Implementing TPM in the west, requires knowledge and care.

The classic TPM, based on the work of Seiichi Nakajima, was developed in Japan after the Second World War. It was TPM that created the Japanese ‘Economic Miracle’ and in that sense was also Lean’s parent. Western companies started implementing these types of continuous improvement programs at the start of the 1990s, but TMP’s implementation in the West did not appear to run as smoothly as it did in Japan. We asked the TPM expert, Mario Marchena, about the reasons for this and whether this characterization is in fact true. Mario Marchena is Owner/ Senior Consultant of SeeMoreConsult bv, in The Netherlands.

Marchena worked 21 years for Unilever, in different manufacturing management positions, and as operations manager at Calvé in Delft (NL) and 4 years as a senior consultant at Blom Consultancy. “Calvé was part of Unilever Nederland, which formed part of Unilever Foods Europe. On an European level we had already been working to increase the factories’ efficiency. The margarine factories were leading the way. In the factory in Delft, we tried to apply the MANS and Sociotech philosophies. MANS stands for Management en Arbeid Nieuwe Stijl (New Style Management and Labor), which was inspired by the Sociotech and was especially successful in the USA and Scandinavia. The MANS Foundation, established in 1983, had as a goal, making W.E. Deming and J. Juran’s way of thinking available to Dutch businesses.” As part of all these new initiatives, Calvé experimented with Autonomous Task Groups and Self-Directing Teams. “And despite us doing our very best to convert this knowledge into practical measures”, says Marchena, “the effect on our utilization and our efficiency was barely noticeable.” At the same time, their Japanese colleagues at Nippon Lever were having success.

Three factories for Foods, Home and Personal Care had successfully made significant  improvements with what they called TPM. They were supported in the process by specialists from JIPM, the Japanese Institute of Plant Maintenance (nowadays JIPM-Solutions). How did Mario Marchena find out that his colleagues at Nippon Lever seemed to have found the right answer? “Unilever is a multinational in which knowledge sharing happens at an international level. JTG (Japan Technology Group), a Unilever department in Japan keeping track of and evaluating new Japanese developments, was responsible for this exchange. Unilever Europe Group was rather preoccupied with the ‘Make or Buy Question’ – should we produce all of the products we sell ourselves? That was rather a threatening question for Unilever Nederland’s factories. It awoke our drive to survive, which meant we were ready to start looking outside for help. What I retained from our search for improvement methods and tools was a deep-rooted faith in ideas and movements like Empowerment of people on all levels, specially on the shop floor. When we came into contact with TPM through JTG, I felt the click immediately. The philosophy appealed to me, plus the program also offered a pragmatic implementation plan. ‘This is really something we could implement!’ I said to myself.” The rest of Unilever reacted very positively to Japan’s success. So positively, in fact, they decided at the corporate level to start working with JIPM. “Kunio Shirose himself, one of JIPM’s vice presidents, became our leading person and it was him who led Unilever’s worldwide support team. In the course of that job he also paid a visit to the Netherlands. In the mean time I was given the opportunity to transfer to the ‘Unilever TPM Promotion and Implementation Team’ and so I moved from Calvé Delft to the Central Manufacturing and Engineering Group. In the beginning I was pretty much a pioneer, but we also learned a lot from JIPM – like: how to build up TPM capabilities within Unilever, how to give TPM training courses, how to guide the current management in the implementation process and how to implement TPM on the shop floor.” These actions lead to dozens of Unilever factories winning TPM Awards between 1996 and 2006.

