Kao uses Power Apps to boost frontline worker efficiency by 480 hours every month

In this blog series, we share examples of customers who have been able to do more with less by utilizing Microsoft Power Platform in their organization to build applications, automate processes, determine insights and more. This week, we highlight how Kao Corporation used Power Platform – starting with a citizen developer project that increased efficiency of frontline workers by 480 hours every month.

Founded in 1887 as a domestic soap manufacturer, Kao Corporation is now a Japanese multinational consumer goods company that specializes in personal care, household cleaning, and beauty products.

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Reducing paper-based process by 480 hours monthly

Because the company has been in operation for more than a century, it has a long history of analog processes. There was a paper form for everything, from inspection records to raw material management to hazardous chemical storage. Trying to find the right paper for the right procedure was both challenging and time-consuming. In the Wakayama factory, Kao was managing over 300 types of paper cards that contained the type, location, quantity, and quality of raw materials. In some cases, the paper cards were difficult to understand because they were hand-written. If a card was lost or damaged, it slowed production as employees tried to address the problem.

“It was difficult to handle the information,” said Ryo Shibuya, a production worker in the chemicals department at Wakayama factory.

Ryo and his co-worker Nahoki Fujita decided to try a better way to manage raw materials. Using Power Apps, they created an app to digitize the process. The primary creation of the app fell to Ryo, a chemistry major with no previous IT experience. Once the app was launched, inventory management of the raw materials fully shifted to the app, which resulted in an efficiency improvement of approximately 480 work hours every month. Additionally, the production facility was able to add new functions to the app to manage the type and quantity of dangerous materials, which was not possible with the previous process.

“This project was successful because of the cooperation we received,” Nahoki said. “When we introduced the solution, we had to have time for learning. We had to stop some of our daily work to explain the purpose and meaning of the app. And all the people around us understood why that was important.”
“In my department, people are using this app and the members are saying that it is indispensable,” Ryo said.

Ryo and Nahoki are working on another app named Moon Chart, a production schedule management tool that allows employees to see what other people are working on in real time.

Building a development community for digital transformation across the organization

The paper-based process above was just the tip of the iceberg. As the senior manager of Kao’s technology development center, Shigeki Takemoto was eager to bring digital transformation to the shop floor. He learned about app development with Power Apps and thought the low-code development platform would be an ideal way for onsite personnel and engineers to easily improve operational efficiency in a short period of time.

“Within the manufacturing group at Wakayama, we have tried to nurture the citizen developers. We have trained a key user in each plant, who will serve as a promoter for this initiative and educate others who want to do the same. Additionally, we have established a support website to share our development story and it has been a great vehicle. Digital transformation is ongoing on the shop floor,” said Shigeki.

Kao’s citizen developers have created more than 260 apps across the company’s 10 plants in Japan since it introduced Power Platform in 2021. At the Wakayama facility alone, they’ve created over 50 apps.

“The person working on the production line often has an idea for improvement, so with this solution and tools, they now have the means to realize the improvement by themselves.”

— Tatsushi Okumoto, Fine Chemical Department, Kao

A digital future for Kao

Moving forward, Kao continues to pursue opportunities for further digital transformation and expand use of Power Platform to its operations in over 70 countries. Takemoto would like to utilize Power BI to visualize the massive amounts of data produced by the company.

“The popularity of Power Apps has prepared an environment for a layman like me to learn from scratch. That is really appreciated, and I think it will be an essential skill. I would recommend Power Platform to everyone. I didn’t know anything about making an app, but I still could complete it.”

— Nahoki Fujita, Chemicals department, Wakayama factory, Kao

Read more about how Kao continues to innovate with Power Platform to save money and realize process efficiencies with ease.

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