Using 5-Step Workplace Management for Continuous Improvement
BY TOM DOSSENBACH
If there was a simple inexpensive system to use on your factory floor to reduce waste, improve quality and safety, assist in recruiting and retaining good employees, and add handsomely to the bottom line year after year, you would want to use it, wouldn't you?
Well, there is such a system. It is an uncomplicated but effective tool known as Continuous Improvement that came out of Japan several years ago and is widely used by successful manufacturers in this country today. Continuous improvement is not just another fad. Instead, it relies so heavily on common sense that when people find out about it, it makes them feel silly that they don't already use it.
It is a solid program, commonly referred to as 5S housekeeping. The term "5S" was derived because the five steps sound as though they begin with an "S" in the Japanese language. Additional names for the five steps have been used in other languages, but I prefer to use names that begin with "S" in English.
The main point is that all five steps are essential and together form a powerful tool for managing a shop floor -- or any other department in an organization. The 5S program is a simple way to get continuous improvement off to a blistering start in any woodworking plant.
The five steps are: Sort, Straighten, Scrub, Standardize and Sustain. Each is a process leading to the next step and each step requires explanation -- lest anyone think it is only a housekeeping project.
Step One: Sort
Anyone who thinks they do not have enough room in their department, will love this step. I have never seen a plant yet that could not gain a lot of usable space by going through this exercise.
One of the easiest ways to begin the process is to get a big box of florescent-orange tags and venture out into a department with the mission being to objectively tag everything that is not necessary to getting a job done. If there is any question about the legitimacy of an item, it should be tagged and the situation resolved in the second part of this step. There may also be a dispute among workers as to which items are unnecessary. In such cases, a decision should be made to settle the matter later. However, "when in doubt, tag it out."
After tagging is completed, the plant manager, department managers and other supervisors should visit the area dotted with the tags and analyze the findings. There is no point to this exercise if no one is going to learn from it. Each person needs to ask, "Why are these tags here and what can we do to avoid them from appearing again?" Then, set about doing it.
Tagged items with no intrinsic value or with no apparent future need should be disposed of -- meaning sold for salvage, recycled or thrown away. Items not needed within the next three weeks should also have been tagged and should be moved to storage or returned to the department that had produced them too soon. Likewise, excessive work in process should be returned to the department that produced it.
All of this should be done with the full understanding and knowledge of the department managers and supervisors. When this is done, there will be some areas of the plant floor that no one has seen in years. Examples of what someone might find include:
Everything found, as well as corrective and preventive actions taken, should be documented and used in step four.
Step Two: Straighten
All efforts to "sort" will be wasted if something is not done with the new-found space. If nothing is done, the space will mysteriously disappear as others find it to be a solution to their problems. Examples of organizing an uncluttered machine department include:
Step Three: Scrub
After removing the clutter, clean the overhead areas, walls, floors and machines. This involves more than just blowing them off with an air hose. It means cleaning them to the point where the smallest crack in a cast frame or a small oil leak can be easily seen. By doing this, plant managers can lay the foundation for an effective preventive maintenance program that will pay for itself many times over with reduced downtime. Other "scrub" items might include removing old wiring and dust collection pipe, painting machines after cleaning, removing dust and cobwebs from ceilings and walls and painting walls and ceilings bright colors.
Most woodworking professionals can walk into a plant and tell in a matter of minutes whether the plant they are in is producing quality products with some degree of efficiency simply by judging the clutter and cleanliness of the operation. Unfortunately, a lot of those same professionals cannot do the same in their own plants, simply because they can't see the trees for the forest.
Step Four: Standardize
Step Five: Sustain
The 5S system requires the backing and dedication of top management in creating and sustaining a culture of continuous improvement. It has to become a habit with the president and plant manager -- as well as the cutting room supervisor.
One possibility is to consider having competitions between departments to see which is the best at implementing a 5S program. Results could be charted and posted for all to see.
The Benefits of 5S
I challenge readers to institute a 5S blitz in one of their departments next week. Form a team and go through this exercise in one week. Once all five steps are implemented in one department, a company will never be the same -- I guarantee it.
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