Top page > KASEI-JIN > File.8 Fumiaki Goto

Discovering and eliminating the cause of defects: harnessing group strength and reviewing processes from scratch

I have worked in the Manufacturing Department since joining the company in 2008. For the first 3.5 years, I was involved in manufacturing the bulk (product content) for skin care products, and since 2012, I have been part of the Process Assurance Group.
The main roles of the Process Assurance Group are bulk inspection, and process control and design.
・Bulk inspection: This involves evaluating the properties and sensory characteristics of the bulk and assessing whether they are suitable for the filling process. I rely on my eyes, nose and skin to make the final decision regarding elements of the cosmetic products including appearance, odor and texture, which cannot be assessed using inspection equipment. I have to train constantly and make sure that I am always in peak physical condition. The senses, particularly the sense of smell, are easily affected by changes in health such as catching a slight cold, so I have to take care of myself.
・Process control and design: The process of manufacturing bulk is very delicate and it requires the precise control of variables such as raw material lot and seasonal temperature. In order to consistently deliver the stable quality intended by the R&D Department, we evaluate the performance of the bulk in daily inspections and adjust the temperature, pressure and stirring force per production lot. Another important aspect of process control is trouble-shooting and proposing preventive measures.
My time is divided roughly 50/50 between my office and the production site.
I identified the cause of a foaming defect in our décolletage foam treatment packs. This product is a women’s beauty treatment for the neck and décolletage. Two liquids are mixed to create warm and frothy bubbles. Very occasionally, the foam was not formed correctly. Our initial inspection focused on the conditions of the foaming agent we thought was causing the problem, but we weren’t able to identify the underlying cause and it happened again.
So, the five members of the Process Assurance Group worked together and designed an experiment protocol that reviewed the entire manufacturing process from scratch without focusing on the foaming agent and conducted exhaustive testing. We found that the main cause was surprisingly not the foaming agent, but the higher alcohols that are formed when the bulk is cooled down. Changes in conditions such as room temperature can affect cooling and if the crystal structure of the higher alcohols is of poor quality, the bubbles in the foam are lost and the foaming appearance is poor. After pinning down the cause, we changed the manufacturing process so that the crystal structure would be formed consistently, eliminating bulk with poor forming ability.
Experience often leads to assumptions. By reexamining everything from scratch, harnessing the collective strength of all members of the team and not giving up on testing, we were able to solve a long-standing puzzle.
The R&D staff members applied the feedback we gave them to the development of new products and stabilization techniques.
Some bulk is so delicate and fragile that manufacturing fails even if the manufacturing procedure is followed exactly and sufficient precautions are in place. Even then, the customer cannot be left waiting, so we have to find a way to make a quality product by the deadline. If tests to find the cause of the problem do not go well, it can be incredibly stressful as the deadline is looming and we feel backed into a corner. However, as with the décolletage packs, by harnessing the strength of the group and with the support and advice of other departments, the process of solving problems can be rewarding as well as challenging. Furthermore, there is such a sense of accomplishment when you pin down the cause of a defect and discover a solution, and the sense of camaraderie that you develop with colleagues with whom you have given up days off and repeated experiments over and over is irreplaceable.
I always approach my work with an image in mind of the customer actually using our product. The cosmetic production process ranges from preparing the raw materials and manufacturing the bulk to filling the containers and packing. When designing and controlling this process, you often have to choose between two seemingly incompatible concepts such as quality and efficiency. In situations like this with no clear answer, it helps to visualize the product in the customer’s hand and decide which choice is more likely to encourage customer use. I have become much more aware of the customer’s perspective since being involved in process management. Working on the manufacturing side of product development, there is no direct contact with the customer, so instead, I have to clearly visualize the customer during my daily work and when trying to improve the manufacturing process.

Cosmetic manufacturing involves making bulk by mixing raw materials according to instructions that are like cooking recipes. As well as producing a product that is chemically stable, these recipes should be clear enough that anyone can follow them efficiently without making a mistake regardless of their experience. Until workers’ uncertainty, dissatisfaction and burden can be eliminated, there will be repeated complaints from the production site. When those happen, I have to go back and forth between the production site workers and the development department, and repeat the Plan-Do-Check-Action (PDCA) cycle to find a recipe that is satisfactory to both the development and the manufacturing sides. This negotiation work is hard, but also rewarding when the final recipe is manufactured efficiently and without human error to deliver a stable product that is favorably reviewed by the workers.
・An enquiring mind: In this job, overlooking even seemingly minor issues can result in either great success or failure. When you notice something during daily work, it is important to think “Why?”, investigate until you find the underlying cause, remain curious about everything and keep on searching for answers.
・Communication skills: Cosmetic manufacturing involves many processes and people that are all required to ensure quality. It is important to keep in contact with the production site and other in-house departments such as the design and the sales departments and also with other related companies, and to improve the process structure and operation. You need the ability to build relationships to be able to take whatever actions necessary and to form bridges between departments and with other companies when required.
・Whiteboards and blackboards, a magnifying glass and LED flashlights. When a problem occurs at the production site, the work of tens of people comes to a halt, so decisions have to be made rapidly to deal with the problem. In order to quickly find the cause and be sure about my decisions, I have these tools on hand to use when assessing product quality.
・Diary and online scheduler. Process assurance involves a lot of sudden events. I have to visit the production site, observe the manufacturing processes and deal with problems. In order to stay on top of my daily work and issues that need dealing with, my diary and online scheduler are synchronized so that I can check my schedule and how tasks are progressing whenever and wherever I am.

POLA Chemical is gradually expanding from the domestic to the world stage. From a global perspective, my goal is to achieve quality cost and delivery (QCD) that sets us completely apart from our competitors and to make sure that our manufacturing processes are as good as or better than any other cosmetic company in the world.

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File.9 Dermatological R&D, Skin Research Department
Aya Sakata


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