Flexpipe Blog

Learn more about the Flexpipe system and its applications with our inspirational articles on continuous improvement, Kaizen Blitz, Lean Six Sigma, 5S and corporate social involvement.

Hoshin Kanri for Lean Manufacturing: The Essential Strategic Planning Guide

Hoshin Kanri for Lean Manufacturing: The Essential Strategic Planning Guide

Lean manufacturing isn't just about cutting costs — it's a philosophy of continuous improvement and strategic planning that transforms the entire production process. Among the many lean tools, Hoshin Kanri stands out as a methodical approach to aligning company goals with practical, on-the-ground operations. This guide explores how manufacturing engineers can apply Hoshin Kanri to achieve operational excellence.

What is Hoshin Kanri?

Hoshin Kanri, originating from the Japanese business management system, is a strategic planning process that integrates Lean principles to ensure that every employee is working towards the same objectives. It translates to "direction management" or "policy deployment." By focusing on KPIs, cross-functional teamwork, and the PDCA cycle, Hoshin Kanri empowers engineers and managers alike to steer their teams toward common goals effectively.

The PDCA method or the Deming cycle

This disciplined approach involves several key steps:

Identifying Key Business Objectives: It starts with the vision of the company and breaks it down into clear, actionable steps. 

Developing Strategies for Goals: It involves devising strategies to achieve these objectives, often with the help of cross-functional teams. 

Implementing Action Plans: These strategies are translated into action plans, which are then carried out by employees at all levels of the organization. 

Reviewing and Adjusting: Regular reviews are essential to assess progress and make necessary adjustments.

Benefits for Manufacturing Engineers:

Manufacturing engineers who employ Hoshin Kanri can expect several tangible benefits:

Improved focus on value-added activities. 

Enhanced process efficiency and waste reduction. 

Better resource allocation and inventory management through JIT principles. 

Stronger alignment between management objectives and operational activities.

Planning and online Tools for Hoshin Kanri

The digital transformation of the manufacturing industry has introduced a suite of online tools tailored to support strategic planning and the Hoshin Kanri process. These tools offer a multitude of features that support the various stages of the Hoshin planning cycle, from conception to completion. Here's a curated list of tools that can facilitate each phase of your Hoshin plan: 

Trello: A visual tool that's perfect for monitoring the progress of Hoshin initiatives. 

Asana: Streamlines task assignment and tracking related to strategic actions. 

Monday.com: Offers templates for creating an X-Matrix, a fundamental Hoshin Kanri document. 

Smartsheet: Provides robust planning capabilities for complex strategic documents. 

i-nexus: Tailored for strategy execution, ensuring goal alignment and tracking. 

businessmap: Delivers advanced Kanban boards and analytics to support the Catchball process. 

Lucidchart: Ideal for process visualization, crucial for A3 reports and strategy mapping. 

Understanding the X-Matrix: The Planning Backbone of Hoshin Kanri

A cornerstone of Hoshin Kanri is the X-Matrix, a comprehensive planning matrix that visually maps out the strategic plan, aligning long-term goals with tactics, metrics, and responsible parties. This tool is invaluable for ensuring transparency and coherence in your strategy. This kind of tool facilitate the creation and tracking of the X-Matrix, allowing teams to see how their efforts contribute to overarching company objectives in real time. By leveraging such platforms, engineers and managers gain a birds-eye view of their strategy's execution, ensuring that all actions are purpose-driven and results-oriented.

[cta id="51920"]

Leveraging Online Tools for Strategic Planning

Incorporating these online tools into your Hoshin Kanri strategy can yield transformative results. 

Ensure Alignment: Use the tools to align individual and team activities with strategic objectives. 

Foster Collaboration: Enhance collaboration across departments by providing a common platform for sharing progress and feedback. 

Monitor Performance: Keep track of performance metrics to ensure strategic outcomes are being met. 

Hoshin Kanri is a powerful lean methodology that, when supported by the right set of online tools, can help manufacturing engineers and organizations ensure that every team member is working towards the same goals. By integrating these tools into your Hoshin Kanri framework, your team can work more efficiently, adapt to changes quickly, and achieve strategic objectives with greater precision. 

We're eager to hear about your experiences with Hoshin Kanri and these online tools. Leave a comment below to join the conversation and help others in the lean manufacturing community find the best strategies for success.

Working Together Towards Inclusive Excellence

Working Together Towards Inclusive Excellence

Flexpipe's growing order backlog forced it to look for a reliable partner to assemble 70 flowracks. The natural choice was Groupe AFFI, an NPO dedicated to the employment and professional development of people with functional limitations.

In an ever-changing business world, where strategic collaborations can be the key to success, Flexpipe and Groupe AFFI recently joined forces for a promising collaboration. In addition to respecting the values of continuous improvement and social inclusion, this collaboration demonstrated the versatility of the Groupe AFFI and proved that performance knows no bounds!   

