The Japanese words and phrases that seeped into the vocabulary of Western factory managers and workers are now commonplace. Factories in France are kaizening their way to excellence, and andons are stopping lines from Brazil to Germany.
Kaizen: Continuous improvement. Workers come up with methods to make their jobs easier. The secret to success: cash payments for each idea.
Kanban: The pull system. Electric or manual information signs posted throughout the factory let workers know how production is flowing, where problems are and what the day's targets are. Upstream, workers are signaled that it's time to deliver work to the next work station.
Muda: Waste. Find it, lose it.
Poka-yoke: The closest translation is 'fool-proofing,' but that misses the point. The idea is to take an existing factory process, identify its mistakes and install corrective devices to solve them. Imagine, for example, a $60,000 spot-welding robot pausing before each task to sniff out an upside-down screw.
Jishuken: A subspecies of kaizen. Basically, it means scooting machines around to situate them for the workers' greatest efficiency.
Andon: A cord pulled to summon help when a production problem occurs. The idea is not actually to stop the line, but rather to keep it moving while a team leader quickly solves a problem.