Monday, September 11, 2006

Japan Day 1 - Nanjo Sobi Kogyo

After the tour of the Toyota Motor Kyushu plant, our group headed to another factory in Southern Japan while there was still daylight to burn. We arrive later in the afternoon to the Nanjo Sobi Kogyo plant as the first foreign (Westerner) visitors every allowed to visit this extremely well run manufacturing facility.

Our host, Mr Yoshio Kaneko, Plant Manager, was extremely gracious to us for allowing this unique opportunity to see his operation. Prior to the official tour and Q/A period, the most honorable Mr Kaneko expressed his deepest sympathies to our group in remembrance of 9/11 on this 5th anniversary and sorrow for this tragedy against humanity. Arigato-Gozimas!

The Nanjo Sobi Kogyo plant, built in 1991, produces Seat Trim and covers for the automotive market. The operations include mainly fabric/leather cutting and sewing with a small group of 99 employees. The have outstanding kaizen spirit throughout their company from top to bottom with plenty of visual management and tremendous employee participation. The walls are filled with celebrated kaizen successes!

The biggest eye opener is the fact that all the operators sewing are standing up instead of the traditional sitting down. Standing up while performing work is more efficient yet some tasks like sewing are not considered suitable for standing. Mr Kaneko proves us wrong. Watching the operators move the fabric around with precision and ease while standing is a sight to behold. A typical cell is set up with one operator surrounded by 3 sewing machines set up for a specific model. The foot pedals are even fixed into position by a simple cutout in a board on the floor. Extremely cool to see in action!

The next thing that caught my attention is that the air and electric drops were missing from above. Typically, most manufacturing plants in the US drop air and electric lines from the ceiling to the workstations. Not at Nanjo Sobi Kogyo where the air and electric access come from the floor! A well designed trench system keeps the workstations supplied with power which really opens up the view of the shop floor. Outstanding!

These were just two of many improvements that surrounded us as we walked this very impressive plant. In parting, Mr Kaneko expressed some of his continuous improvement philosophy in that "Kaizen is part of work and not a program to be managed" and that "Kaizen should be embraced and not forced on to employees ". Certainly words of lean wisdom spoken from experience.


Mark Graban said...

Mike -- I'm sure you have a ton of pictures. Any way you can share more of them when you return, maybe via "Flickr" or some other web photo service?

Anonymous said...

Mike, wow must be an awesome experience to see lean in action! And you blog it so well, that we readers feel we are there, too. But, really, there's a lot to learn from Japanese companies.

Mike Wroblewski said...

Thanks for your comments, Mark and Meikah. It is a very cool experience seeing lean in action in Japan. I will check out the possiblity of posting many pictures however I can not promise anything right now. Picture taking here in plants is generally prohibited however I got permission for one plant so far. My post just highlights some of my observations. There are many, many lean lessons to be learned over here.