Faced with growing demand and an expanding order book, Flexpipe sought a reliable partner to meet its production needs. Continuous improvement is an integral part of who we are and what we do. We focus on a safe and healthy work environment, skills development, and innovation. Our mission of social involvement is collaborative and inclusive, to establish a dynamic and growing collective network. We naturally chose the Groupe AFFI, a subcontractor who shares our values.  

At Flexpipe, continuous improvement is not limited to product or service quality. It also extends to the company's ethics, its social impact, and its ability to collaborate with other organizations sharing similar values. Flexpipe has always believed in a dynamic and inclusive economy, where collaboration is synonymous with ambition.

Groupe AFFI: An inclusive vision

Groupe AFFI stands out as a Non-Profit Organization (NPO) dedicated to the employment and professional development of people with functional limitations. Its mission is built around values such as human respect, excellence, flexibility, and self-improvement. Groupe AFFI offers subcontracting services by hiring staff with functional limitations, where diversified services are provided reliably and efficiently for small and large mandates. The promise of performance goes hand in hand with social commitment. With a dedicated team of 650 members, the majority of whom have functional limitations, Groupe AFFI is positioned as a key player in the food, pharmaceutical, manufacturing and consumer retail sectors.

Training and human development

One of Groupe AFFI's strengths lies in its commitment to ongoing employee training. From French to mathematics, social skills to finance, a variety of training courses are offered, enabling employees to develop their skills and realize their full potential.

When excellence rhymes with innovation and adaptability

The mandate entrusted to Groupe AFFI was an ambitious one: to assemble over 70 flowracks in just 3 weeks. Thanks to a dedicated team and a methodical approach, Groupe AFFI not only met the challenge, but also exceeded expectations, completing the mandate in just 2 weeks.

Groupe AFFI demonstrated its expertise and commitment to excellence. They demonstrated remarkable adaptability, creating ingenious templates to ensure quality and conformity between the assembled flowracks. It took just 2 or 3 days to increase the production rate and assemble 18 racks a day instead of 10.

"Since many employees don't have the skills to read a tape measure, these templates are used to ensure that the distance between connector joints is always the same from one rack to the next."
Explains Kateryna, Supervisor at Groupe AFFI.

By considering the limitations of certain employees, tailor-made solutions were developed, illustrating the spirit of innovation and inclusion that characterizes Groupe AFFI.

Flexpipe provided detailed drawings, a model flowrack and all pre-cut and identified parts to facilitate the task, which was greatly appreciated by the supervisors at Groupe AFFI. They then analyzed and deconstructed each assembly step as a separate task on several assembly line stations. Each assembly station was then clearly color-coded, making it easier to assemble each part of the rack.

"Teamwork takes on its full meaning, it's as if our products were theirs!"
Affirms Benjamin Ricard, General Manager at Flexpipe.

The supervisors were very attentive to the employees and their limitations, showing respect and flexibility. Unlike the projects they are used to doing, the one proposed by Flexpipe was quite diversified and included a physical task portion. All agreed that it was an enjoyable and different project to do!

Heijunka: A Comprehensive Guide to Leveling Production

Heijunka: A Comprehensive Guide to Leveling Production

In the manufacturing realm, optimizing for efficiency while meeting ever-evolving market demands is critical. Enter Heijunka, a Japanese technique of "leveling production". Renowned as the backbone of the Toyota Production System (TPS) and the foundation of Lean methodology, Heijunka serves as a beacon for operational excellence.

Understanding Heijunka

Toyota Motor Corporation designed their production system to deliver superior quality, optimal cost, and minimized lead time by eradicating waste. The foundation of TPS rests on two main tenets: just-in-time and jidoka. This concept is frequently depicted with the "house" illustration.

Heijunka, pronounced "hey-june-kuh", is more than just leveling production; it represents a philosophy to combat waste, align production with actual demand, and ultimately, streamline operations. Originating as an essential pillar of the TPS, Heijunka's inception was aimed at addressing the unpredictabilities and inefficiencies resulting from erratic production schedules and fluctuating customer demands. 

By integrating the principles of Heijunka, manufacturers are empowered to craft a balanced and rhythmic production cadence. This harmonized approach reduces lead times, ensures high-quality output, and optimizes resource allocation, thus bolstering overall operational efficiency.

Principles of Heijunka

The Heijunka is the solution to the Mura problematic.

Demand Smoothing: Central to Heijunka is the principle of demand smoothing, ensuring production orders are evenly spaced, mitigating the risks of abrupt demand fluctuations. It addresses challenges like overproduction during demand peaks or resource underutilization during lulls. 

