The Japanese concept of kaizen is synonymous with constantly improving a product or process. Asahi Tekko has given their kaizen a turbo boost in recent years with digital tools that allow it to provide value added services to clients in industries such as chemicals and electrical components
Since his arrival at Asahi Tekko, a major automobile parts manufacturer with over 80 years’ experience, President Tetsuya Kimura has set about implementing kaizen, or continuous improvement, through digital transformation (DX).
“When I came from Toyota in 2013, I realized there were some management problems, and the company was in a deficit,” Mr. Kimura explains. “Without change, I knew our company would not survive.”
He continues: “My basic philosophy is to let people do value-added work. What I want for this company is to develop the means to attain that. The reason why we do kaizen is to make a person’s work easier. DX sounds complicated, but simply put, it is using digital means to make a person’s work easier.
“One great example is our internet of things (IoT) system iXacs. We needed a lot of effort to improve factory efficiency: employees had to take a lot of data, cycle times, operating ratios, the reasons to disturb production, and so on. I wanted them to do only value-added jobs and sought to gather such data automatically.
“Now, using IoT technologies, iXacs automatically collects the data we need 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And it analyzes the data to visualize issues in our production lines. It accelerates kaizen drastically. As a result, we’ve already curtailed the annual labor cost by 3 million dollars (vs 2013).”
As many countries, including Japan, target carbon neutrality by 2050, Asahi Tekko’s kaizen activities are contributing to this drive. “The global trend is to have new facilities that are more efficient when it comes to electricity, or to change to a renewable energy source,” Mr. Kimura says. “The cost for both these options is very high. This leads to less competitiveness, so companies are hesitant.
“However, we’ve noticed that kaizen activity to improve productivity also reduces energy consumption as a by-product because it reduces the standby power at the same time. By having this buffer, we’re able to invest in purchasing renewable energy. For further reduction, we’ve started to visualize electricity consumption in real time.”
Digital data collection has been key to Asahi Tekko’s lower electricity consumption. “We’re able to directly measure each building and area, to determine their gas and electricity usage,” Mr. Kimura notes. “This data is used for improving factory management. For example, we found that some facilities supplying compressed air to production machines had excessive performance at night, and so we introduced more appropriate facilities to reduce extra consumption.”
“Based on the TOYOTA Production System philosophy, we can distinguish net CO2 emission from waste by combining operational data and electricity data. It shows us many emission issues clearly. The blue bars (in the above graph) show net CO2 emission and the red and orange ones show waste. The black line shows net rate*,” adds Mr. Kimura.
"Now we are gaining a lot of data like this to reduce electricity through Kaizen activity, and we’ve already reduced electricity by 22% vs 2013 without buying renewable energy or high efficiency machines.
The impact iXacs has had at Asahi Tekko has led the firm to create i Smart Technologies, which it sells to other businesses as well as providing them with consultants specialized in supporting kaizen processes. “The mission is to promote and transfer the success enjoyed by Asahi Tekko to other Japanese companies, through IoT,” Mr. Kimura says.
“We provide our services to several different industries such as screw manufacturers, chemical manufacturers and electrical component manufacturers. Regardless of the industry, these kaizen activities are basically the same.”
Ultimately, the changes Mr. Kimura has made at Asahi Tekko are all about creating a happier, more productive workforce. “As I mentioned before, my philosophy is to let people do the work that is value-added,” he says. “People’s working hours could be reduced, but there could be more value added during that time. Through our systems and technologies, we’d like to contribute to that, so people can go home early and be with their families.”
He concludes: “The company culture has changed, and people are enjoying their work more. That’s something that’s lacking in many Japanese companies. Hopefully we can change that.”
*net rate = net CO2 emissions/(net CO2 emissions + waste emissions) x 100