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Why Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Should Consider Taking a Gemba Walk

March 30, 2016 / , , , , , ,


Like every other high-production manufacturing segment, ball and roller bearing manufacturers have embraced lean manufacturing and the benefits it can bring. Some industry leaders like Timken have gone through total lean transformations, while others have opted to incorporate some simple lean tools or basic principles into their operation.

One lean manufacturing tool that continues to gain popularity among operations managers is “going to the Gemba” or taking a “Gemba walk.” This practical lean tool gives management a clear view of what is happening on the plant floor and, more importantly, reveals areas for possible improvement.

As explained in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, “Gemba” is the Japanese term for “actual place,” but has been redefined by lean thinkers as the place where value-creating work actually occurs. In a manufacturing environment, this is typically the shop floor. Many lean experts advise manufacturing executives to make time to visit this place—known as taking a “Gemba walk”—so they can see their operation from the front lines.

“Managers are not supposed to use this walk as a time to find fault or enforce policy, nor as a time to solve problems or make changes on the spot,” the eBook states. “Instead, a Gemba walk should be a time of observation and learning. Leadership should go on the walk with an open mind and welcome suggestions from operators and other shop floor employees.”

Why is a Gemba walk so important? A recent article from The Leadership Network provides three reasons why a regular Gemba walk is beneficial:

  1. First-hand knowledge is the highest form of information. A regular Gemba walk will give managers transparent and unmediated knowledge that is needed to challenge and validate assumptions made by data.
  2. Perspective is gained through experience. A regular Gemba walk allows managers to understand the challenges employees need to overcome on a daily basis to deliver the results that are being promised in the boardroom.
  3. Both people and process matter equally. A regular Gemba walk will help develop a culture that fixes the problems in a process and not one that blames the people performing the process.

In theory, a Gemba walk sounds fairly simple. Walking around and talking to operators seems pretty straightforward. However, there are a few tips managers should keep in mind before heading to the shop floor. IndustryWeek offers managers five suggestions to consider as they prepare for their Gemba walk:

Could a Gemba walk benefit your operation? To read more about this lean manufacturing tool, check out the slideshare presentation, Gemba 101, or this overview article from iSixSigma.