Mixed-Model Production: Unlike traditional manufacturing that emphasizes large batches of a single product, Heijunka promotes mixed-model production. It's a holistic approach, producing varied products in small batches, aligning with changing customer preferences without accumulating unnecessary inventory.

Through Heijunka, the goal is to combat inefficiencies born from inconsistent production times.

Takt Time Integration: Central to Lean methodology, takt time — the rate at which a product must be produced to meet customer demand — is interwoven into Heijunka. This synchronization ensures that manufacturing processes are consistently paced and optimized.

Benefits of Heijunka

When implemented properly, the system ensures consistency by balancing demand, adaptability by reducing the time it takes to switch tasks, and steadiness by maintaining a consistent production volume and variety over an extended period.

Waste Reduction: Heijunka's strategic distribution of production orders significantly trims waste. This includes overstock, overproduction, and the mismanagement of resources. By eliminating these inefficiencies, businesses can realize cost savings and enhanced resource stewardship. 

Enhanced Flexibility: The mixed-model production championed by Heijunka enables manufacturers to rapidly pivot in response to market shifts or evolving customer preferences. This dynamism ensures production remains in sync with real-time demand. 

Employee Empowerment: A predictable Heijunka-driven rhythm reduces the chaos and stress stemming from sudden production shifts, fostering a healthier, more engaged workspace.

Implementing Heijunka with the Kanban System

A successful Heijunka implementation can be further enhanced with the integration of the Kanban system, a visualization tool to improve workflow and manage work-in-progress. 

Demand Forecasting: Start by analyzing past demand trends and market trajectories to craft an accurate production roadmap.

This table represents a mass producer (without Heijunka)

Standardized Work: Create consistent work procedures. This uniformity ensures tasks are executed uniformly, promoting a consistent production flow. 

Kanban System Integration: Meld the Kanban system for material resupply. It complements Heijunka by ensuring the smooth flow of materials and matching production rhythm. Kanban visualizes the workflow, makes policies explicit, and fosters continuous improvement — all aligned with Heijunka's goals.

Lean manufacturers who embraced the concept of balancing both volume and variety required an efficient scheduling system to manage production.

Collaboration and Communication: Foster effective intra-departmental communication. This synchronization is key to aligning production plans and swiftly responding to any changes.

In our rapidly evolving manufacturing landscape, Heijunka stands out as a robust tool for optimizing production workflows. Combined with the Kanban system, this synergy offers unparalleled potential to transform manufacturing practices. As businesses worldwide strive for operational excellence, Heijunka and Kanban might be the duo driving them to new efficiency frontiers.

Flexpipe plants 5 trees to compensate its employees' carbon footprint

Flexpipe plants 5 trees to compensate its employees' carbon footprint

During the week of September 18 to 22, Flexpipe employees joined forces to promote carpooling and mobile travel while reducing their carbon footprint. The impressive results of this initiative led to the planting of 5 trees, symbolizing their commitment to the environment.


534 kilometers saved
During the week of the challenge, the company's employees managed to accumulate a remarkable saving of 534 kilometers in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This activity was made possible thanks to the commitment of employees, who chose to carpool and prefer active transport such as cycling or walking to get to work. Their determination demonstrated that simple actions can have a significant positive impact on the environment.


A concrete measure to compensate the environmental impact of their journey
Flexpipe has committed to planting the number of trees equivalent to the CO2 generated by participating employees who were unable to carpool or commute during the period in question. This means that 0.726 tonnes of CO2 will be offset by the planting of 5 trees on company premises. The employees have requested that these trees be fruit trees, so that they can enjoy the fruits of their efforts year after year.


A symbol for the Farnham community
The planting of the 5 fruit trees symbolizes another step towards a greener, more sustainable future, not only for the company, but also for the Farnham community. It's an example of how collective action on behalf of the environment can make a significant difference.

Flexpipe is proud to support this initiative and to recognize its employees' efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. This initiative demonstrates the importance of commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility within the company.

A Tailor-Made Multifunction Cart for a Student Engineering Competition

A Tailor-Made Multifunction Cart for a Student Engineering Competition

The Alérion Supermileage team from Université Laval opted for a modular Flexpipe cart that can be used as a transport cart, but also as a tool box and work table.



Alérion Supermileage is a science and engineering student project based at Université Laval in Quebec. Its mandate is to design, design and manufacture a prototype vehicle with the best possible energy efficiency.

Needing a transport system for their vehicle during competitions, the Alérion Supermileage team called on Flexpipe to build their custom cart. The new cart made of tubes and connector joints could therefore be used as a worktable for adjustments to the vehicle, a toolbox in addition to a transport cart, responding to a lack observed by the team during the previous competition.



