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In today’s competitive environment, companies are fueling growth through leaner operations. Adopting lean practices, which focus on the elimination of waste throughout the enterprise, create cost savings while establishing an environment of continuous improvement.

Many manufacturing facilities have opted to follow the path towards a “5S” workplace organizational methodology as part of a continuous improvement program or lean manufacturing process. The 5S system is part of a Lean Manufacturing methodology designed to reduce waste within a facility.

5S is typically the first step towards eliminating waste from manufacturing processes and eventually leads to improving bottom line results. 5S is a foundation of kaizen, which is the practice of continuous improvement based on certain guiding principles, which include:

•Good processes bring good results

•See for yourself to grasp the current situation

•Speak with data, manage with facts

•Take action to contain and correct root causes of problems

•Work as a team

•Kaizen is everybody’s business

•Big results come from many small changes accumulated over time

Kaizen is founded upon five primary elements:

•Quality Circles: These are groups which meet to discuss quality levels concerning all aspects of a company's running.

•Improved Morale: Strong morale amongst the workforce is a crucial step to achieving long-term efficiency and productivity, and kaizen sets it as a foundational task to keep constant contact with employee morale.

•Teamwork: A strong company is a company that pulls together every step of the way. Kaizen aims to help employees and management look at themselves as members of a team, rather than competitors.

•Personal Discipline: A team cannot succeed without each member of the team being strong in themselves. A commitment to personal discipline by each employee ensures that the team will remain strong.

•Suggestions for Improvement: By requesting feedback from each member of the team, the management ensures that all problems are looked at and addressed before they become significant.

In essence, everyone in the organization should be involved in making improvements every day and everywhere in the facility. In addition to these primary elements, there are a number of principles that exist, including the five rules for a good environment, which are called the 5S Pillars.

The 5S Pillars

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There are five pillars in 5S in a continuous improvement program, which stand for:

Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain — or in Japanese, Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu and Shitsuke.

The goal of a 5S program is to get products closer to operations and workers, organized and labeled to eliminate wasted time and materials. The 5S philosophy is “a place for everything and everything in its place,” and helps to eliminate wasted time, wasted space and wasted inventory. Implementing 5S raises product quality and improves work productivity, resulting in lower costs and higher efficiencies.

•Sort: Start by removing all items from your work area. Inspect the equipment and identify those items that are critical to the success of the function performed at the workstation. Eliminate any duplicates, unnecessary equipment, infrequently used items and trash. Identify the non-essential items as either waste or “valuable but not critical.” Store the non-critical items outside of the workstation area. This saves time, space and labor costs, while enhancing productivity.

•Set in Order: Whatever equipment is deemed critical to the operation must now be organized. Assign positions for all equipment, work in progress and raw materials, keeping ease of reach, identification and proximity to work surface in mind as you do. The goal is to maximize the efficiency of the workstation layout. On a smaller scale, it’s the same concept as warehouse layout. The most frequently used tools should be the most convenient to grab. This eliminates wasted time from excess motion and searching.

•Shine: Keep everything clean, every day. Doing this keeps things ready to be used when needed. A clean workspace is a productive workspace, and Seiso literally means “to clean or shine.” Clean the floors, the walls and the equipment and ensure all items are restored to their designated place. Make sure the workstation is well lit. This should be a part of your daily tasks and should not be postponed until idle time is available.

•Standardize: Ensure conditions of work area do not return to the original, disorganized state. Make the previous three S’s part of your standard procedures each day. Implement them with the help of signs, banners, shadow boards, tool holders, etc. Make sure all workers understand their responsibilities and are empowered to perform all of the tasks.

•Sustain: Make a habit of properly maintaining correct procedures to avoid backsliding. Implementing these steps is a continuous process. It is important to ensure that they are done each day to prevent slipping into old habits. Commit to performing these steps every shift and make sure that any changes to your product or process are compensated for at your workstation and problems are alleviated as quickly as they are created.

The end result of a 5S implementation is a significant reduction in space needed for existing operations. Workers improve their workspaces by cleaning and organizing them. Tools and materials are labeled and stored in organized storage locations. Shelving and racks optimize the storage of items in a smaller footprint, helping to improve the order picking process by eliminating the need to search for items.

Don’t confuse the approach to 5S as a substitute for the whole lean philosophy. 5S is just one of the many steps involved with adopting a lean mindset and then turning it into a continuous improvement mentality for all members of the organization.

Lean Assembly

Just-in-time production is a best practice of lean assembly. It based on the principle that companies should hold little or no inventory beyond what is needed for immediate production or distribution. In other words, manufacturers should receive raw materials from suppliers hours before they will be used in production — and the manufacturer will ship the finished goods to customers as soon as it is finished, without holding any inventory. The result is improved efficiencies, lower inventory costs and reduced waste.

To be successful with JIT, other requirements are necessary, such as small lot sizes, quick setup and changeover times, superior quality controls, which all lead to maximize the efficiency of human and machine labor. Putting raw materials and parts close to the production or assembly lines reduces extra movements. Often facilities implement one piece flow, which is the movement of a single product through the manufacturing process, with U-shaped manufacturing cells to eliminate waste, helping to reduce lead times and production delays.

Placing parts close to the manufacturing flow cells can eliminate wasted time of searching for components. Workers pull components from shelves as they are needed for manufacturing. Stock locations close to assembly lines allow quick replenishment. Storage of totes, boxes and lose parts close to assembly areas improves the efficiency of the subassembly process, ensuring the right components are at the right place at the right time.

How can you do this? Eliminate every non-value added operation within your shop floor by minimizing inter-assembly process inventory and space. Ask “Why is this here?” What can we do to eliminate it? Where can I put this to keep it off the floor?

Using modular, dynamic storage units of durable construction at lineside or at subassembly stations can eliminate unnecessary touches and movements. Flow Cells keep sub-assembly inventory organized, off the floor and in the right order for assembly. Parts can be angled toward pickers, boosting picking efficiency up to 30 percent. Parts are always within reach and workers don’t have to travel to find a part, increasing productivity and reducing manufacturing lead times so customer service levels are met.

The goal of every manager should be to improve efficiencies and streamline operations. Gaining a lean mindset and following a lean program allows businesses to achieve a better positioning ahead of other business competition.

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