Chinese factories tend to focus on “making production”, rather than working on improving their processes. In their vast majority, they try hard to get new customers and grow their business, even when a few improvements in their processes would decrease their overall costs by 10% or 20% (and potentially multiply their profit by 5 or by 10).
The problem is, a process is either improving of degrading. If no one is working on its stability and its efficiency, it is sliding back.
What I reproduced below is an extract from Toyota Kata (an excellent book by Mike Rother that is causing me to re-think everything I have read about lean manufacturing:
It is generally not possible simply to maintain a level of process performance. A process will tend to erode no matter what, even if a standard is defined, explained to everyone, and posted. This is not because of poor discipline by workers (as many of us may believe), but due to interaction effects and entropy, which says that any organized process naturally tends to decline to a chaotic state if we leave it alone […].
Here is what happens.
In every factory, small problems naturally occur every day in each production process– the test machine requires a retest, there is some machine downtime. bad parts, a sticky fixture, and so on–and the operators must find ways to deal with these problems and still make the required production quantity. The operators only have time to quickly fix or work around the problems, not dig into, understand, and eliminate causes. Soon extra inventory buffers, work-arounds, and even extra people naturally creep into the process, which, although introduced with good intention, generates even more variables, fluctuation, and problems.
This is something 99% of Chinese factories are not aware of. Yet it takes place in their workshops, just like in American of European ones.
If you visit one of your suppliers’ factory and you ask “what have you done over the last 3 months to improve this process?”, you will know immediately if their organization is focused on improvements or simply on pushing orders out of the door.