Friday, January 23, 2009

Living Lean, Truly a Kaisen Event

I have worked within the manufacturing realm for over ten years and have heard numerous "catch phrase" ideas trickle down from corporate offices. Most of these ideas had some good points however would quickly lose their effectiveness as my fellow coworkers would lose interest. Before long yet another "great system" would be thrust upon us from on high and the cycle would begin again.

One system that was suggested however maintained its effectiveness long after all others had faded into oblivion, that system was the concept of Lean Manufacturing.

Lean Manufacturing enlists five base principals.
1. Define value from the customer's perspective: Identify value added activities, and eliminate non-value added activities.
2. Identify and map the value stream: You'll end up with a picture of your current processes from start to finish and all parts in-between. You can then use this map to identify bottlenecks and other inefficiencies.
3. Reduce or eliminate waste, (what a great idea), and improve flow: A Lean enterprise eliminates all activities that utilize resources but that do not create value for the customer.
4. Pull from the customer: Information and material is pulled based on customer demand.
5. Pursue Perfection: Continue to perfect your Lean plan by returning to Step 1 and repeating this process for a cycle of continuous improvement.

Now if you've been a cog in a manufacturing machine such as I have, and even if you haven't, it's easy to see how implementing these ideas could improve upon the bottom line. But how do you keep this system from fading away with time as all others have before it? The difference between this program and others is step #5, Pursue Perfection. Step #5 is achieved through what is refereed to as a Kaisen Event which in its simplest definition means to continuously improve. A kaisen event empowers employees to improve their own working environment making them a part of the solution encouraging a drive to continue the process.

Now, how can this manufacturing principal be applied to every day life? Well I think we all strive for continuous improvement one way or another but let's take a look at applying the five Lean principals.

1. Define value from the customer's perspective: In this case you and your family are the customers so take some time to identify the things you do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis that add value to your lives, at the same time identify activities that don't add value or detract from the value of your lives.

2. Identify and map the value stream: You'll end up with a picture of your current routines from start to finish and all parts in-between. You can then use this map to identify activities that "eat time" and produce waste as well as highlight other inefficiencies in your daily life.

3. Reduce or eliminate waste and improve flow: Take your findings from steps one and two and eliminate the activities that don't improve upon your life. Improve upon inefficient routines eliminating wasted time and wasted resources.

4. Pull from the customer: Learn to trust your own feelings and senses about what you truly need. Don't be distracted by advertisements telling you you need what they have to sell.

5. Pursue Perfection: Continue to perfect your value of life by returning to Step 1 and repeating this process for a cycle of continuous improvement.

Now I'm going to use these principles to assess one of my weekly activities, the act of purchasing groceries. This is a value added activity as my family and I need to eat and rather enjoy it too. Using a scrap of paper I'll identify the process in which I obtain my groceries from writing the list to eventually consuming the food purchased. One thing I could do is purchase items differently reducing packaging that I would eventually have to spend time trowing out and hauling to the curb. Menu planning could reduce the types and quantities of food purchased saving dollars from my bill. I also had an epiphany on how to reuse my grocery list. I think that I will post the list upon the fridge once I have returned from the store to use as an inventory of the fridges contents preventing me from having to stand with the door open trying to determine what to eat. I will purchase more whole foods rather than prepared foods using my menu plan to its fullest and in exchange I will allow myself a treat such as some chocolate or some salted nuts to keep myself sane.

I've learned a number of valuable lessons from this Kaisen event and next time I go shopping I plan to revisit this scenario and see what other steps can be taken to improve upon the process. I feel in charge of my own destiny and look forward to applying this practice to other aspects of my life.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Saving The World Is an Endless Job

Once again I have found myself saving the world from being burried within the countless layers of our trash. The best part is how easy it was to clean up the planet. If only the real job of cleaning up this world was as easy.

If we all do our part the clean up doesn't have to be a painful process. And eventualy we should be able to shift our focus from clean up to complete initial recovery within a zero waste environment..

Saturday, January 10, 2009

When It Hits The Curb It Disapears

Isn't garbage day a magical day? Like clockwork every week I awake early in the morning hours and drag my previous weeks detritus to the curb and a few hours later the garbage fairies arrive, wave their enchanted work gloves and my garbage disappears never to be heard from again. I just love the magic of the moment.

The previous statement may seem cheeky but I truly do believe a significant portion of our society believes it to be true. The reality however couldn't be further from the truth. Most of the debris we toss will actually out live us taking decades, centuries, perhaps even millennia to break down.

Landfills, believe it or not, are designed to slow down the decomposition of their contents. In order to break down, organic matter requires access to air/oxygen yet in a landfill the trash is compacted and sandwiched between numerous layers of clay and sometimes stone to increase landfill space and ultimately the landfill's lifespan.

Oxygen may not be able to reach our discarded belongings however, rainwater can as its gravitational relationship allows it to percolate deep into the many layers of debris. When water mixes with the nasty garbage juices, leachate is created which seeps into the surrounding soil in the form of a Garbage Plume. Plumes can swell rapidly and often will find their way into local water tables. Most new landfills are required to use liners to prevent plumes. The liners can be effective but are far from foolproof.
The reality, though unpleasant, is that our garbage will be around longer than we ourselves will. Let's make a decision now to reduce our own consumption and leave our squanderous ways in the past.

The Magic Mountain

I happened on a great article the other day by author Matthew Power, titled "The magic mountain: Trickle-down economics in a Philippine garbage dump". He effectively paints a picture of a day in the life of a mangangalahig at the Payatas dump site in Quezon City, Manila.

The manangalahig is a scavenger, sorting through trash for recyclables which can be exchanged for a few rupees. The conditions and minimal payback may seem futile but the few rupees they do earn is far more than they would be making farming as they had in the past. And when metro Manila produces on average 6,169 tons of garbage daily you know there is plenty of trash to go arround. Multiply that mass by 364.25 days in a year, and again by 20 years and you can begin to understand how this 130 foot high, 50 acre, 45,000,000 ton mountain grows.

The Payatas dump site was home to a tradgic event in the year 2000. Monsoon rains permiated the garbage mountain, which had been piled at a 70ยบ slope, and caused the pile to slide killing hundreds of mangangalahig and their families living at the base of the heap. Exact numbers on the casualties will never be known for sure as the recovery effort was forced to stop days later, when hope had been lost.