The 3D concept of the trolley was produced using SolidWorks software, using the parts library provided by Flexpipe. A first version of the design could be shared with the experts at Flexpipe to validate the structure and discuss the modifications to be made. The slides used come from another partner, the biggest difficulty encountered was to install them to the tube structure during assembly.

These slides had to be attached by a fixing system which was not possible to use with the tubes. The students had to cut and bend some pieces of metal as well as make new holes in order to attach them to the tubes using the slide extension support pieces.



In the 2023 SAE Supermileage competition, the Alérion Supermileage team took first place in the gasoline-powered prototype standings. Congratulations to all!



How Ekanbans Optimize Your Material Replenishment Process

How Ekanbans Optimize Your Material Replenishment Process

When companies think about Kanban, the image of a Kanban board and Kanban cue cards often come to mind. This simple lean manufacturing scheduling system summarizes workflow on a board, showing individual steps required to complete a given project, work, or operation.

The Kanban board is the repository for the Kanban cards. The board outlines a given manufacturing process or defines each stage of a product or project’s step-by-step process. The cards are then placed on the board outlining what tasks need completion.

Aerospace producibility board – Source: planview.com

Cards define what work has been requested, what is currently being worked on, and what work is completed. They represent what remains to be done before moving to the next process step. These cards are also used to outline different ideas and approaches to help move the process along.

The Origins of Kanban

In its simplest form, Kanban is a method of tracking manufacturing workflow or a project’s history. It is a highly effective scheduling method for lean manufacturing, helping to define how much inventory is needed to support current workloads.

Its origins can be traced back to Taiichi Ohno, who – along with Sakichi Toyoda and his son Kiichiro Toyoda – are responsible for developing the Toyota Production System (TPS) and its many lean and continuous improvement methodologies.

Toyota Production System Kanban board. Source: toyota-global.com

Like many lean methodologies emerging from Toyota, Kanban relies upon simple visual cues. The word Kanban is Japanese and literally translates to “card you can see.” It is considered the core tool for managing Just-in-Time (JIT) manufacturing, another lean pillar of TPS. Toyota introduced JIT and Kanban during the 1940s.

JIT is considered a pull system where customer demand is the driving force behind manufacturing. This customer demand essentially “pulls” products to be made, unlike the North American manufacturing processes at that time that relied on pushing products to the market to spur customers to buy those products.  

Kanban is seen as an innovation in that it follows similar TPS guidelines; minimizing costs, eliminating waste, and shortening lead times is the best way to add value for customers.

Kanban in Today’s Business Environment

Companies still use Kanban boards and even post-it notes as a convenient replacement for the Kanban cards. Other companies have moved away from this manual process. They have instead adopted digital, SaaS, cloud-based, and mobile-optimized software solutions that provide granular data and up-to-the-instant feedback on workflow and production volumes.

This adoption of real-time platforms has given rise to multiple Ekanban (electronic Kanban) systems that are quickly replacing the visual cue systems of the past. These systems provide invaluable details to line-side operators, managers, project managers, employees, and technicians in manufacturing environments.

Having a system that tracks production data and a project’s progress in real-time is invaluable. It shortens the time it takes to make critical decisions and course corrections. It identifies areas of concern and provides pinpoint accuracy on issues that impact workflow. It allows companies to determine when inventory needs replenishment to keep up with demand.

Ekanban systems can be accessed from any laptop, mobile phone, or desktop with an internet or Wifi connection. This means designated employees can easily track production throughput no matter where or when they work. Employees no longer have to view the Kanban board to get a breakdown of production throughput, and nobody has to spend any time updating that board. Instead, everyone merely accesses the information on their own.

Simple, Scalable, and Modular EKanban Systems

One of the drawbacks for manufacturers is the cost of fully implementing an Ekanban system alongside its existing software, like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Material Requirements Planning (MPR), and other production or inventory management systems. However, like Flexpipe’s tube and joint system, there are modular and scalable solutions that allow you to gradually introduce EKanban without breaking the bank.

Steute Technology’s NEXY Digital Shop Floor Solution is one of these modular and scalable systems. Rob Hargis of Steute USA outlines some simple ways the company’s Ekanban system works.

Watch Ian Johnson from Flexpipe and Rob Hargis of Steute USA outlining some simple ways the NEXY Digital Shop Floor Ekanban’s system is working.


1. What is the NEXY Digital Shop Floor Solution?

Simply put, NEXY is an industrial wireless solution that streamlines the inventory replenishment process by leveraging Steute Technology’s wireless sensor technology.

NEXY’s flow rack sensor is a robust, sturdy, and easy-to-install device that fits easily on any Flexpipe Flow Rack. It operates at 915 MHz, so it doesn’t interfere with other WiFi signals. This is especially important given the number of Wifi sources on today’s production floors.

The flow rack sensor easily snaps in pace on any roller and does away with operators using barcode/RFI scanners to register inventory at a given work cell.

