area or process that requires improvement.

Generate Ideas and Create a Plan for Improvement: Look for actionable ways to address the issues identified in the previous step.

Implement the Plan/Solution: Implement the chosen improvement solutions in a controlled and structured manner.

Analyse results regularly, review, and refine: Measure the impact of the implemented changes, assess the results, and gather feedback for further improvements.

Identify next steps/repeat: Once successful improvements are identified, establish new standards, and develop processes to sustain the gains.

Kaizen Improvement process

This systematic approach ensures that Kaizen initiatives are well-planned, executed, and integrated into the organisation's culture.

Examples of How the Kaizen process can be applied in Manufacturing

EXAMPLE 01: Reducing Machine Setup Time

To illustrate the impact of Kaizen, let's first consider a simple example: reducing machine setup time. 

  • Identify problems and define goals:

    The problem here is the amount of time spent setting up machines; the goal is to reduce this time to improve efficiency.

  • Generate ideas and create a plan for improvement:

    Analyse the setup process and come up with ideas for reducing the time it takes, such as eliminating unnecessary steps, and implementing efficient practices.

  • Implement the plan/solution:

    Following the steps above can significantly reduce the time required to set up machines between different product runs. Implement this in the workplace.

  • Analyse results, and regularly review:

    How much time did the above plan save? Could it be improved? Regularly review your processes and refine them for small improvements.

  • Identify next steps/repeat:

    Iterate this same process across all areas of your company where efficiency could be improved.

    Westley Plastics and KSW Engineering are great case studies that highlight successful Kaizen strategies.

EXAMPLE 02: Production Capacity Constraints

Our next example is a little more detailed and uses a common challenge manufacturers come up against, production capacity constraints.  

  • Identify the problem and define goals:

    A manufacturer identifies that they have an issue meeting demand, which is caused by production capacity constraints. The management team knows they need to increase production capacity by at least 10% but don’t currently know what they need to do in order to achieve this goal.

  • Generate ideas and create a plan:

    The business has identified that there is a production capacity issue. A goal has been set to increase capacity by 10% in order to meet the demand. The team discusses what they can do in order to accurately measure what their current capacity is. Simply buying new machines or running more shifts isn’t a feasible option so the team are to look for a technology solution that will give them the data insight they need to understand what their current capacity is and identify where production bottlenecks are occurring.

  • Implement the plan:

    Once the solution and plan have been agreed, the next stage of the Kaizen process is to implement it. In this working example, the business selected a machine monitoring technology to enable them to solve their problem.  Once the technology is deployed onto the machines that need monitoring, the business needs to onboard the machine operators and other stakeholders that will be using the solution. It is essential at this stage that everyone understands the problem (capacity constraint), is aware of the goal (increase capacity by 10%) and understands the value and benefit of the solution that has been chosen (easily and accurately capture production data).

  • Analyse results, review, and refine:

    A solution such as machine monitoring software can very quickly highlight inefficiencies in a manufacturing process. For example, utilisation data can show the business which machines are being well utilised and in high demand, those that are under-utilised and those whose function perhaps had become redundant.

    Using utilisation data as the working example, upon reviewing the data, a management team can use it, to confidently inform changes on the factory floor. For example, the data may highlight that some on-job operations are causing bottlenecks, and therefore the operations manager may look to move some on-job operations to improve cycle times, thus increasing throughput. 

    Machine utilisation data being reviewed by operations manager

    Managers can use current and historic machine utilisation trends to benchmark what 'good' looks like. Allowing them to know at a 'glance' if they've had a good day or not. 

    Another scenario might be where the data can be used to confidently inform commercial decisions.  Here are a couple of examples of this in practice.

    The management team review the utilisation data over a 30-day period. It is clear, after reviewing the data that one of their machines isn’t being utilised, and therefore the team deem it surplus to their production needs. The business decides to sell the machine and invest in a more appropriate machine that would meet the growing demands of their customers and help them towards increasing production capacity by 10%.

    A secondary benefit to this data was that it helped to inform the decision to stop delivering subcontract work and focus on the company’s direct and more profitable contracts.

  • Identify next steps and repeat:

    Machine monitoring software is designed to be an operational tool that informs manufacturers to make continuous, iterative improvements to their processes. So, as with our working example, a business can continue to benefit from real-time production data, as well as historical trends to know what ‘good’ really looks like on their factory floor. And when a trend is falling out of its trendline, take corrective action based on accurate machine data.

