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Using the 5 "S" method in your process improvement strategy

gears15607918.jpgReducing waste and improving manufacturing processes is at the top of the list for many companies that are trying to save money. Most people will use Six Sigma or TQM to improve the way their business currently runs. One of the most effective tools of a process improvement strategy is the 5 "S" method.

The 5 "S" method is used with lean manufacturing to teach employees how to organize their workstations. Proper implantation of the 5 "S" method will improve efficiency, product quality, and it helps to improve safety. The 5 "S" method is broken down as follows:

Sort (Seiri)
This is the first S. It focuses on eliminating unnecessary items from the workplace. This is when you sort through all the tools and materials in the work environment and eliminate the unused ones. You will keep only used tools. Quite often this process is known as red tagging. A red tag is placed on all the items that are not needed to complete your job. If you do not discard the items, you will move them to a holding area. The reason for this is to evaluate the red tag items for future use. Some used items are moved to a warehousing facility while other items may be discarded.Sorting eliminates broken tools, obsolete materials, and raw scrap materials. This allows you to free up valuable space.

Set In Order
This the second S. Set in order focuses on effective storage methods and efficiency. Set in order is often called straighten because it is the process of arranging tools and equipment after a manner that promotes effective work flow. There are a few questions you need to ask yourself when you are implementing set in order:

  • What tools do I need in order to effectively do my job?

  • Where should the tools I need be kept?

  • How many of these tools do I need in order to do my job?

Some strategies for set in order include outlining work areas and locations, painting floors, modular shelving and cabinets, and shadow boards. Think about how having a designated "cleaning closet" will save you time when you are looking for a broom or a mop. By having a designated area for everything, you will eliminate wasted time by your employees as they search for items.

After you have followed set in order and sort, the next s is shine or sweeping. The clutter and junk should be eliminated by this point and the next process is to thoroughly clean the work environment. The workplace needs to be kept clean and neat in order to be efficient. Daily follow-up cleaning will be necessary in order to maintain the improvement levels you have set in place. Daily cleaning will be a part of the work required, not just an occasional activity when the work environment is too messy. Your workers should take pride in a clean and clutter-free work environment. The shine or sweeping step will create ownership to your employees for their area and the equipment they use. The shine phase will also unveil underlying problems such as leaks, broken equipment, fatigue, contamination, vibration, and misalignment. Obviously if these small problems go unnoticed, it could lead to larger problems such as equipment failure and loss of production. In the end, it will affect your bottom line.

Standardize (Seiketsu)
This means that everyone must know their role. The fourth s concentrates on making employees practice the best standardized rules for their area. The employees can be involved in the development of these standardized rules because they are valuable for the information they deal with on a day to day basis.In the end, everyone should know exactly what their job responsibilities are and they should know exactly how to perform them.

This refers to maintaining and reviewing standards. This is the most difficult s to implement and achieve. Implementing change is hard for many individuals to accept. More often than not, change will occur for a small time period and people will revert back to their old ways, where they feel comfortable. Once you have established the first four s's, they are the new way of operating. You must put steps in place to avoid a gradual decline of the new rules to adjust back to the old way of operating. If an issue does arise, such as a suggested improvement or a new way of operating, then a review of the first four s's is appropriate. Just remember that you need to define the new operating system and set standards so that the workplace stays organized and avoids reverting to old behaviors.

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