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A factory run by challenged people—maximizing diversity in manufacturing
– Omron Kyoto Taiyo celebrates 30th anniversary of its foundation –

There is a factory in Kyoto that constantly receives visitors who come to learn about manufacturing. These visitors come from companies virtually everywhere in the world, including not only the U.S. and Europe but Asian nations, India, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Israel, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle East countries.

Most of the people who visit this factory have similar comments. They speak about how the factory encourages a diverse range of people to take active roles at work by bringing out each person's unique potential. And they say that visiting this factory gave them many ideas for improving their own manufacturing environment.

The name of this factory? Omron Kyoto Taiyo.
Omron Kyoto Taiyo was established in 1985 for the purpose of providing work opportunities for people with disabilities, helping them find purpose and more motivation in life. The factory started operations the next year, at a time when it was very difficult for people with disabilities to find a job. At Omron Kyoto Taiyo today, some 140 challenged people, including those with severe disabilities, are engaged in manufacturing tasks that are suitable for their individual potential.

Visitors to this factory have many different purposes.
The most common purpose is probably to learn about the workplace environment, where workers with disabilities can work more easily and comfortably. But that is not all. They visit this factory to learn:
- How to create a workplace where women or inexperienced workers find it easier to work, as a solution to deal with their country's issues of aging populations and declining birth rates.
- How they can give more motivation to workers and have them feel their own development as a way to help increase the stability of the workforce.
- How they can continuously improve the workplace in which people of many different nationalities work.

In the early days of the company's establishment, when workplaces employing challenged people were still extremely rare, many people wondered:
- Are people with disabilities really able to work?
- Can a factory run by people with disabilities produce products with the same high quality as those without disabilities?
- Can such a factory yield profits and remain profitable?

As with other Omron Group production sites, Omron Kyoto Taiyo acquired ISO 9001 certification with a quality management system that meets global standards. In fact, the company produces products that are distributed worldwide, similar to other Omron products. Of course, the company is profitable. Moreover, workers with disabilities are not dealing with supportive indirect work; they are directly involved with manufacturing processes to produce products shipped worldwide, such as sensors for use at factories and digital thermometers.

Machines move as needed to exploit each worker's capabilities

At Omron Kyoto Taiyo, automation technology tailored to each worker's needs and capabilities is deployed in order to bring out each worker's abilities. For instance, a machine can assist a worker who has limited movement by moving a workpiece to a point that is easily grasped by the worker.

For another example, let's look at the task of bagging components. For this process, small plastic bags are automatically delivered to the location of the worker's hand one by one and opened up. A machine is there to automatically put a tiny component in a bag, in case the component is difficult to grasp for an operator with disabled fingertips. If the components are big enough for the operator to handle, the operator puts the items in bags. The machine and human operator each do the work that each of them is good at, thus creating the best match between people and machines.


A machine opens up a bag to assist in bagging components.

Choosing the wrong component to put in a bag is a common mistake that workers make regardless of disabilities. Sensors installed at the components storage shelves detect from which shelf an operator took a component. A warning is issued if a component is mistakenly chosen or forgotten.


Sensors on storage shelves prevent operator error.

As a factory engaged in the production of a diverse range of products, measures are taken to prevent a drop in production efficiency. Workbenches with casters can be moved to any place as needed. If there is a change in the product type to be produced or the components to be used, and the operator is replaced by a new person, the workbench will be replaced by a new one tailored to the new worker.

The concept of allowing machines to adapt to human operators, rather than vice versa, is being implemented in every corner of the factory. This helps bring out the full capabilities of each operator.


A workbench specially designed to suit each operator is available.

Visitors are amazed to learn that all these automated systems are originally created at the factory.

"One step of 100 people can do more than 100 steps of a single person"

What amazes visitors is not only the automated system used in the factory.
They are also impressed by each worker's commitment to 3S practices, known to be the basics for manufacturing activities.

"3S" stands for seiri, seiton, and seisou (sorting, setting-in-order, and cleaning up), designed to eliminate muri, muda, and mura (overburden, waste, and unevenness) in order to improve production efficiency.

One of Omron Kyoto Taiyo's 3S activities is designating and clearly marking storage locations for individual tools. Kobelco Construction Machinery, known for its cranes and the shovel car listed in Guinness World Records, also followed Omron Kyoto Taiyo in adopting this system. According to employees of Kobelco, since the system was implemented, it has become easier and quicker to find tools when needed. Also, workers no longer have to wonder where a particular tool should be stored. An at-a-glance indication of storage locations and the conditions of tools takes the hassle out of finding and returning tools.


At-a-glance indication of each tool's location.

At Kobelco Construction Machinery, this same concept is employed outside the manufacturing site as well.

Office supplies are controlled by means of locations and a key. Employees who want to use any type of office supply have to first insert the key to release the cabinet lock. This eliminates the need to provide each individual with his or her own office supplies, so it is no longer necessary to manage many supply sources. The 3S activity saves money and time and is eco-friendly as well.


Office supplies are controlled by means of storage locations and a key.

Assistant Manager Osamu Sori of Kobelco Construction Machinery's Production Division leads improvement of the manufacturing floor. He had this to say about Omron Kyoto Taiyo: "What we have learned from Omron Kyoto Taiyo is the diversity mindset. We will continue to work hard to create a work environment that is accessible for a diversity of workers, including not only challenged people but also foreigners and women lacking physical strength."


Mr. Osamu Sori of the Production Division at Kobelco Construction Machinery

Giving back to the community

The network of companies that seek to learn from Omron Kyoto Taiyo has been expanding from Omron factories in and out of Japan to Japanese manufacturers, then to international companies and financial and service businesses as well.

Mr. Brad Schmidt, in charge of coordinating training for international companies, has introduced Omron Kyoto Taiyo to Philips and other companies worldwide.

"The greatest thing about this factory is the presence of engineers who support challenged workers by focusing on each worker's unique potential," Mr. Schmidt says. "Also, they have improved efficiency on the manufacturing floor by eliminating the hassle of looking for tools, for example." In fact, an American manufacturer that learned the usefulness of simple automation from Omron Kyoto Taiyo has been continuously implementing improvements for their factory floor by setting up its own workshop.

"Improvement must start from the factory floor and build up. Top-down management won't work," Mr. Schmidt says. He explains why many global companies pay attention to Omron Kyoto Taiyo: "It's a people-centered management philosophy of putting each worker's skill and capability to the fullest use. This is something that a lot of non-manufacturing businesses can learn from as well."

He continues, "Many of the world's leading companies have visited Omron Kyoto Taiyo. Many people at overseas companies say Omron is the number one company they want to work for."


Mr. Brad Schmidt, training coordinator for international companies

According to Isao Miyaji, president of Omron Kyoto Taiyo, the company has three missions:

1. Provide employment opportunities for people with mild or even severe disabilities by drawing on Omron's production technologies, and combining the creativity and ingenuity of all employees.
2. As a company, create products that satisfy customers and secure solid profits.
3. Share with the community the know-how of creating a workplace accessible for people with disabilities and help make society an easy and safe place for them to live in.

"We will make concerted efforts to continue taking on challenges in order to become a company that is relied on and desired by our society today and into the future!" President Miyaji declares.


Isao Miyaji, president of Omron Kyoto Taiyo.

In 2016, Omron Kyoto Taiyo celebrated the 30th anniversary of its foundation.


For their interview cooperation, many thanks to:
Kobelco Construction Machinery Co., Ltd.
http://www.kobelco-kenki.co.jp

A video featuring Omron Kyoto Taiyo's early days as well as its implementation of creative ideas for a more accessible workplace and its vision for the future

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