Photo/IllutrationMitsuteru Ozaki uses various tools to make devices that will prove useful at production lines as a “kaizen-shi” improver in Yasu, Shiga Prefecture. (Mihoko Takizawa)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

YASU, Shiga Prefecture--Mitsuteru Ozaki’s creation of a container for parts, makeshift platform truck and anti-explosion production method are among the 2,000 “kaizen” improvement projects he has introduced at Murata Manufacturing Co.

His work has heightened efficiency and safety while earning him the nickname of “kaizen-shi” (improver) at the company.

But Ozaki and his projects were initially met with derision.

Ozaki, 42, is the manager of the production technology division at the company’s Yasu Plant, which manufactures capacitors and other electronics parts essential for smartphones and computers.

Aside from his main task of building networks to connect factory machines, he examines the processes to identify procedures that can be eliminated or improved upon.

Ozaki says daily accumulated “inspirations” are necessary to enhance productivity.

In one case, Ozaki thought “a container to keep components would be helpful,” so he made a case by himself. And after seeing that workers frequently had to carry heavy objects, he built a platform truck by linking pipes.

Although kaizen efforts had been undertaken voluntarily at the company, Murata Manufacturing introduced an in-house kaizen-shi certificate system in 2012.

Ozaki passed the test the following year, and he also won a kaizen contest involving 1,000 Murata Manufacturing employees.

As one of the leading kaizen-shi at the corporation, Ozaki currently watches over 300 junior employees on production lines at the Yasu Plant.

In one of his biggest successes, Ozaki in 2016 overcame what his colleagues had described as a “kaizen problem that is difficult to fix” concerning a solvent replacement procedure on an assembly line.

The task was challenging because workers had to manually fill a container with a liquid that could explode if exposed to high temperatures or sparks from machinery.

Ozaki knew about the risks because he had once repeated the process 500 times a day in a room surrounded by pressure-resistant walls.

“The work was especially troublesome at times of production increases or on late-night shifts,” Ozaki recalled.

Most employees believed the process could not be automated because devices, from robots to telephones and lighting equipment, would have to undergo expensive alterations to prevent them from emitting heat or causing explosions.

Ozaki visited a robot manufacturing business and a fire station for advice. He also studied how to handle explosive and other dangerous substances.

He eventually hit upon a method to use the solvent in a way that does not require anti-explosion treatment. The result was the automation of the system.

“I worked at the place and thus knew how hard the procedure was, so I could keep working patiently to settle the issue,” Ozaki said. “Co-workers were delighted by the achievement and made me fully understand the significance of kaizen.”

INSPIRATION AT AFFILIATED FIRM

Ozaki said he was not initially knowledgeable about mechanics and chemistry.

After graduating from high school, he worked for several years at a pickles shop his father had started.

But after the store’s earnings dropped, Ozaki entered Murata Manufacturing 19 years ago.

He became absorbed in kaizen when he was deployed at an affiliated company in Shimane Prefecture in 2012.

Initially, his new co-workers sometimes opposed his kaizen plans, arguing that he was invading their fields of responsibility.

To win them over, Ozaki repeatedly explained his intent, insisting that kaizen “would make work easier” and would be “essential to better respond to production increases.”

“I realized then that what is most important in kaizen is dialogue,” Ozaki said. “The outcome could have been different depending on whether I could convey my passion to people.”

The workers eventually felt inspired by Ozaki’s words.

The experience of overcoming the difficulties in Shimane Prefecture heightened his confidence.

Ozaki formed such close ties with his colleagues that they came to the airport to bid him farewell when he left the affiliate.

“I became able to trust my abilities to act and negotiate,” Ozaki said.

He now visits production sites between meetings and jots down his kaizen ideas on the back of documents distributed at the gatherings.

He said people tell him that he looks quite scary when he is concentrating. Ozaki, whose next goal is to nurture excellent kaizen-shi, said he secretly attempts to always display a smile.