Two factories in Europe have even reached the World Class level: the Lipton Tea factory in Brussels and the ice cream factory in Naples. According to Mario Marchena, how has TPM developed these past ten years? “TPM itself has stayed the same at its core but the environment in which we need to implement TPM has changed dramatically. Nowadays, people get a lot less time to run through the learning curves. A consequence of high pressure on financial performances is that everything must go faster, which presents a great danger. I have learned in the past 12 years that you must walk three paths when implementing TPM”, says 57-year old Marchena. “The first is improving the technical performance of the production process, resulting in a higher Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). Second, you must invest in the individual employee’s knowledge, skills and attitude if you want to hang onto these results. An if you want to hang on to these results and want employees to the develop, also the quality of the organization must improve significantly.” In Japanese factories the disciplined, team-oriented, harmonious culture provided enough basis. According to Marchena, “In this system, colleagues work together as a team, which automatically improves mutual cooperation. The production teams also have closer contact with each other, which then improves cooperation bit by bit. Eventually the entire organization improves as a whole and, as happened in Japan, in a quite autonomous fashion, due in part to their long history using Quality Circles.” So it is therefore simply a question of starting TPM and the rest will follow? “Well, if only that were true. This is exactly where we find the greatest differences between the East and the West”, Marchena admits. “In Japan, the team and organizational improvements took shape in an organic way, but that approach simply won’t fly in more individually-oriented cultures such as ours. In Europe, explicit attention must be paid to points 2 (investment in knowledge, skills and attitude) and 3 (the quality of the organization). Especially to point 3.” This has been done in all Unilever factories that have received an award. “I didn’t check it afterwards, but I don’t mind stating the following: “in every factory where this did not happen we have not achieved sustainable success.”  it goes without saying that implementing tools and techniques is quicker than improving people’s knowledge, skills and attitudes. It’s just as logical to say that individual employee improvement is easier to realize than improvements for an entire organization. But it is precisely that last point, improving the quality of an organization, that is the most important when dealing with the speed with which the permanent improvement of results is realized.

The following quote from Seiichi Nakajima illustrates the point: “TPM is the making of products through the making of people”. He expands this position with his ‘Five Satisfactions’, referring to the  customer, shareholder, employee, social and global satisfaction. If a modern company wants to guarantee its existence, then it is not sufficient to merely keep the customers and shareholders happy. According to Nakajima, it is just as important to give serious attention to personnel, the direct environment and societal themes “This leads Europe into a very dangerous situation”, warns Marchena. “Be-cause if you choose speed, then you only reach for the low-hanging fruits leaving other great opportunities untouched. This leads to great losses in the long term. If you want to get the maximum amount of profit over the long term, then you need to invest in your organization and your people right at the very start.” This is the kind of talk you would expect from some soft improvement guru, not a ‘hard operations man’. Marchena explains, “It might sound a bit soft, but it’s not, because you also need the hard TPM tools. Plus, the intended organizational development will result in a much more common focus on results. This is why it is essential in my current role as an external consultant that I teach my client how he himself can actualize his own continued improvement processes. Naturally I can offer quick help by teaching him a trick such as SMED, for example, but that’s not going to teach him the essence of TPM, and any results achieved will disappear once the external expert has disappeared.”  TPM in Europe has, along with the content of TPM, mostly to do with the explicit development of people and organization. “Yes, that’s right. And that’s why for me personally TPM, Empowerment, Autonomous Task Groups and Self Directing Teams overlap each other. In essence it’s about using the TPM methods, techniques and tools in combination with a common focus on the results. In practice this means: working with multidisciplinary improvement teams according to the Overlapping Small Group and the Kaizen Teams method. Because management will deal more with the creation of the right conditions, than the content of these methods, they must focus on their management tasks and qualities. The operators and maintenance engineers will then learn to take responsibility for their own solutions. This will entail a re-shuffling of tasks and responsibilities throughout the entire organization. The external advisor’s role here is always to make people aware of their current way of working as compared to the ideal way. Moreover, the advisor must guarantee a safe environment to experiment with new behavior. He must also encourage and maintain mutual communication and, last but not least, he must always let people experience for themselves the link between results and the new way of cooperating.” SeeMoreConsult plays an active role in the development and promotion of TPM and provides consulting and implementation support based on classic Nakajima TPM. The goal is to make TPM in Europe just as successful as it is in Japan using the method described above. SeeMoreConsult works in intensive cooperation with JIPM-Solutions and TPM Solutions International supporting big international customer with factories in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. This client intends to win a JIPM Award for its factories within  a few years. In my view, this all guarantees TPM’s continued development, whereby the power and value stays at the Japanese level while it is made easier to apply in factories in our part of the world.”


Different People doing Different Things in a Different Way”