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Written by Jon Tucker - General Manager, Solutions and Engineering for Panasonic Mobile Solutions Business Division Europe

Gemba is Changing the Way Businesses Operate

We’re living in a time of accelerated change. E-commerce has exploded, placing manufacturing, retail and logistics under exponential pressure. We work (and live) digitally as much as we do physically. Customers demand optimal quality, in minimal time.

In these conditions, if today’s businesses aren’t efficient, adaptive and flexible, they won’t thrive. So how can profitable business agility be achieved? By seamlessly combining technology with people, places and things. We call this Gemba Process Innovation. Gemba is the physical site where information from people and things must be optimised. It’s a Japanese word that literally translates to “the actual place”, and when we talk about Gemba Process Innovation, we’re referring to where things are made, moved, or sold; the site where value is generated and problems must be confronted.

Gemba Process Innovation brings together razor-sharp physical processes and digital innovation to:

  • Improve productivity
  • Boost customer satisfaction
  • Release the workforce from mundane tasks so they can tackle more business-critical or creative work
  • Save money, while increasing profits

So where can organisations benefit quickly from applying Gemba process innovation?

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Reduce your environmental footprint with smart tech

Something as simple as installing lighting which automatically switches off when an area is unused, or deploying a flexible energy management system to reduce your business’ energy use during peak times can save huge amounts of wasted energy each year – not to mention a huge amount of OPEX, too. Plus, it doesn’t rely on human habits to work: just set up the technology and go.

 

Save time on repetitive tasks by using connected technology

In warehousing jobs, such as sorting or pick-and-pack tasks, staff are employed for manually intensive work combined with a need for high levels of concentration. This type of work is not easy when it’s a mundane or repetitive process. But it’s not a case of disempowering employees by replacing them with robots – an expensive and unnecessary process. Instead, you can empower them by using tools which speed up their work, increase process accuracy and reduce the need for staff training.

Using Gemba Process Innovation, we begin by speaking with key personnel and analysing the daily task patterns. When we worked with a major logistics company, for example, we deployed a tailored Visual Sort Assist (VSA) solution: a combination of scanning and projection technologies. The solution combined scanning technology and projection to speed up the process of sorting parcels on a conveyor belt. By using technology to automatically scan parcel labels on the conveyor belt, and projecting a large visual delivery number onto the parcel, workers could easily pick and place it in the correct delivery area – without having to read each delivery address in detail.

Increase productivity by implementing robotics

Modern robotics can be equipped with technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Machine Learning (ML). Now, the technology is so sophisticated it can complete tasks as accurately and efficiently as a veteran worker. But again this isn’t about replacing people with robotics: it’s about people and machines working in tandem for increased operational capacity. For example, in Panasonic’s Saga Factory, there are “parallel link robots” that workers can use to replicate even the most skilled workers’ precise movements. They can also be used the other way around, having ‘learnt’ a task – or rather, drawn up data from skilled workers – these AI robotics can now train new employees how to perform them, saving time and resources.

 

Connect your workforce from end-to-end in real-time

We live in a hyperconnected time, when almost anyone can be reached, anywhere and anytime. So it seems like common sense that within a business, all members of its workforce can view a job’s progression, and who’s currently handling it. But that’s not often the case.

If elements of your working process still require paper documentation, for example, additional man-hours are taken up by tracking and logging. In siloed businesses, this could take days or even weeks to complete, leaving jobs in limbo, and lulls in capacity followed by periods of overwork. It’s not efficient. Replacing these processes with intelligent digital solutions means not only saved time, but saved resources and added security – no more lost papers.

 

Boost customer satisfaction with automation

These days, nearly everything is available on-demand: entertainment, food, connectivity and even work. So it’s no wonder customer expectations are higher than ever before.

It doesn’t mean you have to bend over backwards just to make your customers smile. Keeping them satisfied could be as simple as giving customers visibility of their parcel’s status in real-time, or speeding up query resolution with digitalisation.

One example of success in this area was working with a European retailer whose customer satisfaction was suffering due to 8% of products being out of stock at any time. So, we worked closely with the supermarket’s supply chain management team to analyse customer buying habits to discover a solution. The result was deploying an AI-powered stock-level monitoring system (ASM) to meet the stock gap. It worked by combining cameras with artificial intelligence, monitoring the stores’ shelves to predict when stock will run low. Then, the system automatically reorders stock before current stock completely sells out. It didn’t take long before customer satisfaction scores rose – along with the chain’s revenue.

With the right solutions, you can free up business time, resources and employees. But it’s not always easy to know where to start when connecting your physical workplace with a digital layer of innovation. A strategic eye and deep industry knowledge are essential.

Read more about Gemba Process Innovation in our whitepaper.

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