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How The 5 S’s of Lean Manufacturing Helped Our Custom CNC Machine Shop

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November 9, 2011 - 2:41pm -- Inner Circle

Guest blogger "OU Professor ('Doman On Lean' Blog)"

In my last blog, lean was defined as a system “that creates a physical and social environment where problems are quickly identified”. That environment starts with stability and stability starts with standards that are simple, clear and visual and right in front of the people who need to see them.

These standards drive a visual workplace that makes problems—out of standard conditions—immediately obvious so that corrective action can be quickly taken.

As the picture above illustrates, the workplace needs to be designed so that it is easy to see what is happening and what should be happening. How do we get to that point? The best tool is 5S!

Many companies start their lean journey by doing a 5S exercise. Unfortunately they don’t understand the purpose behind 5S and they end up doing a 1S or a maybe a partial 2S. But, they don’t complete the 5S process so that they create a standardized visual workplace that identifies problems quickly.

5S is a lean tool that you can use to create a visual workplace. 5S is not an end in and of itself. Yes, 5S can free up floor space, can eliminate wasteful motion, can reduce safety hazards, can minimize lost tools and can highlight excess inventory. But, the main reason for using the 5S tool is to create a sustainable visual workplace where problems are quickly identified.

If I can’t see it, I can’t fix it. If I can see it, I should fix it. That’s part of my job…everyday.

Now that you know what the purpose of 5S is, what exactly is 5S?

As the slide above shows, 5S is a 5 step process. It starts with (S1) sorting out what you don’t need. The key S1 tool is red tagging. It is a simple tag that captures basic information like item ID, reason for red tagging and date. An employee team puts a red tag on anything that is not needed to produce customer value and moves the item to a special area where if no one “makes a compelling case to keep it”, it gets pitched. Red tagging should be done regularly.

The next step (S2) sets in order what is left—machines, material, tools, shelving etc.—to minimize wasted motion. Draw a map of how material or information moves through your processes today and then ask your employees how to redesign the flow to minimize the motion and steps (“the spaghetti”) in the process as noted in the slide below.

Now clean the place up. S3 is to shine the workplace so it is a bright, clean well-ordered workplace and establish a standard of what to clean, who cleans and when it will be cleaned.

See the difference in the two slides below!

S4 standardizes what we did in S1—S3.Establish simple, clear and visual standards right in front of the people who need to know how to red tag, how to set things in order and how to clean the place.

S5 sustains the changes we made to create a visual workplace through employee involvement, communication and training.

A visual workplace is the foundation for continuous improvement—see the problem, fix the problem. See the waste, eliminate the waste…everyday.