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Mastering A Basic Tenet Of Lean Manufacturing -- Five-S


As manufacturing activity slows, plant managers shift their attention to increasing efficiency in their factories through lean manufacturing methods. Knowing exactly where to begin a lean journey is the first task facing plant managers and improvement teams. The answer is simple -- the 5S program. The 5S's are: sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain.

5S is critical to the implementation of all other improvement efforts. 5S significantly helps in implementing other lean tools such as quick changeover, total productive maintenance and mistake-proofing, and it helps to sustain improvements.

The goal and process of sorting is organization. The sort process forces people to remove all items not needed for production. It is most difficult for people who are afraid to let go of parts, machines and data that might be necessary in the future, "just in case." However, "red-tagging" items allows workers to set aside and evaluate items and information in terms of its usefulness and the frequency it is used. The items and information are returned, stored elsewhere, sold, given away or thrown away. Red-tagging is best done in one target area at a time and within one or two days. When red-tagging is completed, problems and annoyances in the workflow are reduced, communication between workers is improved, product quality is increased and productivity is enhanced.

"Set in order" organizes a work area for the maximum possible efficiency. Organization and orderliness work best when they are implemented together. "Set in order" means arranging needed items so they are easy to use and labeling them so anyone can find them and put them away. The key word in this definition is "anyone." Labeling is mostly for other people who need what is in the area, when the area "owner" is away. The ideal is economy of time and motion. When orderliness is implemented, there is no wasted human energy or excess inventory.

"Shine" -- as the word implies -- means to thoroughly clean everything in the work area. Planning a cleanliness campaign is a five-step process including: cleanliness targets, assignments, methods, tools, and follow-up inspections. The goals are to turn the workplace into a clean, bright place where people enjoy working, review the first two Ss and find the source of dirt or litter and eliminate it. At all times, everything must be kept swept and clean. "Shine" should become so deeply ingrained as a daily work habit that tools are also kept in top condition and are ready for use at any time.

Once the first three Ss are in place, "standardize" details a plan to maintain the continual improvement activities. Standardized cleanup integrates sort, set in order, and shine into a unified whole, and "sustain" (the fifth S) involves workers in planning how to keep it that way. Having clearly designated tasks completed on a regular basis is the key.

Empowering shopfloor workers to take control of their daily activities and their work environment is the unifying principle of 5S. By taking an active role in designing and maintaining their workplace, workers take more pride in their work leading to greater satisfaction and higher productivity.

The Northrup Grumman Case

"The best way to stabilize and understand a process is 5S," says Dave Abbott, head of Lean Material and Strategic Integration at Northrop Grumman.

Northrop Grumman first deployed 5S on a part delivery process. The work area assembled a variety of components into a single product.

Before 5S, the area was not well organized, and the process was inefficient. According to Abbott, 5S made substantial improvements in the "point-of-use kitting" area. With 5S implementation, the area saw 93 percent reduction in the space employees travel to complete the tasks and a 42 percent reduction in overall floor space.

The system has become a one-piece flow operation between assembly and mechanics, enabling everyone involved to know what the station has and what it needs. Value stream mapping now provides diagrams of the workstation, indicating the locations of essential tools and materials.

But the process has not been easy, says Abbott. The company has made tremendous gains in small pockets, but it has been difficult to implement throughout the entire company. One way Northrop Grumman continues lean implementation is with a Web site dedicated to distributing lean information. The site has training material and contact information for everyone in the company to access lean tools.

"Rather than trying to bite the entire elephant, we have a way to understand manageable pieces," says Abbott. Companies can understand details of a complex process, and use 5S to implement the future state map. 5S is the foundation for successful lean implementation and can be used to begin, support and sustain the lean journey.

--Charles Skinner is a 5S consultant for Productivity Inc. in Portland, Ore.