2. What are the Main Benefits?

One common source of waste in manufacturing includes inventory replenishment. In a lean manufacturing work cell, this often involves an operator leaving the cell, walking to inventory, waiting to get the parts, consumables, or materials they need, and then walking back to their work cell. This is all wasted time.

The further the inventory is away from the lean cell, the longer the transit times and the more time is wasted. Some companies ignore this wasted time. However, calculating how often a given work cell needs replenishment each day, week, or month and how many cells are on the shop floor quickly amounts to a considerable amount of motion waste and non-value tasks.

Water Spider is the go-to person who can make the bridge between the lean cell and the supermarket.

In other instances, operators must go outside the cell to register the inventory with an RFID/barcode scanner. Again, depending on how often the replenishment occurs, this time quickly adds up. For cells with high inventory replenishment throughout the day, this wastes time and ultimately affects production throughput for a single cell.

Even companies that still use the manual Kanban processes on a Kanban board with Kanban cards can save considerable time and achieve significant cost reductions with NEXY. Operators can stay in the cell and focus on completing work tasks while NEXY operates behind the scenes.

No more time filling out Kanban cards or updating Kanban boards. No need for RFID/barcode scanners. No need to leave the work cell to replenish inventory. No more long transit times walking to and from inventory/stores.

No RFID/barcode scanners

No time wasted on inventory replenishment

No Wifi interference

No Noise (low sound always)

No more manual Kanban cards and Kanban Boards

“Everything is done behind the scenes. All the operator or employee has to do is focus on their work. They will never notice when inventory is replaced.”

3. Where is the Data Stored?

Once actuated, the flow rack sensor immediately sends wireless signals to Steute Technology’s access point. From there, the access point sends the data to the sensor bridge – a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) housed in a cabinet on the shop floor.

The PLC then takes all the data and creates an Application Programming Interface (API), which can either be sent to a shop floor server or a cloud-based server. The wireless solution is 128-bit encrypted and works with multiple IT cyber-security protocols.

Wireless tilting sensor RF RW-NET

sWave.NET® wireless technology

eKanban software module

Sensor Bridge

4. How Easy is it to get Started?

The simplicity of NEXY is that companies alone decide how much to buy and when. The system isn’t dependent upon immediate adoption across a company’s shop floor. Companies can start small, learn, improve, and then progress at their own pace adding new flow rack sensors and increasing scalability when they see fit.

“Getting up and running is easy. Customers who buy Flexpipe Flow Racks simply reach out to Flexpipe, and we’ll get involved… We start with a simple consultation to determine their needs and current process and then discuss their goals. After that, it’s simply a matter of doing what the customer asks.”

A Simple Solution to Ease Into Manufacturing 4.0

Nowadays, every manufacturer has heard of “manufacturing 4.0” or “industry 4.0.” Both are the same thing. They simply refer to The Fourth Industrial Revolution, the adoption of automated technologies, and their synchronization with digital data solutions and networks.

The first industrial revolution used water and steam to power machines and equipment. The second included improved communication with the telegraph and the installation of railway lines to transport materials and products. The third occurred during the 1950s with the early adoption of digital solutions that improved communication.

The fourth is simply a natural progression from the third; improved digital solutions linked to automated and robotic equipment ensure a steady stream of real-time data.

NEXY is the simplest way for a manufacturer to be introduced to this all-important fourth industrial revolution. This is especially the case for labor-intensive manufacturers who want to manage their transition at their own pace.

Get the best free plan to build your next Kanban rack

Kanban station

Download this free plan

Flat pipe Kanban rack

Download this free plan

Storage out Kanban rack

Download this free plan

Kanban gravity flow rack

Download this free plan

Rob Hargis

Rob Hargis is a seasoned Brand Manager with the NEXY division of Steute Technologies, providing wireless eKanban, Andon, and AGV integrated sensor networks for manufacturing, assembly and industrial workflow processes in automotive, white goods, and other complex-assembly environments.

Modular, Scalable, and Affordable Material Handling with Flexpipe

Flexpipe is an innovator, supplier, and designer of modular and scalable steel tubes and joints that help companies reduce material handling costs. Based out of Montreal, the company provides multiple products, training, and insight to companies wanting to adopt lean manufacturing.

The company offers a full-service solution that includes its free software add-on SketchUp, multiple outlines and assembly designs, and design and cutting services to help companies build their own material handling structures and reduce costs. 

If you would like to see how Flexpipe can help, contact us now. 

Kaizen Event: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started

Kaizen Event: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started

When manufacturers need to improve efficiencies, reduce costs, shorten lead times, and eliminate waste, they turn to the well-established continuous improvement methodology known as Kaizen. The word is Japanese for improvement, yet this one word means so much to those who adopt its principles. So, how does Kaizen work, its methodologies, and how does this relatively simple process eliminate waste and turn losses into profits? Read on to find out.

