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Looking to boost efficiency? Turn to Japanese philosophy

May Kunmakara / Khmer Times Share:
Workers at factory Bowker, a plant in Kandal province that follows the 5S system. KT/Chor Sokunthea

What is the key to unlocking your company’s full potential? Is there a magic formula that can help drive your numbers up, boosting productivity without giving up an inch on other important aspects like safety and cleanliness?

For Bowker, a factory in Kandal province’s Ang Snuol district, the secret to success lies in a technique that hails from the Land of the Rising Sun.

Employing around 4,000 workers, Bowker Garment Factory has forged an impressive reputation for efficiency and quality thanks to the adoption of the 5S system.

In October, for example, the factory was the recipient of the 5S Best Practice Award at the National Career and Productivity Fair in Phnom Penh.

The 5S system is a lean manufacturing tool that originated in Japan. It focuses on improving efficiency at the workplace and eliminating waste.

Managers and workers achieve greater organisation, standarisation and efficiency while simultaneously cutting costs and bolstering productivity.

The core principles of 5S involve creating and maintaining visual order, organisation, cleanliness and standardisation.

 KT/Chor Sokunthea
Over 4,000 workers are employed by Bowker Garment Factory.

With these principles in mind, the workplace becomes organised, work is carried out more efficiently and safely and problems are found faster and quickly eliminated.

In a factory environment, implementing this system has been found to have a considerable impact in improving worker’s performance, health and safety.

The 5S stands for the Japanese terms seiri (tidiness), seiton (orderliness), seiso (cleanliness), seiketsu (standarisation) and shitsuke (discipline).

However, these Japanese words are often translated differently into English in order to maintain the ‘S’ gimmick. Thus, they become: sort, set in order, shine, standardise and sustain, respectively.

“When we started the factory here in 2012 we immediately implemented the 5S system because of our successful experience with it in other countries,” said Saom Pisit, Bowker factory’s human resources manager.

“The aim is to keep a clean and friendly environment at the workplace. Believe it or not, they will reduce waste and save time.

“The 5S system has helped us increased output and meet deadlines. When you have a happy, clean and organised workplace, your productivity goes up, your costs go down and your buyers are happier,” Mr Pisit said, adding that since they take very good care of the equipment, there is rarely a need to replace machinery around the factory, which saves the company a lot of money.

However, things weren’t so rosy in the beginning. “We faced a lot of challenges when we first set here. Educating workers, who came in with a very different mentality, took time and effort,” said Mr Pisit.

“It took the better part of 2 years to have them fully understand and comply with our philosophy and policy.”

Lo Sokry, a supervisor at the plant since 2013, admitted working at Bowker was quite an unfamiliar experience in the beginning. She confessed she had never worked at a place that went to such great pains to keep things tidy and organised.

“It was very strange in the beginning. As you can see, here everything is kept in order and clean. The workplace is spacious and very clean.

“No one is actually forcing us to be this clean. We do it because we think of this factory as our home,” she said.

KT/Chor Sokunthea
A representative of Bowker speaks to a Khmer Times reporter.

Kaing Monika, GMAC’s deputy secretary-general, said his organisation is also a big advocate of the Japanese technique, and regularly encourages all its 500 factories to adopt the 5S model.

“It’s basically a system and practice for efficient and effective performance. I guarantee you that it will reduce production costs by cutting time and waste, and improve productivity, quality and employees’ satisfaction.

“Some factories are going beyond, from 5S to 6S,” Mr Monika said, referring to an extra step, safety.

“We have recently established the Cambodian Garment Training Institute and we are training workers and managers on the 5S system. We are also providing on-site training,” he said.

Pich Sophoan, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour, speaking during the National Career and Productivity Fair, said his ministry is working closely with GMAC and other stakeholders in the industry to raise productivity and sustainability under the banner of the 5S model.

“To achieve our goal and to make the industry more sustainable, the government and the private sector need to come together to build a good workplace and to improve our productivity,” he explained.

Bowker’s Mr Pisit acknowledges that it has taken his company many years to implement the 5S system to a satisfactory degree, adding that they are now moving towards the 6S version, with its added step of safety.

“I encourage all factories to implement the 5S in their workplace. We are now evolving to the 6S. We hope this will help us attract more orders from buyers, increase investment and create more jobs for Cambodia,” added Mr Pisit.

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