From the Editor: Get to Know Shingo

March 23, 2007
The “other” Toyota engineer focused on the little things, the details, that collectively waste $50 billion in the drug industry each year.

"The most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize."

— Shigeo Shingo

The pharmaceutical industry has many of its own role models, for innovation and for public service. But recently it has begun to look to other industries for inspiration, particularly in manufacturing. Deming and Juran, who coined the term “Quality by Design” are a few of its new gurus, as is Taiichi Ohno, considered the father of the Toyota Production System.


But perhaps it’s time to include another thinker: Shigeo Shingo, creator of several of the systems that made the Toyota Production System work as well as it has. Shingo embodied the principle of Kaizen in his work, encouraging facilities to take small steps each day toward eliminating waste. His focus was on preventing operator error, improving changeover time, and “searching and destroying” all potential sources of waste, particularly wasted time and motion within a facility.

He was not one to hog the spotlight. But his teachings have helped revolutionize other industries. In recognition of this fact, a prize for manufacturing was established in his name 19 years ago, and this year, two Baxter manufacturing plants have joined a pantheon of discrete manufacturing, aerospace and automotive companies who have won that prize. Baxter’s North Cove, N.C. plant became the first manufacturer to win the prize twice, while its Cuernavaca facility in Morelos, Mexico, broke new ground for Mexican pharma. We take a look at these plants, and what they’re doing, in our cover story on p. 20.

Some of the solutions they’re implementing are deceptively simple, “square peg in round hole” types of devices that, for example, automatically prevent operators from adding the wrong reagent in the wrong concentration. They’re applying Shingo’s Single Minute Exchange of Dies (SMED) techniques to reduce the time it takes to set up manufacturing for a new batch, from hours to minutes. They’re also cross-training their staff so that operators can function in a variety of environments.

Simple solutions. So simple, perhaps, they haven’t gotten the attention of pharma executives. Another often-neglected concept: that of “visuality” within the workspace. Ask yourselves: How easy is it for people to get the information and tools they need, when they need them, in a convenient format? From experts we’ve spoken with, pharma is still way behind automotive and aerospace in this area.

And all these concepts have applications beyond manufacturing as well. After all, problematic laboratory layouts or procedures can promote operator error and waste time, just as easily as their equivalents on the plant floor. The amount of this waste, when added up, is staggering. At a time when cost and quality control are both imperative, it would pay for more pharma professionals, whatever their sphere of influence, to reflect on Dr. Shingo and his legacy. Here is an illustrative story he was known to tell:

…The slogan “eliminate waste” is posted on many plants I have visited. Once, when I saw this sign, I asked the firm’s president whether all his employees were idiots.

“Why do you say that?” he asked. I pointed to the slogan posted on the wall. “But isn’t it good to eliminate waste?” he asked. I asked him whether the sign was on the wall because some workers would not get rid of waste even if they saw it.

It seems to me that as long as someone knows something constitutes waste, he or she will get rid of it. The big problem is not noticing that something really is wasteful. The slogan posted, I told him, should be, “FIND Waste.” [1]

He was equally dismissive of the status quo. “We tend to think that fictitious facts are real… [we] simply hypothesize facts using guess work, or we ignore changes over time and assume things are the same as they used to be.”

But perhaps the most important legacy that Dr. Shingo left was one of patience. He told a story about a man who came home starving after a day of mountain climbing. He gobbled down bowls of rice, and at bowl number five, felt hungry no more. “If only I’d known that fifth bowl of rice would be the one that satisfied me, I’d have had it first.” But of course, that would have been impossible, and this holds true for process improvement as well. Results take time, but they’re worth waiting for.

Don’t give up, and don’t be afraid to take “deep dives” into problems, because you will solve them, little by little. Perhaps some of you will apply for the Shingo Prize this year? The deadline for filing an intent to apply is June 1. Or you might consider some of the smaller-scale programs, including our Team of the Year (the deadline for which is Aug. 1). Even gathering data and articulating achievements can be a step toward process knowledge. We wish you well.

[1] Greif.M., The Visual Factory: Building Participation through Shared Information,” p. 19-20.