Monday, September 25, 2006

Japan Day 4 - HOKS Part 2

After the intense 3S morning session followed by stretching exercises, I walked through the plant to see the lean transformation at HOKS. Everywhere I turned, there were examples of employee driven kaizen. I rapidly took notes, snapped pictures and scribbled out crude drawings to spark my memory. Of all the companies we visited, HOKS was probably the most open with information and access to their shop floor operation to allow us the opportunity to really understand their lean manufacturing culture.

The one area that sparked my imagination the most at HOKS was their lean transformation in the office. Many companies have made significant improvements on the shop floor yet the office areas remain insulated from any significant lean changes. At HOKS, they broke through the office barrier with some extremely interesting lean applications.

Right off the bat, you could instantly see that the HOKS office operation was special. The entire staff, from President on down, was standing. Their desks were elevated using kaizen pipe or custom made out of kaizen pipe to accommodate the height of each employee and there were no chairs in sight. According to Mr. Manabe, HOKS President, it is healthier to stand and 30% more efficient. For the office staff that may have difficulty with standing all day, bar stools were provided. I saw several staff members using the bar stool however the clear majority were standing.

As an Industrial Engineer, I always promoted standing on the shop floor for the majority of operations to increase cell efficiency yet never thought to push the concept to the office. To me, this was a major shift in how to view the office. Do you think this will catch on in the United States? After talking with several staff members and their positive reflections on changing to a standing office, I am going to convert my office for standing.

The second lean change was the physical location of the office staff. It was no surprise to see support staff like production management and engineers' desks (work spaces) located on the shop floor in their respective areas of responsibility. But so were production/scheduling, customer service, and sales staffs. In another common sense move, HOKS located their purchasing staff next to their receiving area. One note: HOKS does have some areas in the plant set up for sitting at a computer and away for the group setting for those work tasks/occasions needing intense concentration.

In each case, the lean goals driving these office improvements were to streamline communication and strive for rapid responsiveness to the shop floor operation, From what I observed at HOKS, they are definitely on target.

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