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  The 5S is an Adaptable Tool for Many Activities

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Without a doubt, we are always learning, or... better said, we are always receiving opportunities to learn. Not everyone takes advantage of that fact and that is what makes a difference in our professional development and results. Lean manufacturing requires this thinking style from us. We must conform to it in order to have significant achievements that will give us a satisfying return on the efforts invested. So, let us wide-open our minds.

One of the main problems we were facing in a recent project I took at a furniture factory was the excess of work-in-process (WIP) inventory. As we know in the lean manufacturing environment, that can be anywhere from some waste to a devastating situation. We had already achieved very good results from the basic 5S implementation. Most areas were looking really good and even the most apathetic associates had to recognize the big difference produced in the ten weeks devoted to 5S and continuous improvement.

WIP though was still one of my biggest concerns. Here is where the light bulb glowed! Use the first S – sort -- in a wider meaning, to establish what belongs and what does not in the area. Create the clear concept in everyone’s mind that only the materials, subassemblies, or parts that are acceptable and complete, and possible to process in the next two hours should be in the area, not more!  

The 5S discipline is magnificent and flexible-adaptable to any situation and can really be of help whatever the circumstances.

One of the main reasons why the “kits” of parts would remain untouched in the different assembly areas was the very frequent case of missing components. The (internal) supplier would deliver those kits to be counted in the “productivity” of his department even when one or more missing pieces would make it impossible to assemble them.

The correct interpretation of the first S was clear: If it is not complete, it is not a kit, and therefore can’t be delivered to the customer. This applies also to defective or non-conforming parts. They simply do not belong in the area!

Taken this concept farther, the principles of jidoka, autonomous quality or quality at the source will come in handy as reasons for each workstation not to accept any non-conforming part or subassembly to work on it, neither will it pass to the next workstation. Again, they do not belong in the workstation if they are not good enough. An expedited correction process is necessary to make the kits, parts, sub-assemblies or any other components comply with specs and be ready for the next step.

As we see, just some mindset adjustment and the expansion of the meaning in a simple and well learned discipline makes a great difference here. We reinforce the belief, show the example, widen the understanding and create the right behavior, ownership, empowerment, and leadership.

Let us become creative 5S proponents and we will find better opportunities and applications all the time!



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