    In this working example, over a six-month period, the manufacturer saw machine utilisation go from 21.7% to 35.8%, an overall increase in machine utilisation of 14.1%. More impressively though, their original goal to increase overall production capacity by 10% was surpassed, and in fact, the manufacturer is now able to make 65% more parts than they could in the same period, six months earlier. 

How to successfully implement Kaizen in the workplace

Implementing Kaizen in the workplace involves several key steps:

  • Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement: Foster a culture that values continuous improvement and embraces change as an opportunity for growth.
  • Employee Involvement: Involve employees at all levels in the improvement process. Encourage their active participation, feedback, and suggestions for enhancements.
  • Measurement and Data Analysis: Establish metrics and systems to measure performance, collect data, and analyse trends. This data-driven approach provides insights for targeted improvements.
  • Training and Skill Development: Provide training and skill development opportunities to employees to enhance their problem-solving, analytical, and process improvement skills.
  • Visualise and Communicate: Utilise visual management tools and techniques to communicate goals, progress, and areas for improvement throughout the organisation. This ensures transparency and alignment.

Machine utilisation data shown on factory floor

Displaying real-time machine utilisation data on the factory floor ensures everyone sees the same data, creating a more informed and aligned workforce.

Achieving a Kaizen culture

To achieve a Kaizen culture in manufacturing, organisations should consider the following factors:

  • Set Clear Goals: Define clear goals and objectives for Kaizen initiatives, aligning them with the overall organisational strategy.
  • Provide Support and Resources: Allocate adequate resources, including time, training, tools, and technology, to support Kaizen's efforts.
  • Embrace Risk-Taking: Create an environment that encourages risk-taking and experimentation. Embrace failures as learning opportunities and encourage innovative thinking.
  • Continuous Evaluation: Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of Kaizen initiatives, monitor progress, and make adjustments as necessary. Kaizen is an ongoing journey, requiring constant evaluation and refinement.

How machine monitoring software can help manufacturers implement a Kaizen strategy

As we briefly touched on earlier, technology such as machine monitoring software is a great tool to support continuous improvement methodologies such as Kaizen. An example of this is FourJaw. FourJaw’s manufacturing analytics software is designed to enable factories to achieve manufacturing excellence and comes with several features that will help drive a Kaizen philosophy. These include:

Machine Monitoring: Machine monitoring software captures productivity and energy usage data in real-time. This gives manufacturers actionable insights that can help increase production capacity and understand and reduce their energy consumption which in turn, supports improvements in performance, sustainability and profitability.

OEE Machine Monitoring: Overall Equipment Effectiveness, commonly known as (OEE) is a metric used in manufacturing to measure the efficiency of production equipment, taking into account the Availability, Performance and Quality. FourJaw’s OEE calculation takes into account the impact on the shop floor, making it accessible to manufacturers in both batch manufacturing and more traditional environments where OEE is commonly used such as high-volume manufacturing.

Machine downtime monitoring: Identifying and tracking downtime is essential for any business looking to maximise production. FourJaw captures real-time data to drive continuous improvement in your factory.

Energy Monitoring: Understanding the cost of energy in manufacturing processes allows manufacturers to make informed decisions and process changes that can reduce wasted energy usage, reduce costs, and positively change people's behaviours, making them more aware to make conscious decisions about when to  ‘use energy’, which in turn helps to reduce a factories carbon footprint, and in the long term make it more sustainable. 

Machine monitoring software captures real-time machine utilisation data

Machine data monitoring software provides manufacturers with a real-time view of their production data. Measuring key production metrics such as utilisation, OEE and energy usage. 

Kaizen in manufacturing: summary

Kaizen, with continuous improvement at its core, and teamwork and employee engagement playing a pivotal role in its success, has become a cornerstone best practice in manufacturing. By implementing the five elements of Kaizen, organisations can drive efficiency, improve quality, and foster a culture of innovation.

By embracing Kaizen as a philosophy, embedding it as a culture and implementing practical strategies, manufacturers can navigate the challenges and unlock the many opportunities sometimes hidden from sight due to the busy and complex nature of manufacturing. In doing so, manufacturers can put themselves in the best possible position to, achieve sustainable long-term growth, retain and attract the best people and stay ahead of the competition.

In conclusion, Kaizen offers a powerful approach for manufacturers to continuously enhance their processes, drive improvements, and adapt to evolving market demands. By embracing the philosophy of Kaizen and implementing its key elements, manufacturers can optimise their operations, engage their employees, and achieve long-term success.