Monday, February 3, 2014

5S - Tools for lean manufacturing

Now that we have read the basics of lean manufacturing, I would like to introduce a commonly used lean manufacturing tool-kit: The 5S (Sort, Straighten, Sweep, Standardize, Sustain).

Each of these simple techniques revolves around eliminating waste which is at the heart of lean manufacturing. I will take the example of a junk drawer to explain these concepts:

Sort - This refers to keeping only the absolutely necessary items in the unit and completely eliminating the rest. Open your junk drawer today and rearrange each of the items in it in a systematic order. You'll see how quickly you can find that stapler when you need it. This simple disciplinary principle is also applicable at the macro level i.e. in the manufacturing industry.

Straighten - This refers to deciding the most optimized order in which you need to place these items. So you need to place your bunch of post-it and pen close to each other. If you place them separately, then you may take few extra seconds to fetch them. These few extra seconds in a manufacturing unit can translate to minutes, hours or days and have negative effects on the bottom line.

Sweep - This refers to cleaning the entire unit. Doing this has multiple benefits - reduced wear & tear of equipment, ease of mobility around the plant and better hygiene. Imagine a recruiter's business card having glue all over it and you are no longer able to read their contact details.

Standardize - If you are moving from one house to another or changing drawers, make sure the internal layout of your drawer remains the same so that you don't have to accustom to something new. You just close your eyes and fetch that box of pins. Similarly, standardizing your manufacturing process across all units reduces workers' training costs. Also, if you face a problem in one unit, you know that at some point of time in future, you are bound to face it in other units as well. So you go ahead and apply the fix in all units. Additionally it becomes easier to share best practices as well.

Sustain - Finally, the most important, most difficult and the most boring part - sustaining it, making it a way of life. Fetching something from your junk drawer must come naturally to you. Likewise, sustaining these systemic manufacturing practices are important for you to reap the long term benefits out of the other 4Ses.

If you are successful in applying all these 5 techniques on your junk drawer (manufacturing unit), it will look something like this and stay like this:


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