Water Spider Definition

Water spider is a Lean manufacturing concept referring to a person who is responsible for keeping the workflow uninterrupted which contributes to faster market delivery. The function aims to decrease all variation to production and bring the concentration on meaningful work and productivity. The role of the water spider is to keep people’s focus on value-adding activities, help to avoid distractions, and facilitate the flow of work.

To achieve their goals, the water spider’s main responsibilities may include the supply of resources required at the work stations, transporting and replacing goods, removing waste, moving and updating Kanban cards, assisting less-experienced workers, etc. 

The water spider function requires an in-depth understanding of the work processes and outstanding communication capabilities. It’s important to choose people with significant knowledge and experience for the role, who can oversee the workflow and spot opportunities for productivity improvement. They need to be able to act upon any inefficiency and be helpful to every work role and workstation.

The function requires a steady pace through the workday. That’s why it’s important to be closely familiar with the work area disposition. Otherwise, you might see process inefficiencies such as shortages or waste. Performing a clear set of tasks is key for the water spider’s goal to optimize the flow of work. Not having such a standardized process is often overlooked and can challenge their performance.

What Is Lean?

Lean is a methodology focused on nurturing continuous improvement and reducing waste in a work process. The foundational goal of Lean is to eliminate waste from the work process. It employs a set of tools and techniques for identifying and eliminating it. Among the most prominent ones include 5S, Kaizen, JIT (Just-In-Time), Kanban, PDCA, and many more. The Lean methodology is built upon two major pillars – respect for people and continuous improvement.

The key role of the water spider on the production floor stems from the goals of a Lean process – to continuously improve efficiency by removing wasteful practices from business processes. With capabilities to see and neutralize inefficiencies on the spot, water spiders can have a significant influence and opportunity to spread the Lean principles at the heart of the work process – among line operators. In addition, water spiders can identify impediments in the process that compromise the stability of the workflow and raise an immediate alarm by either taking corrective measures on the go or relaying the feedback to upper management.

What Is a Mizusumashi?

Mizusumashi is the Japanese name of the whirligig beetle, also known as a diving bell spider or water strider. It is a species that swims on the water’s surface and can stay underwater for as long as necessary, thanks to an air bubble under its hardened forewing. Then, it emerges on the surface to replenish its oxygen supplies. The Japanese word – mizusumashi – means “make water cleaner” which is related to the insect’s habitat – clean and freshwaters. 

The significance of the water spider stems from its existence both on the surface and underwater, its ability to see above and below water, and the purpose of its surfacing – oxygen replenishment. These translate in Lean manufacturing in the role of the water spider function and its in-depth understanding of the process and working within the process. Another key contribution is replenishing goods and supplies to facilitate the flow of work.

What Are the Features of Mizumashi?

Mizusumashi or whirligig beetle is known for its divided eyes, enabling them to see both below and above water. They are famous for swimming rapidly in circles when threatened and have a discrete coloration, making them hard to see underwater. The insect lives in clear, fresh, and streaming waters. 

What Is the Term Water Spider Inspired by?

The features of the whirligig beetle are translated in Lean production through the role of the Water Spider. The water spider role should incorporate the ability to understand all internal processes and be aware and adaptable to external factors. There should be an underlined standardization and rhythm in their work. They should be discrete and maintain clear workstations deprived of as much waste as possible.

What Is the Role of a Water Spider in Lean?

The role of the water spider in Lean manufacturing is to be present on the production floor at all times. They monitor stock supplies around workstations, replenish where necessary, communicate shortages to management, and overall support the optimization of the work system. In addition, in the efforts to reduce variability in the production process, water spiders help remove waste from the operations, shorten process lead time and improve process efficiency – the ultimate goal of Lean management.

Why Are Water Spiders Important?

Water spider’s role is vital in keeping the continuous and interrupted flow of operations. In out-of-cycle events, water spiders’ timely involvement is critical to avoid destabilizing the work process. Moreover, in the long run, these timely corrections can significantly impact the workflow’s continuous improvement, such as creating routes on the production floor for optimal delivery of materials.

The implementation of the water spider function can reduce unnecessary physical movement. For instance, avoiding repetitive movements for stock replenishment, brings the focus on the present task and reduces distraction, which can result in productivity increase. On the other hand, repetitive wasted steps in the process draw the attention away from value-adding activities, and the water spider’s function can help bring back the focus on work that matters.

Water spiders can influence the quality of operations and bring higher engagement. They help to reduce all unnecessary interruptions to the work process, which could distract team members. As a result, the product quality increases, and the team’s attention to detail and involvement with the process also improves.

What Is the Goal of Lean Water Spiders?

The purpose of water spiders in Lean production is to boost productivity and process efficiency. Through the process of standardization of their tasks, water spiders can grasp the work area in its entirety, create a plan for the most efficient delivery of resources to the workstations, so there’s no waste or variation in the production. They can also be the liaison between line operators and higher management by offering key insights in both directions.

What Is Standardization for Water Spiders?

Standardization in the role of water spiders refers to working while following a clear set of instructions and work descriptions. The goal of the standardization in the function is to optimize the flow of the water spider’s workday. The importance of an established order of tasks should not be overlooked as it can contribute to creating process inefficiencies.

For instance, well-timed rounds of the workstations can help identify items that are running low and need refilling. Therefore, performing these rhythmic cycles decreases variability and can impact reducing wasteful activities from the production line.

What Are the Skills of the Water Spider?

Excellent communication skills are required for a good water spider. On one hand, this is the person on the floor who has direct access to the production process and line workers. They must understand their needs and draw conclusions about the inefficiencies of the process. These insights are then communicated with upper management, providing a key liaison for feedback in both directions. Thanks to the good articulate skills of water spiders, management is brought closer to the work process and the workers themselves.

Knowledgeable and experienced people are required to take the role of a water spider. They will be servicing multiple workstations or even work areas which imply the need for a deep understanding of the entire work process at a given workstation. The flow of work reflects the familiarity and involvement of the water spider with the specifics of the work process. Water spiders should also identify emerging challenges such as blockages or wastes in the process. 

Punctuality and time management skills are critical to the optimal performance of the water spider function. The role is highly dependent on time; the water spider is tasked to make rounds around the workstations and identify any shortages, replenishment needs, etc. To be efficient in this position, one must keep a steady work pace.

What Are the Benefits of a Water Spider for a Process?

The benefits of the water spider function that help create a true Lean process are related to reducing waste and variability. In addition, the features of the role, such as standardization, can help optimize the production flow. Here’s how the water spider role can benefit any given process.

  • Standardizes the delivery of goods to the workstations.
  • Reduces wasted time spent by floor workers.
  • Helps to reduce lead time and variability.
  • Brings the focus to value-adding activities.
  • Streamlines the production flow.
  • Supports the optimization of complex processes.
  • Improves communication between line workers and management.

What Are the Downsides of Water Spiders?

Overlooking the role of water spiders or overburdening them can bring production inefficiencies to the work process. A few of the potential drawbacks to the water spider role are listed below.

  • Water spiders can cause production inefficiencies if making empty work area rounds.
  • Adding miscellaneous tasks to water spiders’ list can affect their productivity.
  • Assigning multiple areas to maintain can cause underperforming.

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