Making set-up lean
January 16, 2013 | 9:00 am CST
In my 20-plus years of facilitating the lean transformation process I have learned a couple of important lessons that come up time and again. One is that lean applies equally in every area of business and industry regardless of a company’s position on the Fortune 500 list, and that the only things that change are the inputs and the outputs.
Those lessons are surfacing again as I launch a new initiative at a company that is neither furniture nor cabinet related. This is one of the largest companies in the world with tens of thousands of employees, but size and status doesn’t mean they always do the right things or that they constantly demonstrate best practices.


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The company has been utilizing Six Sigma methodologies for decades, which has helped them stay ahead of the pack, but, unlike lean, Six Sigma is too complex to be embraced by every person in the organization. Unless this company’s management team can create an enlightened, engaged, enthused, encouraged, enlisted, and empowered workforce the company will never achieve the greatness it is capable of. Fortunately they recognized this opportunity and embarked on a transformation process that will blend the narrow engagement of Six Sigma with the broad engagement of lean. Since this is a brown field for change and continuous improvement there should be some good material for me to share as you head out on your lean journey.

Efficient tool cabinet 

Where does the Lean journey begin with a company of this size and complexity? The first steps are always the same. The journey begins by ensuring every employee understands the basics of lean thinking and then immediately advances to building a good foundation through workplace organization. I should probably interject that I am not tackling this project alone and that the journey didn’t begin the day I arrived on the scene. I’m part of a second wave of experts to help take the process to the next level – whatever that means.
I will be working primarily on the international stage, but for now I am observing domestic operations for best practices that can be emulated across the enterprise. My previous articles already covered the workplace organization side of Extreme 5S so I will only share one best practice observation with you before moving on. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, consider the sketch from a shop I visited in Georgia.
You may scoff when I say that I have never seen this approach used for displaying tools, but it’s the truth. In all of my years of consulting no one has suggested slanting the top of a tool cabinet to prevent clutter build-up and thereby decreasing the time required to maintain the area. The cabinet originally had a solid door, but the team that will be using the cabinet decided to replace part of the door panel with wire mesh to make the display more visible and easier to determine the presence or absence of tools. These steps were a simple yet effective way for the people of this shop to Standardize and Sustain their 5S program. Now let’s see how the 5Ss can be applied to other lean tools.

Efficiency breeds time 

Creating more available time to do productive work delivers substantial productivity improvements in a number of ways. Gaining additional available time in a day can be accomplished by reducing changeover or set-up time, eliminating unnecessary movement and transportation, and eliminating lost time searching for things - including work-in-process. If yours is a non-lean shop, there is likely to be a lot of work-in-process in every available space so not only is there a lot of unnecessary searching required to find the right load of material, there is probably going to be additional unnecessary transportation waste moving other loads out of the way to get the one you need.
Reducing work-in-process seems like a good candidate for applying Extreme 5S principles, but I suggest you temper that desire and apply root cause thinking to determine why there is so much excess inventory in the first place. One of the contributors to excess inventory is long set-up time so that is the waste we will go after first.

Reduce get-ready time 

You might wonder how the first S – Sort – applies to the set-up reduction process. It has been my experience that at least 50 percent of the time to set-up or get ready to perform a task is consumed looking for the things necessary to do the job. Sorting all of the necessary tools, drawings, information, fixtures, gauges, etc from the unnecessary eliminates searching and reduces the overall get-ready time. Reducing get-ready time immediately translates into more available time to do productive work, increases throughput, and creates more flexibility so you can respond to a wider variety of customer demand.
Sorting also needs to be applied to the actual set-up process itself. In this case you will need to document all of the steps in the process so you can sort those that are necessary from those that aren’t. With the unnecessary clutter removed from the workplace you will find that many of the original process steps are no longer required.
When sorting necessary tasks from unnecessary tasks, ask the following questions:
• Does this task need to be done?
• Does this task need to be done this way?
• Does this task need to be done at this time?
• Can this task be combined with another task?
• Can this task be performed while the operation is running or does the equipment have to be in the stop mode?
The next step is Set-in-Order. Make sure all of the tools, fixtures, gauges, etc. have a designated location close to the point of use and that everything is labeled. Process steps can be Set-in-Order as well. Once the correct process has been documented it should be posted in the work area with visuals and maybe even color coding so the task and the location of the task are easy to identify.
Creativity and innovation are keys to success in the Set-in-Order step.
I will cover Shine, Standardize, and Sustain next time. Meanwhile, keep practicing good manufacturing practices through the foundational tool of workplace organization. The benefits may surprise you.

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About the author
Jim Lewis

Jim Lewis has worked in the furniture industry for 40 years with a special emphasis on facilitating the transformation process for businesses embracing the Lean Business Model.  Jim’s company, The Center for Lean Learning, is headquartered in Grand Rapids, MI, with an office in St. Thomas, ON, Canada.  He is a consultant, author, and writer.  Jim’s books include, “The Journey to Excellence – Successfully Applying Lean Thinking in Your Business,” “A Testament to Lean Thinking – Cases for Change,” and a series of ebooklets under the main title “Applying Lean Thinking.”  The books are in ebook format and are available through all major ebook retailers and through