Japan Best Practice Study Tour 2018

This year Industry Forum relaunched the Japan Best Practice Programme.  This is a manufacturing best practice study tour where senior leaders and change managers can witness first-hand some of the best examples Japan has to offer.

The week long Study Tour included four manufacturing visits to World Class facilities, seminars on Toyota Production System and Industry 4.0, a cultural tour of Tokyo and the Toyota Museum and a day at the Global Karakuri Kaizen competition.  Karakuri Kaizen is a creative problem solving technique that utilises any available energy source to move materials or ingenuity, to eliminate errors, risks or difficulties and hundreds of companies from all over the world share their example and compete for the prize of being champion.

Day 1

The first day introduced the delegates to the programme, the itinerary and logistics for the week.  Once those formalities were complete the group had a guided cultural tour of the amazing sites in Tokyo has to offer, ranging from the oldest Temples to the heights of the Sky Tree – for a time the tallest building in the world. 



Day 2

The first Plant visit was to Mitsuba Niisato Plant in the Tokyo area.  Mitsuba are a global manufacturer of electric motors for the 

automotive sector, among other things.  They have followed the Total Productive Maintenance path since 1996 and achieved great improvements.  They describe a ‘Double TPM Approach’ which refers to Total Productive Management as well as Maintenance. 

 This provides a leadership approach that sets clear direction and aligns appropriate resources to meet organisation wide successes.  Later the more familiar Pillar approach was introduced to build stable processes and full engagement of people.

After a short journey, the second Plant visit was Shindengen, a global manufacturer of car and motorcycle electronics.  They owe much of their success to the effective deployment of the Shindengen Productivity Innovation System – which incorporates elements of Lean, TPM and Total Quality and is applied across people, process and products.  As you approach the manufacturing facility from reception you are greeted by a wall of clear information that cascades objectives into individual themes, all clearly owned and executed through their small group activities.  It is very clear to see how this helps engage everyone in the policy and targets organisation wide.

Day 3

The group travelled by bullet train from Tokyo to Nagoya ready to visit the Toyota Museum and also the Toyota Motomachi Assembly facility to have a detailed guided tour through the whole process as well as a lecture on TPS by Mr Ron Haig of Toyota Head Office. 

The museum is truly a fascinating place to visit.  It chronicles the progress through the generations of the Toyoda family and the developments from loom making into vehicle manufacture.  In the great entrance the centre piece is the Circular Loom.  An amazing piece of engineering in its day, and it holds centre stage as a lesson in humility because in his life time Sakichi Toyoda never took it to the level of perfection he desired, which was to auto change the shuttle.


Day 4

At the Motomachi Assembly Plant it was fascinating to be reminded of the mantra Toyota has which is to ‘add value to society by making things’ – which seems simple enough. Following on from this there are some challenging commitments to reduce CO2 emissions by 90% and have zero emissions at the Plant by daily kaizen. There are different types of kaizen and different levels of involvement but the base line is an improvement every 2 weeks per person, this means more than 15,000 ideas implemented each year. You see this in action as you walk around the Plant and see how it differs from contemporary Plants.

In Nagoya we had a lecture from JIPM on the subject of Industry 4.0 implementation.  Over the course of the week there were many interesting discussions about the role of technology, when and how to invest and then how this relates to 4.0 and IoT.  Some of the conclusions included:

  • 4.0 was perhaps more of an evolution rather than revolution.
  • It is important to consider the cost and benefit, for example whether to automate and use robots should target processes at capacity and operating 24/7
  • Karakuri Kaizen offers a complimentary strategy to 4.0 for low cost automation with zero emissions
  • When considering all the capabilities technology can offer it is important to consider what to measure, how to collect the data and how to process it so it leads to the right action. One key to this is to make the process performance very visual so action is quick and direct

There is now a sequence of steps to follow so you can introduce an innovation pillar in line with the other pillars deployed as part of TPM.

Day 5

The 23rd Karakuri Kaizen Exhibition and awards takes place every year and provides an opportunity for any manufacturer to show off their ingenuity and compete for the prize of champion.  There over 400 companies that participate so there are many examples to see and discuss.  Karakuri Kaizen provides creative improvement that achieves a variety of outcomes.

  • Moving items from one place to another and return with no additional energy
  • Providing methods that result in error free processes (Poka Yoke)
  • Methods that provide the correct orientation of parts for the next operation
  • Methods that achieve more than one outcome from a single action
  • Methods to position necessary items in exactly the right location with zero effort

    (Photo provided by Japan Institute of Plant)

Day 6

The final leg took the group to Shiga prefecture to visit Sakata Inx.  This is a global organisation processing chemicals and other ingredients to produce a range of ink products that may be applied to paper, metal, plastics and packaging.  The application of TPM and Lean in a process industry can have its challenges because the process is dependent on chemistry and processing parameters rather than component parts.  To guide this approach a new method to analyse the operation was introduced known as Through Neck Analysis.  This led to various activities aligned with autonomous maintenance and planned maintenance, and established standard approaches to share with other facilities.  The approach also led the technical team to radically redesign the operation with dramatic effects and established the new generation of Plant and Equipment that would become the Global standard for the company.

Finally after all the visits there was a final dinner with awards and prizes for the delegates.  The feedback was gathered each day and for the study tour as a whole.  In summary the final rating for the overall experience was nine out of ten.  In all cases people felt it would be good for others to attend in future.  This might target Leaders and practitioners of transformation programmes whether TPM or Lean. 

Some quotes from participants include:

“It triggers the mind to think of the improvements in a simple manner to better implement TPM”

“A great opportunity to see some excellent examples of what a mature state of TPM looks like and helps you set some goals for your TPM journey”

“A good programme for learning about TPM effectiveness”

“TPM Learning through experience in Japan”

“It was a clear reminder of what it really takes to be successful in transforming your business”

Find out about the 2019 programme