Gemba*-centric human resource development determines the state of manufacturing a decade from now

Gemba-centric human resource development determines the state of manufacturing a decade from now

OMRON's Indonesian factory that produces switches and other electronic components is now preparing to accept control equipment manufacturing lines to be transferred from a factory in China. Directly importing Chinese manufacturing equipment into the factory in Indonesia will not be enough to ensure stable production. So engineers from Indonesia and China decided to meet face to face to discuss how to make manufacturing equipment easier to use for manufacturing frontline staff. Engineers in Indonesia have full knowledge about their production site, while those in China have experience setting up and starting up many automated machines. Ideas that engineers from two countries have contributed from their differing perspectives were then incorporated into the development of manufacturing equipment.

In fact, manufacturing is supported by what we call "monozukuri** human resources," exemplified by this team of engineers. These engineers are committed to solving issues faced by the production site by drawing on the specific knowledge and skills they have in their respective specialties and putting their individual capabilities to use.

Manufacturers worldwide are expected to experience increasing labor shortages. As a result, securing monozukuri human resources will be one of key challenges faced by the global manufacturing industry. Thus we believe there is an urgent need for fostering leaders who will lead manufacturing practices ten years from now.

Contributing to a brighter future for manufacturing

OMRON's Global Manufacturing Innovation Headquarters is in charge of facilitating the company's manufacturing operations. Serving as the general manager of the MONOZUKURI Human Resource Development Department within this division, Jianlong Chen has this to say about manufacturing: "In China and many other countries in Asia, and for manufacturers in any field, securing talented production engineers has become more and more difficult."

He continues, "At OMRON, we live up to the spirit of maintaining a 'gemba-centric' perspective as the company's DNA, and we remain firmly committed to working for the benefit of society. Based on these ideas, we have specified our policy of monozukuri human resource development as 'Contributing to society by improving manufacturing and fostering talented personnel.'"

Mr. Chen concludes, "Having a high-caliber manufacturing frontline staff is vital for the production of high-quality products on which our customers can rely. That's why we think it is our mission to contribute to society by developing first-rate monozukuri human resources."

This strong belief led Mr. Chen to create a new educational framework for human resource development based on partnerships between the company and Chinese universities.

Providing students with knowledge required at the production site

To cultivate production leaders in China, OMRON has formed partnerships with the country's engineering universities, offering a special educational program called "OMRON Class." As part of this program, OMRON has helped produce textbooks, and dispatches manufacturing professionals to give lectures.

In addition to regular lectures, the OMRON Class provides students with the opportunity to learn about visualization techniques and other quality control methods—the basics of manufacturing that OMRON has accumulated at its production sites. Students are also allowed to disassemble, clean, restore, and adjust production equipment on their own. By offering these learning experiences, the OMRON Class has produced high-caliber personnel who have mastered practical knowledge and skills, allowing them to use their brain and hands to make improvements.

Since the launch of the program in 2010, more than 400 Chinese students have attended and graduated to become an active part of the manufacturing industry in China.

One of the OMRON Class graduates commented: "I feel that mastering automation technology and putting it into practice is one way I can contribute to my own country, China, which is facing an increasing shortage of engineers. Since I got a job at OMRON, I have dealt with the transfer of production equipment to Vietnam, the U.S., and Korea. Through involvement in these projects, I have learned that the use of automation technology varies from country to country. There are many more things I can learn firsthand on the factory floor."

(left) Practicing assembly of a machine; (right) Students learn how to inspect equipment while cleaning it.

Cultivating leadership skills in demand

Since 2008 in Japan, OMRON has actively supported education at national colleges of technology, offering students leading-edge control technologies and information on the latest standards. Specifically, OMRON has donated teaching tools and materials to these colleges, accepted teachers to allow them to learn manufacturing skills and firsthand knowledge, and sent professional engineers to the colleges to give lectures.

In particular, the educational program, called the "Control Technology Training Camp," has students from various schools across Japan form teams with students from other schools. These students meet for the first time and work together to deal with more practical and difficult assignments than regular classes.

As team members with varied knowledge and skills are encouraged to demonstrate individual capabilities to work on their given assignments within a specified period of time, they are given a simulated experience of starting up manufacturing equipment on the factory floor.

One participant who had completed the program looked back and said: "At first, we all worked with development separately, so our way of working was not very efficient. But through this program, we learned the importance of grasping the overall picture of our project and combining our efforts. In my school life from now on, I want to master not only control technology but the ability to work as a team. By so doing, I want to be a part of manufacturing in the future."

(left) The theme of the 2015 program was image recognition and vibration control technology.
(right) A team of three members is involved with development work and an operational check.

Production equipment that ensures high quality in products is worthless unless it functions appropriately on the factory floor. Our wish is to create a brighter future for manufacturing together with our customers by continuously producing capable manufacturing frontline leaders.

*   Gemba in Japanese means "the actual location." In manufacturing, it refers to the factory floor or production worksite.
** Monozukuri in Japanese means "making things" and represents the unique Japanese art and expertise of manufacturing.

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