Vijay Dara explains how continuous, measured improvement drives manufacturing process

QUESTION: What has Komatsu done to make its manufacturing operation more efficient?

ANSWER: Two years ago we began to include spare or service parts warehousing, along with production/assembly, in our definition of manufacturing. While this may seem like a small detail, it is important because it requires us to consider the entire machine’s life cycle and integrated supply chain when making decisions.

QUESTION: What is the impact of this change?

ANSWER: It has helped us to better understand how the entire process works together. One example is with spare parts availability. There isn’t any difference between a part that is made for a new machine or one that is stocked for spare parts – one gets put on a machine, the other goes into a box – the engineering and manufacturing/procurement are the same.

Prior to including parts warehousing in our definition, the warehouses and production facilities worked independently of each other. Now, if a customer needed a part that was out of stock, the warehouse could call the production plant, that would then make or procure a new one, pull one from its production line or take the part from a machine that was in production.

By including warehousing under one umbrella, all areas are now on the same page. They work together particularly to plan inventory, procurement and transportation needs; and unexpected needs are easier to manage, which is an advantage to Komatsu. However, customers also benefit because it means that warehouses should have more access to parts in-stock or be able to get them faster.

QUESTION: How do you think that process will evolve in the future?

ANSWER: I think we will eventually see warehouses located closer to the production plants. The proximity will have a very positive effect on the whole process. The parts are made at the production plant, and if they aren’t installed on a machine, they are put on a shelf. It eliminates many logistical costs and makes communication between production and warehousing a lot more efficient. It gives the parts warehouse access to all of the manufacturing operation’s resources as well.

QUESTION: What process does Komatsu use to check the quality of its parts after they leave the manufacturing plant?

ANSWER: Every plant has a Quality Assurance (QA) Manager who is responsible for seeing that the quality of the products meets customers’ needs. After a machine leaves the plant we use customer-driven metrics to evaluate the quality. When a customer files a warranty claim on a part (100 hours, 500 hours or later) or even when the plant identifies a nonconformity before shipment, we really dig into the claim to see what occurred through the entire supply chain. It is our goal to determine if the issue was isolated or something that affects every part/machine and causes us to reevaluate our engineering and manufacturing processes. The QA Manager works with other personnel within and outside of Manufacturing to address quality issues in a streamlined manner utilizing QC concepts to correct the concern.

QUESTION: Will there ever come a time when there are no claims?

ANSWER: That is always our desire. We know that it is realistically improbable, but we believe we can continue to improve if our goal is zero. As long as we are improving, we do not get discouraged when we receive a claim. Instead, we see every claim as an opportunity to learn and better our machines. So, in a way, we actually view a claim’s “bad news” as good news.