Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Japan Day 3 - TOTO Kokura

On our third day in Japan, we studied the lean manufacturing process at the TOTO facility in Kokura, Japan. TOTO is a hugely dominate manufacturer in Japan (and growing worldwide) of faucets, metal fittings and bathtubs. Check out the TOTO website to see the variety of their product offerings and learn more about this company. After my visit, I would definitely consider TOTO to be a strong competitor to companies like Kohler and Delta faucet. TOTO is doing some amazing things in lean manufacturing. And after using their product this week, I have to say I loved the heated seat.

One problem facing many manufacturing plants in the US is the limited resources available like engineering to make improvements, At TOTO, they have addressed this problem by have the engineers only work on the big stuff ( major equipment selection, designs and major projects) and have all the shop floor employees do the smaller stuff (like build their own workstations, fixtures and work aids). This frees up a tremendously amount of burden from the Engineers responsibilities to work on the big bang stuff yet still allows the little stuff to get done by the process owners. Works great.

There were all kinds of simple workstation and visual improvements put into place. There were small pinwheels placed on the fans of CNC mills as a visual indicator that the fan was operational, all the workbenches, carts, racks, etc were made out of various types of Kaizen Pipe, the measurement boards were shortened to be able to see across the department, all the assembly power tools were inline and electric models to reduce noise, etc. A repeating theme in Japan - make it simple!

The coolest thing was seeing the casting operation, plating operation and pre-assembly operations lined up side by side. Typically a casting and plating operation would be separated to prevent contamination in the process. At TOTO, great care and process design was given to look at the point (or source) of this contamination and prevent it. This was accomplished using large (powerful) vacuum hoods along with guards and shields. The operators are also constantly wiping their areas down throughout the day. Extremely clean operations.

The new employee training program was excellent. All new employees were trained in basics of company info/philosophy and safety followed by working in a training lab on some basic assembly skills. This even includes lessons in manners and how to greet visitors, all conducted in a training area separate from production. Then the employee is assigned a mentor to train in multiple areas, rotating over a 2 month period, with actual product units.

After this rotation, the new employee is teamed up with a couple of other new employees for a 2 day education session conducted in the training lab. The first day, the team is given parts and told to make up a cell to produce this product and run parts. Later in the day, this team is given an opportunity to make improvements. On the second day, they run more production with their new process. At the end of the second day, the team is sent to the production floor to see the method preferred to build that product (the current standard method/layout). Great lean learning experience with most lean improvements coming from the shop floor employees.

The manufacturing work cells at TOTO were dominated by single operator cells. The controlling factor of the cells was not work content, it was determined by space and expense of equipment needed.

There is much to learn from this outstanding company. Oh, by the way, TOTO has only been into the lean approach for 5 years yet they have rapidly learned and implemented these great improvements on their lean journey.

We are off again in the morning to another company further along the lean journey


Mike Gardner said...

Mike, I've also been struck by the virtual 100% monopoly Toto has in the Japanese plumbing market. I first encountered the heated seat 11 years ago and have since seen it become the norm in Japan. So why is this 1) hard to find in the US and 2) so expensive when it can be found? Weird.

I'm enjoying your posts from Japan. Have an Asahi Super-Dry for me!

Mike Wroblewski said...

Hey Mike, Thanks for the message. TOTO's product is all over Japan. No matter where we go we see the TOTO brand. Great innovative products that would be well recieved by US customers. I know there is a TOTO facility in the US so they are trying to make an US impact. The Asahi is outstanding...Kampai.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Mike! TOTO has an office here in Manila, too, and I know someone from there. Didn't know that TOTO is into lean. Thanks for the heads up, maybe I can interview my friend about their lean experience here, too. Keep up the good work, and will keep coming back to check out your lean journey. Also, you might want to visit Manila, too. :-D