My next series of articles will focus on the various tools of lean that, when properly employed, can ensure a smooth, successful transition to flow production. The tools include 5S (Workplace Organization), Setup Reduction, Process Evaluation, Balancing to Takt Time, One-Piece-Flow, Team Building, Standard Work, Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) and Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE).


You may already be familiar with some of these tools from previous engineering experience, from reading my book or from previous articles in Upholstery Manufacturing magazine. What will set this series of articles apart will be the logical order of implementation and the industry examples that will be entwined in many of them. I'm also changing the format of the presentation to focus on questions I typically receive during an implementation.


Why should Workplace Organization rate such a high position in the order of implementing the lean philosophy? The reason is because Workplace Organization, or 5S in lean terminology, establishes the foundation for successfully implementing all the other tools. That doesn't mean you can't launch a Setup Reduction campaign before organizing the workplace, but the benefits derived from the effort will fall far short of what could have been achieved if the order had been reversed. Searching for the things necessary to complete a setup consumes about half the total setup time, so an organized workplace will eliminate the waste of searching for things.


What is 5S?

5S is a proven method used to systematically organize, standardize, clean and maintain the workplace. However, it's not just a tool for organizing the workplace; an organized workplace is the result of practicing the 5S's on a daily basis.


The 5S's are Japanese words that have been translated to mean a variety of words in U.S. industry. Basically, they boil down to: sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain.


1. Sort means separating all of the necessary things for performing current tasks from the things that are no longer necessary, and getting rid of the latter. This needs to be a team activity, with participation from everyone who works in the area affected.

For instance, the sorting process in the cutting department should include cutters, bundlers, material handlers, etc. My methodology for the sort process is to collect, in a central location, everything that isn't too heavy to move or nailed to the floor. Then I hold a "mock" auction for each item. I hold the item up and ask, "What is this? Where is it used? Who uses it? How often is it used? How many do you need?" In that process, I determine if the item is needed and, if it is, where it should be located and how many are enough. This can be a fun process. Try it.


2. Set in order is simply arranging all the necessary things so they can be retrieved easily. Locations should be based on frequency of use. The more often an item is used, the closer it should be to the point of use. The less frequently something is used, the further it can be from the point of use. Arranging also includes labeling the item and its location for ease in returning the item to the proper location. Labeling also makes it easier for another person to find and return items.

Floor locations should also be defined and labeled for items such as trashcans and work in process. Locations for everything that has been deemed necessary to support the process need to be labeled. Labeling makes it easy to determine when something is out of place or when something has crept into the area that may not be necessary.


3. Shine means cleaning everything that's left from the initial sort. Shine goes beyond sweeping and dusting, though. It should include an inspection of items to ensure they're in proper working order. Check for loose screws, nuts, wires, etc., and replace broken and worn components. It's also important to define what clean means to the team that's sharing the process. Does it mean dusting the tabletop or does it mean washing the windowsills, dusting the tables, and sweeping the floor? A 5S responsibility list should be developed that shows all the tasks the team agreed upon, the person responsible for the task, and how the task is performed.


4. Standardize is not a task, it's the first step in establishing the discipline necessary to maintain good workplace organization. Standardize is developing the routine of practicing sort, set in order and shine over and over. This is where most workplace organization initiatives fail. Management and staff are usually supportive of the initial three steps, but then they become distracted by other issues and the discipline never takes hold.

There's a leading office furniture manufacturer that boasts of being a lean leader, but the company struggles with maintaining flow, cost and throughput because managers have allowed workplace organization to fall by the wayside. Remember, as I mentioned earlier, Workplace Organization establishes the discipline necessary to achieve all other objectives.


5. Sustain isn't a task either. It's the habit of practicing the other 4S's on a regular basis. Maintaining an organized workplace is not something people readily embrace. The only way for it to become habit-forming is through discipline and reinforcement. If the discipline breaks down in the standardize phase, there'll be no basis for developing the habit necessary to sustain the process.


An important tool

Why is 5S such an important tool? Enhanced quality, improved safety, increased throughput, reduced cost and pride of ownership are the results your business will attain through 5S. Good workplace organization also provides a means of differentiating your company from the competition. An organized workplace will create a "Wow!" factor for visitors and will help sell your organization in the increasingly competitive global marketplace.


I've visited plants where a person could picnic in the middle of the manufacturing operation without being concerned about contamination from surrounding equipment or processes. If your plant looked that good, imagine how you, your employees and your customers would feel every time they entered the building.


Don't let another day pass without establishing a plan to raise the "Wow!" factor of your plant. If you have trouble getting people excited about such a seemingly dull project, contact me. I'll be happy to help you get started.

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