Enabling companies to improve processes remotely
The Gemba walk is a pillar of lean management philosophy. Gemba, from the Japanese, means an actual place, and in manufacturing terms that means the factory floor. During a Gemba walk, manufacturing leaders walk the factory floor, see the inner workings of the plant, talk with all employees, and communally explore ideas for continuous improvement.
In pre-COVID times, Sight Machine’s experts Gemba-walked through plants in-person, talking with employees, noting down challenges, and exploring how to improve processes.
But how does a Continuous Improvement expert do a Gemba walk when, due to lockdowns, they can’t physically visit manufacturing plants? How do they virtually recreate that sense of insight and discovery that accrues from in-person visits to manufacturing plants?
Sight Machine responded by perfecting the practice of the virtual Gemba walk. Alex Soave, a Senior Continuous Improvement Manager at Sight Machine, uses Zoom, Facetime, and WhatsApp to conduct virtual Gemba walks. Some engineers have even donned virtual reality or mixed reality headsets to walk Soave through their plants. Soave says virtual Gemba walks can be just as effective as in-person walkthroughs and, in some ways, even better.
The walkthroughs are interactive, with the engineers pausing often to comment on their challenges with machine lines and data collection. Soave also asks questions about product lines, machine speed, product-changeover frequency, downtimes, as well as state-of-the-art problem-solving methods. The customer records the walkthroughs so that Soave can review the video again to better understand how the plant, and its employees, operate. Along with the recordings, customers provide pictures, plant floor layouts, operational KPI documents, AutoCAD drawings, and process-flow diagrams, which enhance insight from the Gemba walk and help with platform implementation. All the above information is reviewed by Sight Machine and discussed in detail with customers.
“We care as much about our clients’ process as we do about their data,” Soave says. “Their data means nothing without understanding their processes, and virtual Gemba walks give us that deep understanding. We capture use cases and tie it back to the data sources needed to solve them. As we do the remote walkthrough, they are telling us what is right and wrong about their operations.”
“The plant personnel are excited to show their processes,” he adds, “and the information we gather allows us to identify continuous improvements opportunities remotely. So nothing has really changed from when we did in-person Gembas.”
Sight Machine’s clients are also busier than ever, Soave says, so helping them enhance production is key. For instance, one client makes boxes for a large online retailer, while another makes tape for its packages. The retailer’s deliveries have skyrocketed during lockdowns and Sight Machine’s clients have increased production to meet demand. Sight Machine’s production optimization insights are essential to helping its clients meet increased production goals.
Lockdowns have also motivated Sight Machine to improvise remote communications in other essential ways. For example, Soave created a personalized dashboard for one plant manager so that he could remotely monitor production and downtimes in real-time. The manager has all this information at his fingertips and doesn’t need to visit the plant or contact anyone there. Innovations like this will be valuable to managers even after lockdowns have been lifted.
In another example of enhanced remote work, Sight Machine began hosting remote Hackathons to drive customers’ continuous improvement efforts. Soave describes the Hackathons as shortened Kaizen events in which plant employees use Sight Machine’s platform collaboratively to solve complex, data-driven problems. “It’s all about finding innovative remote ways for continuous improvement,” he says.
Mike Arnold, Chief Customer Officer at Sight Machine, says in lean management philosophy Gemba means ‘the place where value is created.’ And in the manufacturing sector, he says, value is created on the shop floor. For Sight Machine to create value for customers it’s essential that “we understand our customers’ manufacturing processes.”
“And the best way to do that,” Arnold adds, “is to walk the shop floor—to Gemba walk with our clients.”
“With Covid-19 causing travel restrictions, it was important for our teams to create remote Gembas to understand our customers’ processes,” he says. “Virtual Gemba walks have helped us complete our deployments for customers. Using Sight Machine’s platform and our innovative virtual Gemba walks, we’ve enabled manufacturers to excel at remote operations, which has created great value for our customers.”