In 2009, Mitsubishi Chemical Toyohashi Plant began the full-scale TPM activities. Since then, the number of equipment failures has sharply decreased to 1/14 in the past decade. Behind this, there were unique initiatives, such as “a tripod between the operators and the maintenance engineers” and “crossing the activities of the manufacturing managers with the department leaders.” How were they done, and how did people change then? What is the secret to continue the long-lasting activities? Last year, Maintenance Dojo was launched to train the next generation of leaders, and new challenges began. We interviewed about the journey of the activities over10 years and the future prospects.

TPM solves the factory proposition of ‘reducing breakdowns’

Mitsubishi Chemical was established in April 2017 through the integration of Mitsubishi Chemical, Mitsubishi Plastics, and Mitsubishi Rayon, and is expanding its business in a wide range of fields from materials to functional products.

At Toyohashi Plant, there is a factory of the former Mitsubishi Rayon. The vast site area is the size of 10 Tokyo Domes (baseball stadium), and it was founded 57 years ago in 1962. The plant, which started with manufacturing the polypropylene fibers, has since gradually expanded its business with carbon fibers, hollow fiber films, and acrylic resin films, and has now become the plant with four businesses.

In order to increase the productivity of the manufacturing site, it is important to “reduce the equipment failure and prevent the line stops”. For these reasons, Toyohashi Plant has been engaged in the various activities to improve the reduction of breakdowns for a long time. However, in 2009 with the support of JMAC, TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) started in earnest because the improvement results had been gradually limited. TPM creates a system to continuously develop the human resources and improve the workplace in order to ensure the sustainable profit of manufacturing companies.

Mr. Takao Miyamori (Executive Officer, Head of Toyohashi Plant), who has led this activity, had been engaged in the failure reduction activities in the manufacturing department of Toyohashi Plant since 1999. However, he was at the other offices from 2007 to 2011, and he did not participate at the beginning of TPM. He recalls “That’s the reason why I was surprised that TPM was pretty much on track when I came back here in 2012,”

Ten years after the start of the activity, the number of failures has sharply decreased to 1/14 of what it was originally. What kind of efforts have they made in the last 10 years?

From “I make the product, you fix the equipment” to “I protect my equipment by myself”

Mr. Katsuhiko Shinada, who experienced the launch of TPM at the plant and now serves as the project secretariat (Planning and Management Department, Monodzukuri Capability Strengthening Group Manager), says about the initial situation. “At the beginning, the operators were like, ‘If there is an equipment problem, call for the maintenance,’ and there was a strong awareness that ‘I’m a user of the equipment, and if it breaks, it’s for the maintenance engineers’, and there were a lot of trouble and losses.”

Under these working conditions, the failure can be reduced if it is possible to “prevent the failure beforehand” instead of “fix it if it breaks”. For this reason, the operator himself cleans and inspects the equipment for “initial cleaning”. TPM calls these activities “autonomous maintenance.”

In actual activities, the managers including Mr. Shinada first experienced “what the initial cleaning is like” and taught it to the operators. Initially, the members’ reaction was, “Are you going to do new activities again?” However, the consciousness gradually changed. Mr. Shinada says “It was a great achievement that we all did the initial cleaning, cleaned the dirty equipment, and were able to find the faults, which made us aware before it got into a big trouble,”.

Mr. Miyamori says that it was very good that they entered from the initial cleaning which went one step further, then gradually became familiar with the equipment, and their consciousness changed. “Originally, it was a long-standing culture of ‘manufacturing people only make’ and ‘breakdowns are handled by maintenance people’, so I think it was very big thing to switch our consciousness and awaken from the beginning.”

Challenge “zero defect” with a two-person tripod of manufacturing and maintenance

After that, they proceeded to the next step for the further reduction of the breakdown. Since all maintenance specialists are not at genba on a daily basis, the failures are often repaired after receiving the operators’ report. Therefore, it is important how quickly the operators, who come into contact with equipment, can notice and report the equipment abnormalities.

Therefore, Toyohashi Plant focused on training “operators who are strong in equipment.” In order to improve the operators’ knowledge of equipment and inspection skills, all maintenance engineers gave the lectures on their knowledge of each equipment to the operators. Mr. Miyamori says, “The members of the manufacturing department studied very well through writing the drawings, etc. The knowledge of the manufacturing side goes up, and the equipment technology side can also know that “the operators did not understand this kind of item”, and I think that we were able to proceed by firmly assembling a scrum with each other.” “As the knowledge of the operators has increased, the request at genba have become more demanding, and the equipment technology side seems to feel that it is necessary to do more advanced things,” he says.

At present, they are focusing on “chance maintenance” in advance. This is their own way of calling it, and it is an effort to utilize the equipment stop time for changeovers, etc. for maintenance. When the operator notices an abnormality in the equipment in advance, the maintenance engineer immediately checks it, then the breakdown during operation is reduced. “We focus on reducing breakdowns while driving,” says Mr. Miyamori. The sensitivity at genba has increased, and the number of breakdowns has been greatly reduced by being able to make the right maintenance before it is severely destroyed.”

Leaders’ beliefs and passions drive their efforts to success

In addition to strengthening this maintenance system, there is another reason for the success for the activities. It is to create a system that fosters the awareness of everyone’s participation. Toyohashi Plant uniquely uses two methods.

First, the activities of the manufacturing site are grouped into type A and type B. The activities of the operator using the equipment were made into type A, and the activities of the inspection person who did not use the equipment were made into type B. Although the manufacturing department often thought “why only ourselves” during TPM, the inspection department also worked for improvement with the same amount of heat. Then all-hands actions successfully started.

