Change for the Better

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  • Date August 6th, 2010 09:38
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  • The GIGA Blog recently met Michael Skinner, Vice President of Sales and Marketing from Zhejiang Mingxin Leather, leather suppliers to the upholstery sofa and automotive industry. What sets this company apart is the emphasis on producing eco friendly leather and they have certainly proven their commitment to this environmentally conscious ethos. Mingxin Leather has invested RMB 7 million on a waste water treatment facility which provides cleaner water than the municipally provided source. Modern methods of turning a raw hide into a leather Volkswagen car seat involves the use of heavy metals and chemicals. The first stage is the preparation for tanning which begins by curing the hides with salt. The second stage is the actual tanning process in where chromium, a caustic chemical, is used to remove the hair off the hides. The environmental danger is that the chromium finds its way into the water tables. The safe disposal of this waste water has always been an issue in the leather industry, and in China it is no different. Tanners are under strictly enforced policy with factories frequently subjected to surprise inspections. The third stage applies retanning agents and dyes to the material to provide the physical strength and properties desired for the end product. The fourth stage applies a finishing material to the surface. The US does not allow fully fledged tanning, and instead raw materials are imported from abroad and US tanners finish the products. Michael Skinner has worked in the leather industry for 22 years and first came to China when he found that he was starting to lose business to Chinese suppliers. His focus at Mingxin is on constant improvement and seeking ways to refine production methods. Mingxin has adopted the Japanese created quality system termed Kaizen and the 5S quality system. Kaizen (Japanese for "improvement" or "change for the better") is a philosophy that focuses on continuous improvement of processes ranging from manufacturing, engineering, supporting business processes, and management. In the workplace, kaizen involves all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers, and refers to activities that continually improve all functions. By improving standardized activities and processes, kaizen aims to eliminate waste. The 5Ss method takes its name from the first letter of each of the five operations. It is a management technique derived from the Toyota Production System (TPS) based on 5 simple principles: 1. Seiri : Sort means eliminating anything that is unnecessary for the equipment to work properly. 2. Seiton : Straightening is the best way of eliminating pointless searching and having all the material necessary for functional production according to the principle: "a place for everything and everything in its place". 3. Seiso : Shining means keeping everything so clean that it shines.
In a clean environment, any leak or other abnormality can be detected faster. Working in a clean environment improves motivation and safety. This is a prerequisite for quality maintenance. 4. Seiketsu : Standardizing means respecting the previous 3S.
The 3S are actions to take; so that cleanliness and elimination of the causes of untidiness become the norm, it is essential to write them down as ordinary rules, as standards. 5. Shitsuke (Sustain) : After a period of 3 to 6 months (depending on the size and complexity of the workshop), the time has come to evaluate the situation by means of an in-depth audit. The audit is based on a very precise questionnaire which assesses the previous 4 Ss, and which leads, if successful - to the site being certified. Michael notes that the green agenda will continue to expand, especially in China where the government has been scolded by past environmental damage, and is becoming focused on cleaning up industries. China can be described as more progressive than other developed countries as the central government does not have to go through lobbying to introduce environmental governance. Automotive companies also now supply FOC (free of chrome) leather which is quickly becoming a requirement. As well as using less toxic tanning agents, FOC leather can be much more easily disposed of at the end of the vehicles life by burning or grinding. Chrome leather requires special disposal as there are toxic chemicals released when it is burnt.
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