Embraco is a manufacturer of refrigerator compressors that started in Brazil but later expanded across the world, opening facilities in China and the United States, among others. While it had always embraced lean methodologies and sought to maximize its efficiency, its management recognized additional improvement opportunities. By 2005, the business’s leadership had formulated a plan that was based on the gemba kaizen methodology and proceeded to implement it at its headquarters in Santa Catarina. The initiative was a success, and Embraco would later continue to expand the approach further throughout the world. Results were varied, but generally, each of the business’s regional facilities was able to optimize its operations. This report will analyze the situation at Embraco’s Joinville plant and provide recommendations as to the specific applications of Gemba Kaizen for its position.
Topic and Concept Appraisal
Kaizen is a comprehensive approach that incorporates many different practices to maximize a company’s performance. McLoughlin and Miura (2018) describe it as “change for the better to get closer to the right state” (p. 22) and highlight a variety of methods that it entails. The enumeration of every component would not be appropriate in this paper due to space concerns, as each description can take up a lot of space. Gemba kaizen, its modification, focuses on issues and their places of origin, which serve as the focal point for both management and workers (Haghirian, 2016). Instead of viewing problems abstractly, managers approach them directly, leaving their offices and interacting with employees. Embraco chose to adopt this methodology to refine its lean methods further, which share a considerable amount of practices with traditional kaizen.
While the company was interested in the general adoption of gemba kaizen for the sake of efficiency improvements, its prior association with lean led it to focus on some practices over others due to their relative underdevelopment. Value stream mapping allows the company to differentiate value-added time and non-value-added time and understand the critical deficiencies (King & King, 2015). As a result of this review, Embraco chose to focus on total productive management (TPM), in particular. TPM, more conventionally known as total productive maintenance, aims to improve the performance of a manufacturing facility by minimizing the waste produced throughout its operation (Agustiady and Cudney, 2015). The approach involves having workers who interact with the equipment conduct improvement activities in small groups, to learn how to maintain their machines. By applying these practices while also explaining the kaizen framework to employees, Embraco set out to improve its productivity.
The specific instances of muda that are apparent in the Joinville plant are not described in detail. It is likely that, as Embraco was founded on a lean management approach, few or no severe outstanding issues warranted a detailed mention. However, Imai (2012) mentions one weakness that may have led to the creation of waste: the company’s lacking accommodation of employees who had locomotion difficulties. As such, any workers who had this variety of problem would work less efficiently and likely be dissatisfied, which would further limit their productivity and create a muda of motion. There were probably many similar instances of unoptimized practices that created small amounts of wastage, which compounded each other and ultimately produced a considerable reduction in productivity. As such, Embraco began engaging all of its workers and managers in gemba kaizen practices to help them find these small issues and address them.
Value stream management was an excellent way to reach this goal, as it helped employees identify specific instances where such improvements were necessary. It helped workers gain a more comprehensive overview of the company’s processes and allowed management to learn details about concrete steps. According to Imai (2012), Embraco conducted a series of gemba kaizen workshops that were intended to deepen the understanding of each value stream. This practice helped engage all team members by letting them gain a more in-depth insight into the operations of the business and contribute actively. Imai (2012) notes that the approach succeeded, and the team was ultimately entirely committed despite its initial apprehension. As such, Embraco’s idea was appropriate for the situation and succeeded in helping it identify and address issues.
The workshops also served as a method of introducing total productive management into the workplace. They helped secure the staff’s commitment to the management’s decisions and convince them to participate in future initiatives. Imai (2012) notes that the efforts of the various team members have led to permanent improvements, and productivity ultimately rose by 30%. As such, while the specific contribution of TPM to this overall result has not been described in detail, the method was likely successful. On the whole, the endeavor to enhance Embraco’s Joinville operations through the use of kaizen succeeded. The practices it chose were appropriate and well-implemented, possibly due to the assistance of the local Kaizen Institute, and they generated the proper results by improving the performance of the company. However, there may have been some additional possibilities for improvement that the management did not recognize.
The company’s efforts were successful and led to the achievement of the goals that it set for the plant. As such, the methodology that it chose to apply was appropriate and should have remained in place. Moreover, it is challenging to suggest additional ways to improve the business’s performance because of the lack of information about its particular issues. However, the situation surrounding the workers with locomotion difficulties indicates that Embraco may not have respected feedback from its workers. As such, the first recommendation would be to use quality control circles that would serve as outlets for employee concerns and suggest methods to resolve them. Employees with specific issues, such as those described above, were likely in the minority and might have struggled to make themselves heard. Quality control circles are typically small, making it easier for these people to express their opinions and secure the others’ support for more significant efforts.
The second recommendation would be to focus on visual management, particularly when expanding the program to other countries. Imai (2012) notes that employees respond best to such efforts when they can visualize the benefits and adds that Embraco had to thoroughly discuss these advantages before it could secure the agreement of some branches. The presence of language and cultural barriers likely contributed considerably to the difficulties encountered in the process. Visuals can bypass some of these issues and help convince people when used appropriately. The ultimate success of the initiatives indicates that there were no underlying issues that prevented their usage or that any such concerns were manageable. As such, visual management would help accelerate the process while also providing managers with experience that they could use for future practices and applications of the discipline.
While the information about Embraco’s issues that is provided in the case study is limited, the company has succeeded in improving its performance. It appears to have used kaizen appropriately, with a particular focus on value stream mapping and total productive management. Its approach likely resolved a variety of small inefficiencies, such as the muda of not accommodating workers with locomotion difficulties, and improved performance as a result. However, less visible and apparent concerns may have gone unnoticed throughout the process. The introduction of quality control groups could help alleviate small-scale employee concerns. Additionally, improved visual management could help spread successful practices to the company’s other facilities and achieve general future improvements. While the business succeeded in improving its productivity, there is always room for improvement, and companies should continuously look for opportunities.
Agustiady, T. K., & Cudney, E. A. (2015). Total productive maintenance: Strategies and implementation guide. CRC Press.
Haghirian, P. (ed.). (2016). Routledge handbook of Japanese business and management. Routledge.
Imai, M. (2012). Gemba kaizen: A commonsense approach to a continuous improvement strategy (2nd ed.). McGraw-Hill.
King, P. L., & King, J. S. (2015). Value stream mapping for the process industries: Creating a roadmap for lean transformation. CRC Press.
McLoughlin, C., & Miura, T. (2018). True kaizen: Management’s role in improving work climate and culture. CRC Press.