HWTR Pollution Prevention

My Watershed


Kärcher Cuts Costs with Kaizen; Pumps Up Productivity

The Company

Karcher Plant
Kärcher Camas Plant

Kärcher, in Camas, Washington, makes industrial, commercial, and household washers. The plant employs about 230 workers to fabricate steel, paint and assemble the washers, and make labels. Through a "Lean and Environment" project, the facility cut work stoppages on its metal paint line by 95 percent and reduced its annual natural gas use by 10 percent.

"Lean and Environment" refers to cutting waste from processes while also reducing the use of hazardous substances, and conserving water, energy, and materials.

"This success was in great part due to the engaged, open-minded staff at Kärcher," said Tony Cooper, environmental engineer with the Washington Department of Ecology. "They developed and implemented some great ideas to improve their operations.


The project included a Kaizen event, an intensive multi-day event to improve productivity by eliminating waste. In a Kaizen, all workers involved in a particular process are brought together to scrutinize the process for any elements that do not add value to the product. Once they identify these "non-value-added" elements, the group devises solutions and immediately puts them into practice.

The Situation

Kärcher was interested in reducing their paint line’s natural gas consumption. They wanted to cut costs and reduce their environmental impact from burning natural gas.

The company had been working with Impact Washington’s Job Skills program on lean and productivity improvements. Kärcher learned the benefits of including environmental considerations into lean events from this partnership. So the company invited the Department of Ecology to provide environmental assistance. Kärcher staff, Cooper, and Impact Washington, worked together on the event.

The paint line commonly suffered line stoppages, which caused other problems. Parts stuck in the oven overcured. Flash rust formed on parts just out of the washer. Uncured powder coat would lose its charge and ability to adhere to the substrate. All of this increased defects and caused rework. Kärcher was spending time and money on tasks that did not add value to their products.

How They Did It

The Kaizen event focused on making the paint line more efficient by balancing the lines, ensuring each worker is focusing on their own job, and standardizing the process. The results? A 95 percent drop in line stoppages and greatly improved workflow. Workers need less overtime because the day’s work is finished sooner. The main oven can be shut down one to two hours earlier each day, saving an estimated 10 percent in natural gas consumption per year.

Process ownership is an important element of sustaining a change. One of the challenges of the event was to get all the paint line employees familiar with the new operating procedures, and break old routines and bad habits. Those had been found to be significant contributing factors in the line downtime. “They need to own this process,” said Kärcher’s manufacturing engineer.

The report to Kärcher included pictures identifying leaks in
the compressed air system.

The Lean and Environment project work also resulted in:

  • Detecting and repairing four compressed air leaks. This should save $2,200 in electricity costs.
  • Automating components of their washing system that should save about 20,000 gallons of water and 47 gallons of wash chemicals per year.

During the one-week event, the Kaizen team collected process and resource use data to add to an existing value stream map for the paint line. They included the environmental metrics to better understand the impacts of line shut downs, overuse of materials and resources, and other inefficiencies. Ecology staff also tested the compressed air lines used in the paint shop with an ultrasonic leak detector.

Example of 5S guidelines: Sort and Standardize – outlining
where the tools should go in the tool cabinet helps workers
quickly find the tool they need, and shows what's missing or misplaced.


The team identified what an improved process would look like, using lean tools such as process diagrams, and assessing what steps added value to the product and what didn't. Another tool was the "5 Ss" of Sort, Straighten up, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. And the team had to come up with seven ways to solve each problem, forcing some pretty creative thinking. The team began putting the proposed changes into practice during the last three days of the event.

Ecology provided the environmental expertise for this project, while Impact Washington provided the lean expertise and management of the onsite event. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provided a grant for supplemental funding, with Ecology providing matching funds in staff time.

More Information

Kärcher (www.karcher.com/usa/Home.htm)
Impact Washington (www.impactwashington.org)
Washington Ecology Lean and Environment (www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/hwtr/lean/index.html)
WSU Energy Extension (www.energy.wsu.edu)
US EPA Lean and the Environment (www.epa.gov/lean)
Pollution Prevention Resource Center (www.pprc.org)