Continuous improvement as a business strategy
A Corus case study

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Page 2: Continuous improvement

Continuous Improvement is often referred to by the Japanese word 'Kaizen'. Kaizen means 'change for the better' and covers all processes in an organisation. These include engineering, IT, financial, commercial and customer service processes, as well as manufacturing.

CI involves making continual small improvements to a process rather than big changes at irregular intervals. This requires close monitoring and control, changes to the uses of manpower, machinery, methods, materials and money to improve business efficiency.

Continuous Improvement starts with management and under their leadership works down through the organisation. The underlying theme is that everyone is responsible and has a part to play in making improvements. All employees must work together to identify the steps needed to improve working practices. Planning meetings help teams to focus on satisfying customer needs. Visual management techniques, such as flow charts and wall charts make clear what resources are necessary and who is responsible for each part in the process.

Reducing waste

Everyone has the opportunity to eliminate waste. This is any activity or process that does not add value. A key question to define waste is 'would a customer pay for that process?' 

There are seven main areas of waste for any business:

  • transportation - moving materials or products about
  • inventory - keeping too much or the wrong stock
  • motion - people moving or travelling excessively
  • waiting times - allowing products to wait for processing
  • overproduction - making too much
  • over processing - doing too many processes during manufacture
  • defects - errors or flaws in the product causing rework or needing to be scrapped

Production processes that minimise waste are referred to as lean production'. In these processes, the aim is to use less of everything, for example, space, materials or time.

CCI in Scunthorpe is looking to reduce waste in its plate manufacturing process. It has adopted the concept of 'flow'. This means that the products are 'pulled' through the process according to customer demand.

All parts of the production process, from the supply of raw steel (slab) to the finished steel plate, are carefully planned. Scheduling for each element of the process ensures that bottlenecks are kept to a minimum. Each process is paced (known as 'takt' time) to control the amount of product in each stage of the process. This ensures that processes operate smoothly without overload or delay and keep the desired output and quality.

Tonnage was the traditional key measure of productivity for CCI. For employees to work to a smooth paced process needed a significant culture change.

Corus | Continuous improvement as a business strategy