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5S/Visual Workplace: Read the Signs and Improve Your Bottom Line

When you enter a roadway, the space is divided into lanes and the shape and color of the lanes' stripes communicate a particular function or rule. Traffic flow is regulated with color-coded signs or signals. Other signs tell you how to get to a particular destination or what food, fuel, and fun can be found at the next exit of the highway. Rumble strips warn you of an upcoming intersection. Parked cars are "shelved" into particular spaces along a street or off the road to allow the flow of other cars. Snow is removed on demand and potholes are filled on a schedule. The roadway operates as an integrated system of people, space, and machines.

Similarly, a manufacturing operation is also an integrated system of people, space, and machines. Recognizing this, we can make significant improvements simply by applying organizing signals, methods, and rules onto the system.

What does your plant communicate about itself? Does work flow smoothly between areas? Are traffic lanes and emergency exits marked and kept cleared? Is there a sense of order? Are materials "parked" (stored) haphazardly? Does your parking (storage) space overflow? Is the inventory level of each part apparent to you? What does the signage say about the "rules of the road"?

Now, imagine a workspace where clutter has been eliminated. Everything has a place, work areas and traffic lanes are clearly delineated and the work flows easily from station to station. People don't waste time looking for tools, materials, or paperwork. The space is safe and organized. Machinery and tools are clean and regularly maintained. Productivity increases. Lead time decreases. Bottom lines are impacted.

The 5S System is a technique of workplace organization that fosters efficiency. It is a process of sorting, set-ting in order, shining, standardizing and sustaining, and it provides benefits that are quickly visible,

5S/Visual workplace, visual results

WMEP Manufacturing Specialist Jim Schneberger is a 5S System expert. Jim recently described a 5S improvement where an assembly area was greatly improved with a few small but significant changes.

The six workers in this area previously each had their own set of tools. What Jim found is that the duplication of tools actually caused inefficiency because tools "migrated" and were often lost. Part of the initial solution was to create a single tool board that all 6 workers shared. Then work content was broken up so the product moved to the tools rather than each operator owning a set of his/her own tools. This eliminated the need for 6 of everything. The workbenches were cut in half and put on wheels so that the 5S team could park a bench at the tool board. This allowed the workers to wheel the product to each progressive step.

Build time was reduced from 8-9 hours to approximately 2.5 hours for this assembly with only a few simple 5S improvements. Originally, the margin on the assembled prod-uct was a negative 18 percent. After all the changes were instituted, the margin went to +30 percent. That's an improvement of nearly 50 percent!

5S Project selection

Selection of the initial target area is a key to success when adopting the 5S strategy. It is critical to begin with an area that is manageable, as the team will be learning and developing as the project is completed. Leadership should set stretch goals to challenge the team, as 5S implementation that lacks clear goals often turns into "spring cleaning" projects that are not sustained.

5S Implementation

As you begin a 5S project, first do a workplace scan of a specific work area - ask the questions and rate yourself. That way you'll have a clear, straightforward system to chart progress as you proceed.

Next, use the insights gained from the workplace scan to create a message board or metrics kiosk for the work area. Take and post "before" photos, and describe the purpose and function of each area of improvement. Be sure to also include a physical diagram to trace the movement of people and product through the area.

Then you're ready to start the five "S"s of the workplace improvement:

1. Sort through, sort out;
2. Set in order;
3. Shine;
4. Standardize;
5. Sustain...

There are many possibilities for 5S improvement within your organization. Even the simplest of tasks can be eating into your profits. It may not be "pins" for you, but can you identify with the example below and see where improvements could be made in your own processes?

A skilled tradesman has the majority of tools he needs at his bench, and with every job that runs, he needs a pin for his project, but he won't know what size pin he needs until the job arrives at his work area.

The job arrives. He looks at his work order, checks the blueprint, and heads for the box of pins, which happens to be located about halfway across the shop in the tool bin. There are some odd 35 pins in this box - none of which are labeled. He spends about 3-5 minutes pulling what is almost literally a needle from a haystack back at his tool bench. He then returns the box of pins to its original location so that it's there for the next worker in need.

Occasionally, the pin he needs isn't in the box because someone else is using it. Then he has to walk the shop floor to find it. Right about now he's thinking, ‘if I had a dollar for every minute that I spend searching for pins...'

And you're thinking 'if I had a dollar for every minute that someone in my organization spends searching for...' With 5S, you can find dramatically better ways to avoid time wastes in your business. Below shows you what you can do with your "pins" and gives helpful advice on how to apply 5S to your own unique situation.

5S is a valuable tool for workplace efficiency. "People learn a tremendous amount about their workplace in this process," Schneberger noted. "They are encouraged to ask, ‘What does that do?' - so that they start to scrutinize what is necessary to do the job, and what is not. By doing the first 5S project, you're creating one center of 5S excellence that can be a model for others to follow." Once you see the improvements that can be achieved, you'll want other areas to follow suit.

A better system - A better bottom line

After 5S has been implemented in various parts of the plant, you will begin to see how an efficient, organized workplace can dramatically affect your bottom line: productivity increases and quality improves. You'll have less waste in materials, space and time. Lead times decrease, on-time deliveries increase, and because the improvements have positive impact on your company climate, you'll find that employees continue to facilitate positive change- all on their own.

If you haven't looked closely at the workspace in your plant, take a deeper look. Analyze the underlying organization that drives the efficiency and productivity that defines your bottom line.

What to do with those pins:

Sort Through, Sort Out Sort the pins by size. Create Containers for pins of different sizes. Determine how many of each size you need to have on hand. In your own plant you will want to establish criteria for what to remove. Ask the questions: Does it belong? Is there too much? Does it help make the product? Establish a Red Tag holding area. Tip: Assign an accounting person to decide whether to keep or dispose of anything you're not certain about.

Set in Order Create containers of same size pins. Mark containers and stack them in order by height for easy reference. If necessary paint a "shadow" of the containers on the tool board or storage area so everyone knows where to put them when they're done. In your own plant you could paint a tool board with shapes of the tools. This reminds workers to put the tools back and it's a great way to reference what's missing.Tip: Don't get stuck on any one particular area- keep an open mind and keep moving forward.

Shine The pins don't need cleaning, but if the containers are clean, organized and well marked, the new system will work its best. In your own plant, define what "clean enough" to keep the area inspection ready. Then clean everything in that area to that level. Tip: Now is the time to spend a little money to repair, replace, and fix those things that don't meet the criteria you've set above.

Standardize Now that people can find the pins quickly, employees can see the benefit in the 5S improvement. Tap into the positive attitudes now to create a plan to sustain the improvements. In your own plant brainstorm how to maintain the new workplace condition with your 5S team. Tip: When employees take ownership in the improvements, long-term success rates increase substantially

Sustain Schedule inspections and have everyone in charge of maintaining the new pin. In your own plant, maintain the new standards through walk-through "status-at-a-glance"

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WMEP provides technical expertise and hands-on implementation assistance to small and midsize manufacturing firms on advanced manufacturing technologies and business practices includinglean manufacturing, ISO, value chain management, and strategic repositioning services for manufacturers and manufacturing facilities located in Wisconsin.

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