The Culture of Kaizen 

Source: Wikipedia: The Japanese word kaizen means 'change for better' (from 改 kai - change, revision; and 善 zen - virtue, goodness) with the inherent meaning of either 'continuous' or 'philosophy' in Japanese dictionaries and in everyday use.

Kaizen is a mindset as much as it is a methodology. For Kaizen to truly succeed, a company’s entire workforce must be indoctrinated into its guiding principles. It is not part of a company’s culture; it is the culture. Managers, supervisors, office workers, and production employees must fully adopt Kaizen. The goal of kaizen is to eliminate every single form of waste. That waste can include overproduction, product defects, wasted movements, repetitive tasks, unnecessary approvals, redundant processes, machine downtime, excessive inventory, and idle time – to name a few. 

When employees or operators are in “waiting” mode, it represents a significant waste of time and does not bring any added value to the customer.

Anything that inhibits, interrupts, delays, or stalls the natural flow of work is waste, and everyone’s responsibility – from managers to supervisors to shop floor employees – is to identify and eliminate that waste. Proper training is critical. A Kaizen workforce is one where all employees are involved in the continuous improvement process. Everyone is making suggestions and offering solutions. Everyone is doing what they can to eliminate waste, and everyone has a role in improving how work is performed.  

The Kaizen Concept, Its Origin, and Foundations 

Kaizen is an amalgamation of several different business concepts. No one person can lay claim to coming up with Kaizen. Kaizen is a mixture of statistical process control (SPC), statistical quality control (SQC), procedure optimization, and repeatability.  

The Shewhart Cycle 

Source: Wikipedia - Walter Andrew Shewhart was an American physicist, engineer and statistician, sometimes known as the father of statistical quality control and also related to the Shewhart cycle. 

While most immediately associate Kaizen with the Toyota Production System (TPS), its origins start with Walter Shewhart, an American engineer, physicist, statistician, and businessman who worked for Bell Labs during the 1930s. Shewhart ushered in the age of statistical process control. He believed that waste could only be eliminated after a process was controlled.

The Shewhart Cycle – commonly referred to as the PDCA Cycle – is a straightforward process widely viewed as Kaizen’s ancestor. PDCA stands for Plan, Do, Check and Act. Relatively simple, right? You plan something. You then enact the plan. You check the plan’s results and then act to make the plan better. This simple cause-effect methodology earned Shewhart the moniker of the “father of statistical quality control.” 

Japan After the Second World War 

Edward Deming was an American management consultant, engineer, professor, and statistician. Deming borrowed concepts from Shewhart and expanded upon them. For a while, the two worked together. Deming saw the PDCA Cycle/Shewhart Cycle as critical to creating better quality systems. He was instrumental in these concepts being adopted by the Japanese after the second world war. Deming’s teachings were better received by Japanese companies than by American companies. The United States had built a substantial industrial complex to support the war effort. Once the war ended, the US economy took off. With their large production floor layouts and installed equipment base, American businesses emphasized high production runs and high inventory counts.  

Source: Wikipedia - William Edwards Deming (October 14, 1900 – December 20, 1993) was an American engineer, statistician, professor, author, lecturer, and management consultant.

Educated initially as an electrical engineer and later specializing in mathematical physics, William Edwards Deming helped develop the sampling techniques still used by the U.S. Department of the Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. He is also known as the father of the quality movement and was hugely influential in post-WWII Japan. He is most well-known for his theories of management.

American businesses had little need for Deming’s lean philosophy. The Japanese, on the other hand, were rebuilding both their country and their industries. Japanese companies needed to focus on eliminating waste, minimal inventory counts, lean processes, simple concepts, and cost reduction. 

The Introduction of Kaizen to Western Industries 

One Japanese engineer who took Deming’s principles to the next level was Taiichi Ohno, who eventually developed the Toyota Production System (TPS) alongside Sakichi Toyoda and his son Kiichiro Toyoda. The TPS system was improved throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.  

Source :  Market Business News  - Toyota's origins bring us back to these two men: Sakichi Toyoda (left) and his son Kiichiro Toyoda.

Source: Wikipedia - Masaaki Imai

Eventually, Masaaki Imai – a Japanese management consultant who studied TPS – introduced Kaizen to western businesses in 1985 when he wrote “Kaizen: The key to Japan's Competitive Success.” He would eventually establish the Kaizen Institute and use it to propagate the Kaizen message and teachings worldwide.

In the end, Kaizen became prominent because of Shewhart’s PDCA Cycle, Deming’s push for hands-on production employees, and Ohno’s TPS system. So, how does Kaizen work?  

Kaizen Methodologies

There are four types of Kaizen methodologies. These include Kaizen Teian, Kaizen Events, Kaikaku, and Kakushin. Each one is explained in detail below. 

