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Kaizen Blitz Events Deliver Quick Savings

Small manufacturers in Wisconsin and across the nation are using kaizen blitz events to get a quick payback on targeted improvements.

A kaizen blitz is a high-impact, intensely focused core component of lean manufacturing. It produces quick results - in five days or less - and often is focused on cellular manufacturing and setup reduction initiatives. In a fully transformed lean company, kaizen blitzes are routine because the focus on improvement and greater efficiency never ends. But the benefits of a blitz can be realized by any manufacturer.

"I've seen companies save anywhere from thousands to $100,000," says Dick Welsch of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP). Welsch, who specializes in facilitating kaizen blitz events, says he has seen instances where a successful blitz "has stopped a huge customer and millions of dollars of business from walking out the door."

"If a customer comes to you and says ‘cut your lead time or else,' you need to do something fast," says Welsch. "That's when a kaizen blitz can be a lifesaver." What's more, he said that companies often gain additional capacity and attract new customers when they improve their processes.

The word kaizen is the Japanese term for continuous improvement. Add the word "blitz" and you get a process that speeds up change and delivers immediate impact and savings.

WMEP uses kaizen blitz events to help companies create manufacturing cells or improve the flow of an existing cell. They're also used to implement setup reduction and other lean techniques such as 5S/visual workplace. The blitz approach also works for job shops, Welsch adds, where the focus is on removing bottlenecks and eliminating waste.

Productivity rises

Manitowoc-based DOWCO, Inc., which manufactures all-weather protection products and accessories for the power sports and recreational marine industries, saw productivity in one of its manufacturing cells rise 40 percent following a kaizen blitz event in July. The company plans to do four more blitzes in 2002, targeting continuous improvement in manufacturing cells.

David Leif, DOWCO's vice president of operations, says a strong follow-up is essential. "It's important to develop an action plan after the blitz to resolve any outstanding issues," he said.

Oshkosh-based ArvinMeritor has used kaizen blitz events to reduce setup times throughout its plant. "We've seen quick and very dramatic results," says Dan Miller, site manager. "In every case we've been able to reduce the amount of time a machine is down by 50 percent. That turns into increased throughput." ArvinMeritor's targets are bottleneck operations that offer the highest levels of return. Typically, eight employees are involved in each event.

Kaizen is a tool that can be used over and over again to achieve additional savings and efficiencies. WMEP assisted Sheboygan-based Polar Ware Company with several setup reduction kaizen events, and now the company is doing them on its own. Polar Ware, which manufactures deep drawn stainless steel items used in the food service and other industries, plans to target 15 more areas in its plant.

Employee involvement is critical. "We're making changes based on employee recommendations, not just an edict from higher levels," says Jerry Baltus, Polar Ware's executive vice president. "Our employees are feeling a real sense of ownership with these changes."

Getting started

Manufacturers already on the lean journey are good candidates for a kaizen blitz. Ideally, value stream mapping will have already identified areas ripe for improvement, says Welsch. Employees involved in the process need to have a basic knowledge of lean concepts.

A company has to be willing to commit eight to twelve employees to the process for three to five days. Companies are advised to build ahead, and conduct the event on off-shifts or weekends to minimize production impact.

Management must buy into the process, Welsch adds, because the change is real and imminent. "If we're putting a cell together, we're going to be moving equipment," says Welsch. "Management has to have confidence in the team in order for that type of change to proceed." Maintenance staff must be ready to respond to team needs.

The "team" is comprised of production employees and supervisors as well as representatives from sales, purchasing, engineering and accounting. Over the five days of a blitz, the team will study manufacturing processes, collect and analyze data, discuss improvement options, and implement change.

Kaizen blitz results These are the kinds of results manufacturers are seeing:

Cost quality rejects 95.0 % Reduction
Rework 71.7 % Reduction
Set-up time 66.4 % Reduction
WIP 59.3 % Reduction
Lead time 55.7 % Reduction
Distance-traveled/part 54.1 % Reduction
Final goods inventory 43.5 % Reduction
Floor space 29.4 % Reduction

5 days to savings- Here's a rundown of a five-day cell blitz.

Day 1: The first day is spent on a quick review of lean concepts and strategy. A map of the current process is developed to determine the path of parts or raw materials.

Day 2: Training continues. Then team members, using a stopwatch, do time studies and collect data on how long each part of the process takes. A work sampling is conducted to determine which steps add value, and which do not. For example, how much time is spent drilling a hole in the part vs. carrying it around. Team goals are written on Day 2 and an opportunity chart is compiled.

Day 3: The opportunity chart is completed, and solutions are developed to key issues. A floor plan is created. Equipment is moved where necessary to create a better flow.

Day 4: Improvements are finished, and operators are trained on new processes. Production using the new methods begins. Another work sampling is done and measurements are taken.

Day 5: A 5S/visual workplace activity makes sure the workplace is well organized and tools, cabinets and storage areas are labeled. Standard operating procedures are updated. A summary report is prepared for upper management. It includes team goals, floor plan before and after, key results and savings. For more information, contact WMEP at 1-877-800-2085

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WMEP provides technical expertise and hands-on implementation assistance to small and midsize manufacturing firms on advanced manufacturing technologies and business practices includinglean manufacturing, ISO, value chain management, and strategic repositioning services for manufacturers and manufacturing facilities located in Wisconsin.

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