Second, four manufacturing managers serve as the chairman of the professional subcommittee. The activities of the entire business site are centered on the four subcommittees led by the manufacturing managers, “Autonomous Maintenance, Quality Maintenance, Kobetsu Kaizen, and Innovation Subcommittee”. As the result, the managers have more opportunities to see the multiple plants for the top diagnosis, etc., and the awareness of participation in activities has become very strong.

One of the characteristics of these subcommittees is the “Innovation Subcommittee”, which is made by the manufacturing department leaders and the production engineering department leaders. It was launched in 2015 with the aim of linking the on-site genba activities with the business level actions in a timely manner. By creating the horizontal connections among the department leaders to improve the overall level, it is also a mechanism that allows the department leaders to keep the level even if they are transferred to the other business sites.

Mr. Miyamori says, “These activities would not proceed well unless the leaders believe in the activities and do it with passion. People tend to think TPM is extra work, so I always tell them that TPM is a tool to improve the job, and I want them to make good use of it. In addition, if they work only under the department leaders, the managers tend to become a bystander by all means. In that regard, in this activity, the managers of the manufacturing department led the subcommittee with leadership, and the department leaders crossed in the form of entering there, so I think this is the key for being able to operate well.”

New employee education at Maintenance Dojo to nurture the next generation of people

Ten years after TPM started, the activity has been in place, and the number of breakdowns has sharply decreased to 1/14. In order to maintain this system, Toyohashi Plant is focusing on educating new employees who come in every year. Commenting on the background, Mr. Miyamori said, “People working here for a long time know the time when there were a lot of troubles, so they feel that ‘The breakdowns have decreased considerably now’. However, new people do not understand very well the value of TPM because they come in with few breakdowns. So, first of all, the TPM project secretariat has been training new comers regularly for several years with a fairly solid saying that TPM is doing these kinds of activities.”

In addition, “Maintenance Dojo”, a practical training facility, was established. With the model equipment, they learn how to tighten bolts and use tools from the maintenance engineers, and have the actual experience of disassembling the piping. In addition, there is a place where they can experience “what happens if you get caught in a roller” in order to improve their ability to predict danger.

In order to establish the Dojo, Mr. Miyamori toured various practical training facilities and searched for the most suitable training equipment for Toyohashi Plant. In Toyohashi, they use a lot of rollers to wrap the fiber, so the model suitable for it was also set. Mr. Miyamori says his thoughts on the Maintenance Dojo which took several years to complete as follow; “In the past, we were able to raise our skills and knowledge through troubles. But now, because there are few troubles, if you can’t experience them, you won’t be able to feel confident, and you won’t know your fear. So I thought this kind of training equipment was absolutely necessary.”

Mr. Shinada, who serves as a lecturer at Maintenance Dojo, said that such education is very important, and said passionately “I would like to make use of this maintenance Dojo to create a foundation for our business sites in order to make our activities even better and not to go back to the past situation.”

Commenting on the education at Maintenance Dojo, JMAC TPM consultant said, “We think that the educational effect is also high because we have prepared the Maintenance Dojo with a solid understanding of the skills necessary for the site through working together well with the autonomous maintenance and the professional maintenance. We hope that the scope of the use of Dojo will expand further, such as acquiring the skills and knowledge necessary to extend the equipment life and the repair intervals.”

TPM is the “Pillar of Human Resource Development”. Make steady progress in anticipation of 10 years from now.

Mr. Miyamori says Toyohashi Plant has been able to continue its long-lasting TPM activities because it has focused on building the basic strength rather than the immediate effect. “Rather than speeding up and achieving a goal by a certain deadline, I think it’s more about starting with the stance of ‘let’s make it sustainable, let’s do it without rushing.'” The training and the other initiatives will make a big difference in 5-10 years. In fact, our site seems to have changed a lot compared to 10 years ago, and sometimes when people from other sites come, it’s nice to hear they say ‘It’s changed a lot.'”

He also said that in the future, he would like to create a culture in which the site can voluntarily work, rather than led by the project secretariat. “Ideally, these things will be passed down from generation to generation in each field, and it will become commonplace. However, it is also important to change with the external stimuli, so I would like JMAC to continue to provide a fresh perspective that we can’t think of.”

And for Toyohashi Plant, TPM is a pillar of human resource development. “I think TPM itself is for resource development. In addition to the technical things, I would like to make TPM activities a pillar in creating a culture of manufacturing. I believe that TPM is an activity to make it happen, and I hope that through TPM, we will be able to create the human resources who can enjoy various things such as genba kaizen, etc. You can work on activities with motivation, your work becomes easier, the troubles are reduced, and the overtime work decreases. All of these will lead to the work style reformation, so I think it’s important to continue this activity for a long time.”

Mitsubishi Chemical’s TPM is not only for the result of reduced failures. There was a great growth in people and organization. They will continue to move forward step by step toward the next 10 years.

Comment from the consultant in charge

Truly understand and practice the importance of human resource development

We have been with Toyohashi Plant for a long time. The plant has been promoting the activities for many years based on the belief that it will continue to nurture people. This is a very important concept in today’s society, but it is actually difficult to implement it continuously. However, Toyohashi Plant continues to do it splendidly. The driving force is that everyone understands, consents, and practices that “Improvement is about making work easier and more productive.” The enhancement of the educational programs and the training facilities for human resource development is particularly wonderful and noteworthy. We sincerely support the continuation of their activities in the future.