Kaizen, a Japanese term that translates to ‘good change’, has been the cornerstone of manufacturing excellence for decades. Lincoln Kirsten, Global Offerings Director at Fujitsu, wants to pull this into the 2024 manufacturing industry.
Fujitsu is an IT company which supports businesses across the world with advanced technology. Headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, Fujitsu’s 127,000 employees are aiming to build a more sustainable world with modern technology.
“In an age where we face an uncertain future, we will only be able to continue to create value for society and make the world more sustainable if each employee embraces the challenge of making social contributions through business”, said CEO Takahito Tokita.
As the world becomes increasingly digital, so does the need for Kaizen to adapt, says Kirsten.
“In the intricate tapestry of manufacturing, the threads of continuous improvement have always been woven deeply,” said Kirsten. “The age-old philosophy of Kaizen, which champions continuous improvement, is now undergoing a digital change. As we stand at this transformative juncture, digital Kaizen has emerged as the driving force behind manufacturers’ efforts to achieve operational excellence.”
For Kirsten, Digital Kaizen is the next evolutionary step, blending traditional principles with the power of process mining and analytics. Fujitsu’s Smart Factory solutions, for instance, emphasise the importance of transforming data into knowledge.
“This transformation is not just about the final result but also about intelligently connecting data, people and business networks. By doing so, manufacturers can leverage data for their business, ensuring they remain at the forefront of the digital transformation wave.”
The manufacturing sector has witnessed unprecedented challenges in recent times. Supply chain disruptions during digital transformation, coupled with a heightened emphasis on sustainability, have underscored the need for a more agile, responsive, and efficient approach. Digital Kaizen, with its insights-to-action approach for process optimisation on the shopfloor, emerges as a viable answer to these pressing challenges.
“It uses the power of process mining, process modelling and simulation to provide a keen understanding of the vast amounts of operational data being generated on the shop floor,” explains Kirsten. “This data-driven analysis enables management at all levels to be proactive, within shorter continuous improvement cycles, ensuring an optimised, lean manufacturing operation - and, importantly, one that is set up for growth.”
The pillars of excellence in business process management
At the heart of Digital Kaizen lies the promise of enhanced operational efficiency. By seamlessly integrating Operational Technologies with Information Technology, organisations can now form an intelligent network centred around continuous improvement.
“Digital Kaizen addresses the challenges associated with traditional Kaizen, such as the skill-intensive process, the lack of a holistic data view and the difficulty to prioritise activities,” said Kirsten. “With the rise of digital manufacturing, it’s no longer feasible to identify process bottlenecks or inefficiencies with physical observations or manual data analysis. Digital Kaizen, powered by technologies such as SAP Signavio, offers real-time analysis of process executions to accelerate the Kaizen cycles.”
This approach creates data-driven insights to help eliminate wasteful practices more quickly, ensuring a streamlined manufacturing process in alignment with Lean principles, such as:
- Muri (overburdening)
- Mura (unevenness)
- Muda (non-value-added activity)
“In an era where sustainability is paramount, by continuously improving production performance, organisations can achieve lower consumption levels, reduced emissions and foster a more sustainable manufacturing environment,” said Kirsten.
How Fujitsu's digital Kaizen has redefined manufacturing efficiency
A real-world example of the transformative power of digital Kaizen is Fujitsu’s own journey at Fujitsu i-Network Systems (FiNET), one of its manufacturing divisions in Japan.
“By implementing digital Kaizen, FiNET was able to uncover its ‘hidden shop floor’ that its traditional Kaizen could not easily spot,” explains Kirsten. “Through meticulous data-driven analysis facilitated by SAP Signavio, significant inefficiencies in the assembly process were identified and corrected accordingly via shorter KAIZEN cycles.”
Software Development company SAP acquired Signavio in 2021. The resulting product of this acquisition was SAP Signavio, which allows businesses to map out and analyse their workflows to spot inefficiencies. The Process Mining capability within the SAP Signavio Suite revealed a complex assembly process instead of the expected linear one and uncovered multiple process variants that were previously unknown.
“These variants were then closely studied using ‘Process Conformance’ to understand deviant processes. The results were surprising, even to the line supervisors, operators and Kaizen leaders,” adds Kirsten.
He anticipates that a future integration of AI and process mining will refine these processes even further, revealing deeper insights and offering more nuanced improvements.
“These technologies, combined with the power of the IoT and advanced predictive analytics, will enable manufacturers to anticipate potential inefficiencies before they even occur, allowing for proactive measures rather than reactive solutions.”
As a result of analysing data closer to the source on the shop floor, manufacturers can achieve a faster insight-to-action cycle without the need for large amounts of data to be transferred to data repositories.
“This not only speeds up the Kaizen process, but also helps ensure data security and integrity,” adds Kirsten.
As organisations grapple with the challenges of the modern world, it’s not just about improving processes; it’s about reimagining them for a new era. With the rapid advancements in technology and the increasing emphasis on data-driven decision-making, the principles of Kaizen, when applied digitally, can lead to transformative results.
“For those manufacturing entities looking to invest in their future, the competitive advantage offered by Fujitsu’s Digital Kaizen is not just desirable – it's indispensable,” said Kirsten.