1. Kaizen Teian 

Kaizen Teian refers to the daily improvements that every employee is responsible for. Every employee must always be trying to improve their work processes and workflow. More importantly, every day, all employees – including supervisors and managers – should be focused on eliminating the following eight forms of waste as defined by Kaizen.  

Waiting: This includes any workers waiting to complete their work. It can be caused by a lack of material or semi-finished parts to work on, idle machines, or anything that causes a worker not to work.

Defects: This includes any defects in raw materials, work-in-process (WIP) parts, or finished goods. The entire process improves when each employee is constantly looking to catch defects.

Overproduction: This includes any lean work cell or machine that produces more than required.

Inventory: Holding excessive inventory counts leads to high financing costs, inventory damage, pilferage, and obsolescence.

Transport: A poorly designed production layout leads to long transport times of materials, WIP, and finished goods.

Excessive Motion: This includes employees who must perform redundant and unnecessary movements during work. Excessive movements make cycles times longer and affect throughput.

Misused Talent: This includes any employee who is not being used to their fullest. It can be an employee with a needed skillset that cannot use that skillset and expertise.  

Overprocessing: Redundant and repetitive work processes and approvals lead to wasted time and bottlenecks.

2. Kaizen Events 

While Kaizen Teian refers to the daily responsibilities of all employees, a Kaizen Event is a scheduled period where a specific work process or task is identified as needing improvement. Kaizen events are focused events where management, supervisors, and front-line employees work to improve a predetermined problem. Ultimately, Kaizen events involve more pre-planning, whereas Kaizen Teian is more about all employees’ daily responsibilities for improving workflow.

3. Kaikaku 

Kaikaku is complementary to Kaizen.  When thinking of Kaikaku, think of those instances where a company initiates a complete redesign of processes or procedures. This is an event where a company adopts an entirely different way of doing things. An example is replacing labor-intensive and time-consuming work processes with automated processes like automated equipment and machinery. This move involves in-depth analysis and a willingness to ensure that all work cells can keep up with the increased throughput.

4. Kakushin: 

When thinking of Kakushin, think about a technology breakthrough that completely changes how work is performed. A Kakushin event is an about-face and complete change. It can best be described as the ultimate brainstorming session where a company charts a path toward a new culture and way of doing work. An example includes a plastic injection molding company modifying equipment to perform thixomolding magnesium alloys. It can consist of a company adopting additive printing or metal-injection molding (MIM) technology.

What You Need to be Ready and Best Practices  

You can’t adopt a half-hearted attempt at Kaizen. It can’t be a flavor-of-the-month strategy. Adopting Kaizen requires a top-down and bottom-up mindset where the entire organization is committed to enacting Kaizen principles. So, what type of mindset and approach does your company need to make Kaizen a success?

Willingness to Adopt Continuous Improvement:  

The entire purpose of Kaizen is continuous improvement. It’s not a one-time event. It’s not just something a company does monthly or quarterly. This is a 24/7 mindset that must be indoctrinated from the highest manager down to the front-line employee. The most significant difference between how North American companies view Kaizen compared to Japanese companies is the idea that Kaizen is a single event for American companies. This is entirely wrong. These companies plan a “Kaizen” event every quarter instead of fully adopting Kaizen every second, minute, and hour of the day.   

Satisfied and Engaged Workforce: 

Your employees must be motivated to change. This means they must be satisfied and buy into the Kaizen mindset. If your workforce isn’t motivated to improve things, then Kaizen is far less likely to improve.  

Total Commitment to Kaizen Principles:

Again, Kaizen requires a company-wide, top-down, and bottom-up commitment to its principles. However, to succeed and become part of a company’s culture, the very top of an organization must push its principles downwards. Once that happens, the entire organization will fully adopt the Kaizen continuous improvement methodology.     

Company-Wide Teamwork is Critical:

Companies must eliminate tribalism and silos. This continuous methodology can only work when teamwork is part of every employee’s mindset. An environment where departments or employees blame each other for lack of progress will never work. The mindset must always be focused on problem-solving. Fostering an environment where teamwork thrives is essential to making Kaizen work.

How to Sell Kaizen to Upper Management 

C-level executives and management rarely make decisions based solely on assumptions. Guesswork is not something they adopt or embrace. They make decisions based on irrefutable facts, numbers, and scrutinized data. Selling Kaizen/lean principles to senior management is ultimately about providing them with that all-important data. It’s about giving them the numbers and evidence they need to pursue Kaizen. For this to succeed involves adopting the three-step process outlined below.

This three-step process involves defining the current waste as it exists right now. You can do this on a small scale with a single manufacturing work cell or workstation. The best way to do that is to demonstrate to senior management how the current causes of waste lower cycle times and production throughput. After this, you should clearly define the causes of waste and how it impacts cycle times.  

