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Contrary to popular belief, innovation isn’t always the result of a costly and laborious process. Sometimes, a little imagination and resourcefulness are all it takes to solve recurring problems. The moonshine shop, a corporate continuous improvement concept, is part of a new trend built around that notion. Here are 10 things you may not know about this increasingly popular practice.
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During the Prohibition era, from 1919 to 1933, Americans got creative and started making their own alcohol, often at night by the light of the moon, from whatever materials and food (fruit, vegetables, etc.) they had on hand. This illegal liquor was dubbed “moonshine.”
Without Toyota, the moonshine shop would probably never have come about. From 1948 to 1975, the automotive giant developed the famous Toyota Production System (TPS), a corporate philosophy that sought to find the most efficient production methods while eliminating waste.
Associated with what’s known in North America as “lean manufacturing,” TPS has inspired a variety of related concepts. Chihiro Nakao, founder of the Shingijutsu Company and a former Toyota employee, used TPS as a springboard to develop the moonshine shop.
In a moonshine shop, employees use simple and inexpensive materials to find solutions to problems they encounter in their day-to-day work. Using affordable materials means fewer budget constraints and lets employees give free rein to their creativity.
What’s more, that creativity isn’t hindered by a fear of failure. Quite the opposite—failure is a normal part of the creative process. For instance, if employees in a moonshine shop design an inefficient forklift, they don’t need to be afraid of being reprimanded by their superiors for wasting valuable company resources. They just roll up their sleeves and find a way to make it better. Among the strategies they might use are protostorming and trystorming, which make it easy to quickly create simple physical prototypes.
One of the main advantages of the moonshine shop is how fast you can implement improvements. For example, if an employee regularly performs a non-ergonomic movement, they can report the problem to the moonshine shop manager.
Instead of calling a subcontractor and waiting months for them to come and adjust the employee’s workstation, the manager (often called the “lean sensei”) can quickly come up with and implement a solution. The employee will be happy and feel like the company actually cares about them. This will encourage them to contribute other ideas, helping foster a culture of innovation within the company.
If you’re already using other concepts to improve and optimize corporate processes and productivity, such as protostorming, trystorming, kaizen, karakuri, or the 5S method, you’ll be happy to know that a moonshine shop is fully compatible with and complementary to these concepts.
Simple to set up, moonshine shops aren’t just for multinationals like Toyota. Small- and medium-sized companies can also reap the benefits.
At Flexpipe, for instance, employees who want to cut down on physical waste can use a board. Using sketches, they first describe the current situation and then propose a solution. Once they are finished, the Continuous Improvement Committee, composed of four or five people, evaluates their proposal.
If the solution is approved, several employees are released from their regular duties to work in the moonshine shop. Using basic tools (saw, measuring tape, Allen wrenches, worktable, storage unit, etc.) and other materials, such as Flexpipe pipes and joints, wheels, and magnets, they make the solution proposed by their coworkers.
Your company probably has a department that deals with everyday issues at the plant. These experts monitor, control, and maintain the equipment on a regular basis to avoid breakdowns that could affect productivity. Although the moonshine shop shares this same principle, it has a different goal.
Instead of performing corrective and preventive maintenance, moonshine shop employees focus on continuously improving corporate processes. Rather than simply repairing a damaged workstation, they find ways to improve it so that it is out of service less often.
Even with the best intentions in the world, a moonshine shop cannot be effective without constant and unwavering support from management. Senior management should keep in mind that employees assigned to this department will inevitably make mistakes and possibly “waste” company time and resources.
What’s more, although a moonshine shop is inexpensive to set up, it needs an operating budget and a certain degree of structure. It also needs a manager to serve as the go-between for employees and management, to ensure, among other things, that projects are running smoothly.
Since the moonshine shop is a tool for implementing value-added production initiatives, there must already be a value-added management culture within the company. It’s better if your employees, especially the moonshine shop manager, have received prior training in value-added management and its related concepts, such as protostorming and trystorming. They should also be familiar with the eight wastes and the 5S method. Once trained, employees can take full advantage of a moonshine shop.
To set up an efficient and productive moonshine shop, you need a dedicated space at the plant, equipped with basic tools and materials. For example, some companies have a moonshine shop right in the middle of their facility so that employees can see innovative work taking place in real time.
But some small businesses feel they don’t have the space to set up this kind of initiative. If this is the case for you, you should know that there are lots of different solutions, such as folding units, that let you set up a moonshine shop in a relatively small space.
In short, there’s no excuse for not setting up a moonshine shop at your company. After all, continuous improvement is a collective responsibility!