VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka
AFIL Engineering Limited is a one-stop shop for high quality steel trailers, fuel and water tanks and other heavy engineering products in Lusaka.
The company is the heavy metal engineering and fabrication division of Agro-Fuel Investments which caters for industrial, agricultural and service sectors, and has been standing out among other competitors because of the Kaizen philosophy it has embraced in its operations.
Human resource and administration manager Reuben Phiri says AFIL has well equipped facilities for manufacturing and rehabilitating various types of trailers, fuel tanks, truck bodies, luggage carriers, sugar cane haulers and water bowsers.
â€œFor all the services we provide to be effective, AFIL has been implementing Kaizen since 2009. Despite encountering some resistance at the beginning, the Kaizen concept is now embraced by all workers,â€ Mr Phiri says.
He adds that Kaizen has benefited AFIL in many ways including in enhancing productivity, reducing waste and safety improvement, and generally workers are now more willing to improve in their performance than before.
Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy which inspires workers and employers to improve their performance by enhancing their efficiency and creating a conducive working environment.
It aims at facilitating the process of coming up with efficient ways of performing tasks in an organisation.
The Kaizen philosophy has led to companies like those in Japan such as Toyota, to be among best producers and suppliers of commodities in the world.
In Zambia, Kaizen was first discussed in 2008 at a business seminar jointly organised by the Zambia Association of Manufacturers and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
Kaizen Institute of Zambia Limited (KIZ) interim chief executive officer Chola Mwitwa says the concept of Kaizen got the attention of officials from the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA) and the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry.
According to him, Kaizen was seen as a tool that could enable the ministry support the implementation of the Commercial, Trade and Industry (CTI) policy and the ZDA Act.
The ZDA Act seeks to promote the development and growth of Zambian industries that are efficient in the utilisation of their resources, enterprising, innovative and internationally competitive.
Accordingly, in 2009 the government requested Japan through JICA to widely promote Kaizen in Zambia and in 2010, JICA attached Kaizen expert Kiyoshi Adachi to ZDA, to help promote the philosophy mainly in industries and set the stage for the Kaizen project.
This, Mr Mwitwa says, culminated in the launch of the national Kaizen project in April 2014, and through this initiative, some Zambians have so far been trained and a framework for continued training of human resources was established.
The implementation of the Kaizen project in Zambia is in line with Zambiaâ€™s vision of becoming a prosperous middle income country by 2030.
To achieve this, the country has to change and improve on a number of things. Kaizen was identified as the instrument that could be used to engender the change Zambia desires.
Transformation, Mr Mwitwa says, is now at the heart of the Zambian government and Kaizen is one of the key solutions.
â€œAccording to Kaizen, some of the changes that have been implemented are waste or MUDA elimination, value enhancement and people involvement,â€ he says.
Because of the fact that Kaizen features include incremental, continuous improvement and involvement of the entire workforce, it is anticipated that once Zambians embrace this concept, the country will be headed for massive development in various sectors.
Kaizen focuses on the way people approach work, it shows how management and workers can change their mindset together to enhance their productivity.
To date, 37 organisations are being used as pilot institutions for on-the-job training of Zambian personnel and the results so far are impressive.
Kaizen expert on quality/productivity improvement Kanichi Moriyama says the objectives of the project are building of KIZ, development of KIZ Kaizen consultants and promotion of Kaizen activities in Zambia.
â€œOver the last three years, on-the-job training has resulted in much improvement at many enterprises in manufacturing, non-manufacturing and public and private sectors,â€ Mr Moriyama says.
The Kaizen activity improvement seen at pilot companies include the reduced rate of defective products in the manufacturing process at food processing companies from 20 to two percent.
At non-manufacturing enterprises, there is significant reduction in cargo delivery time to the customers, while in the public sector there is notable improvement in inventory management at warehouses.
Mr Moriyama says in areas where the Kaizen project is being implemented, there is keenness among enterprises to learn about their problem, and accepting suggested action for improvement with honest attitude to implement.
He says Kaizen co-ordinators are highly competent, capable of communicating with quality control circle members and top management.
â€œIn general, enterprises in the manufacturing industry identify their problems and managers accurately understand the actual circumstances and issues to be addressed, therefore motivated to respond to those problems,â€ he says.
Mr Moriyama, however, notes that the major impediments to implementing Kaizen activities in Zambia include frequent cancellation of the philosophyâ€™s deeds to companies, thereby reducing the scheduled number of visits, and negatively affecting the overall performance of the cycle.
He says some top managers and Kaizen co-ordinators showed eagerness and interest in implementing the Kaizen concept at the beginning but lost the keenness along the way, resulting in activity slowing down.
â€œTop management tends to think that the implementation of Kaizen is extra work that causes loss of time,â€ Mr Moriyama says, adding that implementation of the concept is part of daily work of any organisation.
Quality/productivity improvement expert Yoshiaki Fujita says JICA is now supporting the Kaizen activity in private and public sectors with KIZ consultants.
â€œThe purpose is to disseminate the Kaizen philosophy and develop the implementation process in Zambia,â€ Mr Fujita says.
â€œThis year, KIZ consultants and JICA experts are supporting 32 companies including the public and private sectors.â€
The main purpose of JICA experts is to develop talented consultants in Zambia who can help expand the Kaizen concept to all industries in line with the countryâ€™s policy.
The Kaizen phase II project will focus on enhancing KIZ management capacity and Kaizen consultant development to sustainably disseminate the concept and the continuous provision of Kaizen consulting services that match with the needs of private and public sectors.