The second step involves eliminating that waste. Once that’s done, your cycle times and production throughput should improve. This is the evidence you’ll need to provide to senior management. It’s the data that shows how eliminating waste increases throughput.

The third and final step is showing management the benefit of adopting these principles across the shop floor at every work cell. To learn more about gathering the data, you need to convince senior management to pursue Kaizen/Lean principles; read: How to Sell Continuous Improvement to Senior Management. 

The goal of this approach is to set yourself up for success. Management makes decisions based on data. As a manufacturer, this means how much the company would improve – or produce more – if they adopted Kaizen. For other companies like distributors, it’s about showing how excess inventory erodes profit. 

If you must sell a concept to upper management, focus your argument around solving a problem that matters most to them. Then, position yourself to succeed by showing how adopting Kaizen can eliminate or reduce the impact of that problem.


Tips and Tricks 

There are a couple of tips and tricks you can adopt as you start your journey toward a fully-adopted Kaizen culture. These are outlined below. 

Identify Motivated Employees: If you find yourself in a situation where not all employees are sold on the concept of Kaizen, then focus on those who are. Remember, adopting Kaizen can sometimes be a long and arduous process. Not everyone may be willing or ready to accept change. In most instances, a company’s workforce is resistant to change.

Start with Incremental Improvements: As the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day. Don’t assume that you’ll instantly change everyone’s mind. It does take a while for this continuous improvement methodology to take hold. When you first start to implement Kaizen, start by propagating simple and small successes. This will help get the ball rolling and show how simple improvements can have a significant impact.

Reward Employees: A continuous improvement mindset requires constant reinforcement. Acknowledge and reward employees who go the extra mile. Celebrate minor improvements and make sure all employees are recognized for their efforts. This will help empower those employees to make more improvements. It’s ultimately about building momentum and making change less confrontational and threatening. Once employees see how important it is to improve things and how it benefits them, they’ll be more inclined to pursue new improvements.

Document Everything: How companies capture their improvements is what makes Kaizen work. This means properly documenting and tracking each improvement. Remember, the goal is to improve processes and eliminate waste. You’ll be redefining how work is done and the processes that must be followed. This means documenting those changes and using simple step-by-step descriptions alongside images to convey how the new work process should be followed.

Discover our Kaizen foam & tools

Shop online now

Get a quote

Examples of Successful Kaizen Events 

You’ll never be wanting in terms of things to improve through Kaizen. Here are some examples of simple Kaizen improvements that provide stable returns.

Lower Inventory Costs: You can reduce your inventory financing costs while eliminating the high costs of inventory obsolescence and damage. Isolating excess inventory on raw materials and spare parts will also help you maximize the square footage of your warehouse.

Reduce Transit Times: Moving parts, materials, and WIP from one location or cell to the next takes time. Poor spacing and long distances increase that time and are, therefore, a waste. Minimizing the transit times to move WIP and materials is a simple way to reduce waste and increase throughput. This simple process creates continuous flow with minimal waste.

Detailed Processes with Images: Employees need well-defined processes. In manufacturing environments, that means using high-quality images demonstrating the correct way to follow a given work process. Use images for each step of the process and always ask for feedback from employees on how it can be improved. Again, Kaizen is a 24/7 improvement process. Employees should constantly be looking to improve everything – as best defined by Kaizen Teian.

The strength of the cart was increased by adding a second tube near the wheels.

Improved Work Cell Layout: Simple changes like making it easier for operators to reach material without overexerting themselves lead to considerable savings in time while reducing absenteeism due to injury. Most motion improvements are made within the work cell, where employees must immediately access tools, materials, and WIP.

Ergonomics: Making the workplace safer helps to reduce the incidence of worker injury. It also demonstrates an investment on the company’s part toward protecting its employees. This is the best way to show employees that you consider them your most important asset. This can include simplifying movements in work cells, using ergonomic and anti-fatigue matting, and establishing proper lifting procedures for employees.

Building an ergonomic workstation reduces absenteeism and unnecessary movements.

Flexpipe Inc: Making Kaizen Adoption a Much Simpler Process 

Flexpipe Inc. is a Montreal-based designer, manufacturer, and integrator of a tube and joint system whose history goes back to the Toyota Production System. The company’s cut-to-length-and-assemble system makes building any material handling or standing structure easy. The company fully embraces Kaizen as a guiding principle, which is demonstrated by every customer the company works with. The tube and joint system empowers companies to build whatever structure – and change that structure – at a fraction of the costs and time of more permanent welded structures. To learn more about how this simple solution works, contact us now. To see how customers have used this scalable and modular system to reduce costs and eliminate waste, please go to Flexpipe Case Studies.