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An example of how the Kaizen concept is used at SMRT's train depot in Tuas West are changes in how tools used by engineering staff are arranged and stored (Source: Channel NewsAsia).

SMRT questioned for implementing Kaizen methodology decades late

Singapore Mass Rapid Transit announced that it has employed the Kaizen methodology in the past months to drive transformational projects through continuous improvement.

"Thanks to the teams’ efforts at improving workflow and processes, overall workplace efficiency has improved. The target is to make frequent continual improvement efforts toward efficiency gains of 50% over the next few years," SMRT stated.

SMRT noted that in the past, equipment like fork lifts used to be parked far away from the work site and workbench tools were not sorted out by their frequency of use. Now, yellow tape on the floor marks out specified parking areas for forklifts closer to the users. Tools that are frequently used are neatly arranged within easy reach, with each tool assigned its place on the workbench.

It added that work benches are also tagged with names of the workers who work there. In a large workshop like a depot, such proper arrangement, marking and assigning places for every piece of equipment reduces the time to access them, improves safety and strengthen workers’ sense of ownership. These small, individual improvements add up to big efficiency gains over time, and help instil a work discipline in the depots.

In Kaizen, which means "change for the better", continual iterations of incremental improvements in workflows are made over time. SMRT workers, supported by their work team supervisors, are empowered to make such incremental changes to their workflows and processes. This cuts waste and improves the quality of work done while concurrently delivering better work conditions and welfare for the workers. Ultimately, this effort aims to deliver a much higher quality of work through instilling a stronger sense of ownership over staff’s work processes, as well as strengthen teamwork and workforce discipline.

The transport operator noted that at SMRT's newest train depot in Tuas West, where ‘preventive maintenance’ for trains is performed, workflow improvements are made with the goal of raising the quality of maintenance work carried out.

Door Shop which services MRT train doors (Source: SMRT).
Bogie/Wheelset Shop which services the wheels and axles of MRT trains (Source: SMRT).

According to SMRT, potential faults are addressed before they affect trains’ reliability and availability, avoiding time-consuming ‘corrective maintenance’ and failures during operations. Over time, SMRT will put in place more efficient workflows in all its depot workshops with better equipment, tools and processes, which will also enable its entire workforce to carry out their tasks diligently, and produce higher quality work through a stronger sense of ownership and accountability.

 

Now, members of the public have to note that the MRT system was officially launched thirty years ago on 12 March 1988 by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Many netizens commented on this matter, saying that this commonly known practice should be implemented years ago and questioned about the professionalism of the transport company.

Peter Lim wrote,

"It is going back in history and back to the basics. SMRT like many other companies embarked on QCC, Japanese quality control system, ISO, etc many yeras ago. Many including SMRt had benefitted from these quality systems and enjoyed good performances.

Alas, someone at the top became too greedy and complacent and decided to place less emphasis on interna development of human capital and went for profits and more profits. The current state of SMRT is the result of the above mismanagement.

Now, it is no brainer of SMRT to back track and restart the proven methodology that once put SMRT as one of the top companies in Sg.

It is never too late although they could have done it earlier. But it is too late for many good ex employees who had either left on their own accord or forced to leave during the bad management days."

Jonus Jun wrote, "This kaizen method was practice for more than 20 years ago. Isn't smrt a little too late to boast? They should feel ashamed of themselves."

Heo Ba wrote, "Under the new method, each piece of equipment has an assigned place, reducing the time workers need to search for tools and to identify if any are missing.
Don't tell me the high educated engineers or officer can think of this just only. Come on la this show what??
This is normal 5s in all company leh."

Grant Dawson wrote, "When I was an apprentice in 1977 they called it common sense and good house keeping. Having pride in yourself and your work place!"

Douglas Chow wrote, "Yo have got to be kidding. As a NS tank mechanic back then 20 years ago, we were already practicing this. SMRT practicing YOLO?"

Wenjie Lin wrote, "Omg, this kaizen and 5s stuffs is a common knowledge in manufacturing industries. But SMRT are so excited about this common sense stuffs. After I read this news, I think the gap between them and the rest of the industries will be pretty huge."

Simon Goh wrote, "This is a bit of self amusing and self praise to deflect the crisis they are facing now. What’s the PR message that they are sending out? What’s the perceive message that they want all of us to know? That, all these while, they have been inefficient and ineffective? Labelling tools? Haha... take a look at what Renault did to Nissan as a way to pry open the tradition and culturally close society like Japan to make Nissan to be who they are today! The team on the ground has to be effective and efficient, while the management team has to be strategic and assess how to change. And put in place checks and system and how to work with LTA for the system implementation. It’s not easy, but very important."

Nelson Oh wrote, "Even a small car workshop knows about it. How come those highly paid technician just going to start a "Trials" only now!"

David Butler wrote, "Way behind the world - this is embarrassing to admit that they never implemented Kaizen or any of the Lean techniques."

Jack Lim wrote, "How about the Japanese method of removing useless people at the top?"