JAPANESE WORDS and phrases have seeped into the vocabulary of factory managers and workers in North America and Europe. Although companies sometimes change the name to a local word, the Japanese words themselves are now commonplace.
Small factories in rural France kaizen their way to excellence. Parts factories in Michigan that rarely deal with Japanese customers are poka-yoking to eliminate muda. And andons are stopping the production lines from Brazil to Germany.
Here are the most common words:
Continual improvement. Workers come up with methods to make their jobs easier. For example: Tool holsters at a work station prevent a tool from being damaged when not in use. Magic Markers get Velcro strips so they won't roll off the table. Toyota and Honda workers generate thousands of these a year. The secret for success: cash payments for each idea.
The pull system. Electric or manual information signs posted throughout the factory let workers know how production is flowing, where problems are and what the day's targets are. Workers are signaled when it is time to deliver work to the next work station.
Waste. Find it, eliminate it.
A cord pulled to summon help when a production problem occurs. The idea is not actually to stop the line but rather to keep it moving while a team leader quickly solves a problem.
Kaizen and its sister words have not yet been accepted by Webster's, Oxford or the other arbitrators of the language. 'We try not to use the Japanese words that much in talking to other people,' says Roger Lambert, communications manager for Honda of America Manufact-uring Inc. in Ohio, USA. 'The language gets in the way of the message. Some people turn off to a word like kaizen because they think it's faddish or they just react badly to foreign words. We would just say 'continual improvement.' '
Lambert's department also occasionally combs through public speeches to make sure words are not what he calls 'Honda-speak.'
For example, Honda managers talk about san gen shugi, or the three actuals: the actual spot (genba), the actual part (genbutsu) and the actual situation (gengitsu).
Collectively, san gen shugi means that an engineer cannot sit at his desk and ascertain the problem with a machine or a part. He must go to the spot and look at it with his own eyes.
'We just refer to it as the three As, and everybody around here knows what we're talking about,' Lambert says. 'Outside of Honda, I'm not too sure.'