Lean Tools: 5S Will Revolutionize Your Workspace (Or Your Money Back)

Posted on February 9, 2012 | in 5S, Defects, Lean Tools, Motion | by

(This is the first in a series of posts about the lean tools.)

So now we know about the lean wastes and how they are the enemy of productivity and financial well-being. How do we stop them from invading our lives?

It time to get equipped with the right tools to take down waste!

Wait, what do we need and where do we start?

When kicking off a lean transformation and culture change, you must first know where you are today. You must be aware of exactly how you are performing. Reading a map and creating step-by-step directions without having a point of origin is asking for trouble – the same can be said for such radical culture change.

So to know where you are today, you need to know how your processes are performing and get them to a consistent “steady state.” This means you must remove as much process variation as possible, and standardize every relevant process. You must standardize the work being done and standardize where the work is being done.

It sounds difficult, but how can it be done? To begin the series of lean tools posts, I’ll focus on the three primary tools that help you find that point of origin: 5S, value stream mapping, and standardized work.

5S is the tool for workplace standardization. It consists of five* elements that are conducive to a simple, structured, and repeatable work cell/space. Well, what are those elements?

Sort – Taking the workspace as a whole, we sort out what is¬†and is not¬†needed. Look at your desk – is it covered in lots of stuff you don’t immediately need? With so much clutter in our lives, removing what isn’t needed is about half the battle of 5S.

Set in order – Now that everything that shouldn’t be in the space has been removed, it’s time to identify the proper locations for what does belong. Keeping in mind the idea of point-of-use storage (keeping tools, fixtures, and components stored right where they would be used, thereby eliminating excess motion) find places to keep everything in the space. To take this to a more visual level, mark those locations with labels and colored tape where applicable (no pun intended).

Shine – Perhaps the most easily identifiable of the elements, shine is all about cleanliness and tidiness. Dirt, dust, and uncleanliness in a work cell can lead to defects and corrupted products. Create a cleaning process for everything in the cell, including acceptable/non-acceptable standards differentiation and cleaning supplies. Coordinate set in order and shine elements so that cleaning tools and materials have locations identified within cells as well.

Standardize – The first three elements are about bringing the work cell to the highest initial standard. The fourth element – standardize – is making those first three elements repeatable across operators/shifts/teams/cells. This is the point where everyone is to be following the same 5S process in precisely the same manner.

Sustain – The fifth element is taking the standard processes created in the fourth element and making sure they stick over a long period of time. The time required to complete the first three elements is miniscule compared to taking standardized processes and sustaining them. It’s easy to get “there” but it’s difficult to make sure you stay.

Each of these elements will be examined a little deeper – talking about every piece of every element would make for a very long and tedious post. However, this is a good starting point.

* – Some companies expand on 5S with additional elements, such as Safety (what can be done to make the workspace safer) and Scan (defining the area undergoing the 5S transformation, sometimes established using caution tape or masking tape on the floor). For simplicity’s sake I’m saying just start with the five listed above.

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