Japanese way for dim sum maker

PHOTO: Japanese way for dim sum maker

SINGAPORE - Raising productivity is often equated with buying pricey machines that allow companies to replace increasingly scarce labour but there are easier ways to achieve the same thing. In some cases, it is as easy as rearranging furniture around the factory floor, as Kong Guan Pau did last year.

The company, which makes traditional Chinese dim sum such as char siew pau, siew mai and egg tarts, recorded a 20 per cent jump in productivity after it implemented a Japanese system, or philosophy, of manufacturing called monozukuri. Monozukuri is literally translated as production: "mono" is the thing that is made and "zukuri" is the act of making it.

But instead of simply focusing on specialisation of tasks, monozukuri also encourages using management techniques, new technology and ideas to raise production.

The philosophy is uniquely Japanese with firms like Toyota and Nissan using the system, which was conceptualised in the 1980s.

Kong Guan's introduction to monozukuri came about two years ago but it has fully embraced the Japanese way of creating things after the productivity gains it reaped from implementing the process in one of its kitchens, said the firm's production manager, Mr James Ang. "We have taken many courses on productivity but it was only when we went to Bon Cafe about two years ago, which had implemented monozukuri, that we were sold," he said.

Last year, the firm engaged a consultant to visit its premises with the help of Spring's Capability Development Grant. The consultant watched the workers and identified unproductive processes and areas that could be improved.

The entire endeavour took about five months, then the firm implemented monozukuri for five of its dim sum products by re-organising the entire kitchen with a view to reducing the time taken for certain jobs. For instance, the consultant saw the workers making egg tarts had to walk up and down to get the dough to the aluminium bowl, which would then be transferred to the tart mould.

"We moved all the egg tart-making equipment together to minimise unnecessary movement from the workers," Mr Ang said. "We managed to cut down the number of steps taken to manufacture the final product. This further saved time and effort."

Mr Ang noted that steps for making products have now been standardised across the kitchen floor. As a result, the kitchen, one of six the firm operates, now relies on just four workers from the previous six. The staff are also able to finish their work on time, resulting in less need for overtime. "It has definitely helped with work-life balance, and everyone can go home a bit earlier because the targets have been met."

Mr Ang's team also picked up management skills like how to measure productivity, the need to benchmark performances and keeping operations efficient. This allows them to track how the firm with about 100 staff is doing on the productivity front, he added.

But change is always hard to accept, as Mr Ang found.

"People get used to doing things in a certain way, and when we had to enact change, there was some strong resistance," he said. But when the results of the new system filtered through, the staff came around and saw it was a better way of doing things, he added.

The firm intends to take the monozukuri system a step further and implement it at its other, bigger kitchens and even to the non- manufacturing areas like logistics.

The other big element that helped its decision to implement monozukuri was there was no big capital expenditure needed, said Mr Ang. Apart from the training fees, which were subsidised by Spring, it had to buy only a whiteboard, which is used to remind workers of their responsibilities.

Mr Ang feels the system can be used elsewhere in the food sector to raise productivity: "It can be applied anywhere and it works."


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