The system is called 5S Lean, which also provides the foundation for implementing all other lean manufacturing techniques, such as six sigma and Just In Time production. It involves five primary phases: sort, set, shine, standardize and sustain.
In order for the system to be successful, the company’s senior management must promote it on an ongoing basis, educate employees about its importance, purpose and value, and also appoint a leadership team whose members are willing to both champion the process and implement its steps. The team should generally be composed of three to five employees from different departments who collectively possess a wide range of skills and experiences and are willing to serve as the system’s champion.
The 5 Steps
Team members first need to analyze what areas of the shop or plant floor need to be better organized. Then they can develop a reorganization plan that involves the following steps:
Sort: In each workspace, organize all equipment and supplies into specific categories, such as hardware, electronics, or tools. Then prioritize them. Which ones are involved in day-to-day operations? Which ones are infrequently used? Keep only the essential items in that workspace. Place the rest in a designated area. The team can later determine what to do with each item. The goal is to remove all unnecessary clutter. This process is called Red Tagging.
Consider using color-coded containers or cabinets that offer instant visual identification for employees regarding where specific items are stored. All tools, for example, are placed in red bins while electronics can be found in blue bins. It’s also a good idea to evaluate the inventory or par levels of each item so you can maintain minimum stock levels and avoid running short. That will help you determine the size of the container, cabinet or amount of shelving needed per item.
Set: This step involves developing a plan that maximizes the existing workspace or storage area. Evaluate the area or room. Where’s the best place to hang cabinets, shelving, store containers or anything else that will hold supplies?
Keep in mind that items most frequently used must be placed in a convenient spot to avoid excess movement throughout the area. Likewise, store them within reach – ideally at heights between waist and shoulder level – to avoid employees from constantly bending or stretching to retrieve these items.
Shine: Not only should employees be required to return each item to its proper place, but each workspace must be kept neat and tidy and routinely cleaned. This is also a good time to inspect items regarding their condition, calibrate equipment, or spot early warning signs of potential equipment breakdown.
Standardize: This is probably the most important step of the 5S Lean system that will help ensure its success. Create standards that promote a common language among your workforce. For example, all employees now know that electrical supplies are stored in red containers throughout your plant. So no matter where their workstation is located, they know where to find the items they need to perform their job. Workers no longer have to hunt or search for them, which saves time, boosts productivity and enhances workplace efficiencies.
Sustain: Typically, any new practice or procedure requires a learning curve. Allow employees sufficient time to become acclimated with 5S Lean. In the meantime, management must consistently evaluate and reinforce this system, never falling back on comfortable, old routines or habits. Consider rewarding employees who offer suggestions. Over time, the system will need to be continually improved as your business operations, products, services or practices evolve. By soliciting employee input into the 5S Lean process, workers will own it, take pride in it and encourage others to follow suit.
Barriers to Success
Among the biggest obstacles of implementing 5S Lean is employee resistance. Some workers may simply be reluctant to change while others might not see the need to change a routine they’ve been observing for years.
But by inviting employee feedback for developing a logical and well-organized workspace, the leadership team can help employees better understand the system’s purpose and value. In the end, they will be more readily inclined to adopt the changes.
Carving out employee time to implement the system is yet another challenge. This is not something that can be pulled together in a few days. Management must allow the leadership team enough time to develop a world-class system.
Consider piloting the system. Start off by organizing a small storage room. Employees can experience first-hand how the changes impact their ability to easily locate needed tools and other items. It will provide everyone with a better feel for how the system works as well as it effectiveness. Make adjustments as needed. Then spread out. Change the design or layout to better accommodate employees’ needs and the various workspaces throughout your facility.
An alternative is to contact other manufacturers with a successful 5S Lean system already in place. Ask them for tips or advice. Avoid making their mistakes. They can help you kick-start a process that efficiently and effectively organizes workspaces to achieve bottom line results.
Bart Eggert is a product line manager at Akro-Mils, a subsidiary of Myers Industries, Inc. The Akron-Ohio based manufacturer, which supports approximately 300 employees located in three cities throughout the state, creates plastic and metal storage, organization, transport and material handling products designed to improve inventory control and productivity.
To reach Eggert, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800-253-2467.
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