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Kaizen for Robots: The Handy Check List

Alex Owen-Hill
by Alex Owen-Hill on Dec 19, 2017, 7:00:00 AM

What is Kaizen? How can you apply it to robotics? This handy check list makes sure you don't miss anything.

Kaizen is one of the main pillars of Lean Manufacturing and, by extension, of Lean Robotics too. It means "continual improvement" and the word comes from the Japanese (改善) meaning "change for the better" or simply "improvement." It does not refer to a specific business technique — it is more of a mindset which can be developed by using a set of techniques.

The kaizen approach is to create a culture of improvement within your business. Rather than imposing changes from the top down, it encourages collaborative improvement from everyone on the team every day.

The Check-List

Use the following list to move forward with your implementation of kaizen in your robot deployment process. Copy it and circle or fill in your chosen options.

Which Kaizen Will You Focus On?

Flow kaizen

Process kaizen

   

Which Concepts Do You Still Need to Learn?

PDCA

5S

5 Whys

The 10 Wastes

Kaizen Event, Daily Kaizen or Both?

Kaizen Event

Daily Kaizen (highly recommended)

   

How often will the team hold kaizen meetings?

Every

 

days

 

Have You Got the Lean Robotics Book?

Yes

Not Yet (get it here!)

   

 

Which Kaizen Will You Focus On?

Kaizen affects the entire business. However, there are two different levels of kaizen. Although both should include team members from every level of the business, each requires a slightly different approach. Make sure that you know which you are tackling before you begin.

The two levels of kaizen:

  • Flow kaizen — This is an "upper level" kaizen and refers to continuous improvement of the entire business process. Flow kaizen often focuses on decisions at the senior management level. It can be implemented when designing manufacturing cells, so you may begin using it when you deploy your robot cell for the first time.
  • Process kaizen — This is the "lower level" kaizen which seeks to continuously improve the day-to-day running of individual processes. The front line workers will have the most input into process kaizen and they will contribute hugely to its success. It is likely that many of the improvements you will make to your robot cell will be examples of process kaizen.

It is common to begin by implementing low-level, process kaizen by organizing a "Kaizen Event" (which I describe below). This is quick, cheap and effectively teaches kaizen concepts to the team using a specific, clear example. After this is successful, you can then move on to introduce flow kaizen to your over business. 

 

Which Concepts Do You Still Need to Learn?

Lean Robotics is based on several different techniques, which you can read about at leanrobotics.org. Kaizen utilizes many of these to achieve continuous improvement. It's helpful to familiarize yourself with these techniques before you start to implement Lean Robotics in your business.

Some of the most important techniques for kaizen are:

  • PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) — This four-phase process is used to drive continuous improvement in your robotic process. It is a key tool for implementing kaizen. Each time someone suggests an improvement to the robot cell, it should be first placed into the Plan phase (e.g. on a dedicated Plan list on a noticeboard). The improvement should then be implemented in the Do phase, followed by the Check phase to monitor its progress. Finally, changes to the improvement are made in the Act phase. The cycle then begins again, in the Plan phase, with a new suggestion.
  • 5S — This is an approach to creating a tidy, efficient workspace. It should be a precursor to any introduction of Lean. The name comes from the five steps of the approach, which each start with the letter S (Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain). Find out more in our article How to Create an Efficient Robot Cell with 5S.
  • 5 Whys — This is as simple technique to discover the root cause of a particular problem in the robot cell. It basically involves asking "Why?" five times (or more if necessary) to move from the original problem to the root cause.
  • The 10 Wastes — Reducing waste is a key concept in Lean Robotics. Often, it is through identifying these wastes that you will discover which aspects of your process can be improved next using kaizen. For more information on the 10 wastes, check out our article How Long Does It Take to Launch Lean Robotics?

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Kaizen Event, Daily Kaizen or Both?

The goal of kaizen is to achieve small but significant changes every day. This is often referred to as "Daily Kaizen." For this to be effective, you should hold regular team meetings to reinforce the improvements that have already been implemented and seek new ones.

You should decide:

  • How often will the team hold kaizen meetings?

As well as Daily Kaizen, it can also be beneficial to organize a one-off Kaizen Event (aka Kaizen Blitz), where the whole team works together for a day to improve a particular aspect of one individual process. This can be a good opportunity to teach your team about kaizen and experience its effect immediately with your robot cell.

If you are running a Kaizen Event for your robot deployment, here are some questions you might consider:

  • What is the purpose of the event?
  • When is the event to be held?
  • What are its objectives?
  • Who is involved?
  • What metrics are you measuring?
  • What is the process?
  • What is the current situation and problems?

When the event arrives, the team should work together to improve the process using whichever metric is most relevant to measure the results.

It is highly recommended to include Daily Kaizen into your regular schedule. Although Kaizen Events can be a great way to see instant changes, they are not so effective when used in isolation as they do not maintain the improvements.

 

Have You Got the Lean Robotics Book?

Kaizen is only one of the many aspects of Lean Robotics which can help to make your robot deployment a success.

If you haven't yet got your free copy of the Lean Robotics book, make sure to get it by visiting leanrobotics.org!

Get the book on amazon.com


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Alex Owen-Hill
Written by Alex Owen-Hill
Alex Owen-Hill is a freelance writer and public speaker who blogs about a large range of topics, including science, presentation skills at CreateClarifyArticulate.com, storytelling and (of course) robotics. He completed a PhD in Telerobotics from Universidad Politecnica de Madrid as part of the PURESAFE project, in collaboration with CERN. As a recovering academic, he maintains a firm foot in the robotics world by blogging about industrial robotics.
Connect with the writer:
http://alexowenhill.co.uk/