Implementing 5S Workplace Organization Methodology Programs in Manufacturing Facilities

Many manufacturing facilities have opted to follow the path towards a “5S” workplace organizational and housekeeping methodology as part of continuous improvement or Lean manufacturing processes.

5S is a system to reduce waste and optimize productivity through maintaining an orderly workplace and using visual cues to achieve more consistent operational results. The term refers to five steps – sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain – that are also sometimes known as the 5 pillars of a visual workplace. 5S programs are usually implemented by small teams working together to get materials closer to operations, right at workers’ fingertips and organized and labeled to facilitate operations with the smallest amount of wasted time and materials.

The 5S system is a good starting point for all improvement efforts aiming to drive out waste from the manufacturing process, and ultimately improve a company’s bottom line by improving products and services, and lowering costs. Many companies are seeking to make operations more efficient, and the concept is especially attractive to older manufacturing facilities looking to improve the bottom line by reducing their costs.

“A place for everything, and everything in its place” is the mantra of the 5S method.  The result is an improved manufacturing process and the lowest overall cost for goods produced.  Implementing the 5S method means cleaning up and organizing the workplace in its existing configuration. It is typically the first lean method that organizations implement. This lean method encourages workers to improve their working conditions and helps them to learn to reduce waste, unplanned downtime, and in-process inventory.
A typical 5S implementation would result in significant reductions in the square footage of space needed for existing operations. It also would result in the organization of tools and materials into labeled and color coded storage locations, as well as “kits” that contain just what is needed to perform a task.

The 5S methodology is a simple and universal approach that works in companies all over the world. It is essentially a support to such other manufacturing improvements as just-in-time (JIT) production, cellular manufacturing, total quality management (TQM), or Six Sigma initiatives, and is also a great contributor to making the workplace a better place to spend time.

Benefits to the company from using the 5S methodology include raising quality, lowering costs, promoting safety, building customer confidence, increasing factory uptime, and lowering repair costs.

Battling ‘The Big O’

Patty and Pete were able to squeeze in nine holes of golf, although it was stressful for Patty. Pete was a good golfer, but not in Patty’s league; he typically shot in the low 80s for 18 holes compared to Patty’s 68-72 range.

Today, going into the 9th hole, Patty was even par and Pete was one under. He was teasing her relentlessly.

The ninth hole was 532 yards long. Patty used all of her recent training and focused as she drove the ball. Her swing speed hit 114 mph and with a 4 mile an hour tailwind, her drive was 291 yards, 30 yards beyond Pete. Her second shot, with a five wood was 12 feet from the pin. Her putt was dead center for an eagle, Pete’s 8-foot birdie putt lipped out of the hole. Whew! She beat Pete by one stroke! Pete was still thrilled that he gave Patty such a close call.

As they left the golf course, Pete said, “John is really working miracles at the factory, given the constraints he is working under. He has developed a disciplined approach to changeovers and uptime, and has eliminated most waste. But the factory really needs to be cleaner and more organized. With all that is on his plate, and no cleaning staff, he will have trouble implementing a 5S. It will be hard to win new customers with the place looking like it does.”

The next morning, as they prepared for the meeting with Oscar Patterson, Patty noticed that John’s color was ashen.

“John, are you alright?” Patty asked.

“You’ve never been in a meeting with Mr. Patterson. He can be a bit … uh …. difficult,” John stammered.

“From what I hear he is a ruthless, brutal dictator,” Pete added.

John did not disagree.

Patty thought it might be best to call back to her site GM to clarify her mission.

The GM told her, “This guy is a blowhard. It would be great if you could review with him your findings and get his buy-in. But, don’t take any grief from him. He forgets that he sold us his company. Now he has a boss, and it is me. I told him you were going to perform an audit and I want him to work with you.”

So Patty, John, and Pete went to Oscar Patterson’s office to review their findings. Patty was immediately intimidated by him. He was a huge man, with a ponderous stomach. But the posters in his office were the worst. One read “I’m the Boss, you aren’t.” Another read, “My way or the highway.” Then she saw, “The Golden Rule of Management: Whoever has the gold makes the rules.” The last one she took time to read was especially troubling: “It’s a question of mind over matter: I don’t mind and you don’t matter.”

Patterson spoke first, “Let’s get this over with, I don’t have time to waste on this nonsense. I’m the boss and I’m responsible for profits, so give me your crap and get out of here.”

The Professor always advised Patty that after an audit it is best to present the strengths first and then the problems. However, never call the problems “problems”; call them “opportunities for improvement.”

“I learned this from my colleague Joe Belmonte,” The Professor told her. She had since met Joe at a few trade shows and was impressed by his wealth of experience and in-depth knowledge of assembly processes.

She started by discussing the very good 25% uptime, and the fact that the operators were quite good at changeovers. Pete had pointed out that the operators told him that John was responsible for both of these successes. The operators liked and respected John, but realized he had a tough job working for Patterson.

As imagined, Patterson warmed up to this compliments.

“I told ACME management that buying my company was a good deal. We cut costs and I am able to make a profit even though I have losers like John working for me,” Patterson bragged.

Patty was furious at this comment. Pete looked like he was going to jump across the table and take a swipe at the “Big O.” John just sat there looking defeated.

“This isn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” boomed Patterson. “Continue.”

Patty then reviewed the 7 mudas. She had been surprised that the company did quite well in this part of the audit also, undoubtedly attributable to John:

1. Overproduction
2. Unnecessary transportation
3. Inventory
4. Motion
5. Defects
6. Over-Processing
7. Waiting.

Hence, Patty’s comments were positive on this topic.

“You’se guys aren’t so bad,” boomed Patterson. “I told you I was good at generating profits, even stuck with a dufus like John here,” he finished.

At that comment, Pete’s faced turned the most crimson Patty had ever seen.

Patty then went on to “Opportunities for Improvement.” She thought she would start with 5S.

“We performed a 5S audit of your facility. This manufacturing philosophy consists of:

1. Sorting
2. Set in Order
3. Shining
4. Standardizing
5. Sustaining the Improvements,” she started.

“As ACME strives to get more customers for our contract manufacturing services, 5S is an important consideration, as many of our current and future customers practice Lean and especially 5S at their facilities,” Patty added.

As she went on, she reviewed the lack of order and cleanliness in the facility. She had photos of dried solder paste on the stencil printers, the flux and dust “stalactites,” and several other examples of 5S violations. Patterson’s face soon matched Pete’s in its level of sanguinity. But he said nothing.

Patty then volunteered that she and Pete would work with John and his team to implement a 5S if desired.

Patty could see Patterson was ready to blow, but she felt she must go on. The only topic left was turning off the nitrogen in the wave soldering machine. As Patty played the wave soldering video, surprisingly, Patterson seemed interested.
She continued, “We think an opportunity for improvement would be to reinstate use of nitrogen in the wave soldering process. First-pass yields have dropped from 94% to 87%, thus increasing rework. Or, perhaps, implementing a more robust wave solder flux. I contacted a wave flux vendor and I have some recommendations.”

At this Patterson became even redder in the face, in a rage he grabbed Patty’s laptop and threw it on the floor. Instinctively Pete dove for the laptop, spun around and inserted his chest between it and the floor. Patty had never seen such agility in a 45-year-old man.

“You bozos are worse than John the clown here!” he shouted, as he gestured toward John.

Patterson then kicked the trio out of his office. Pete was ready for a fight, but John and Patty, both visibly shaken, held him back.

Patty immediately called Sam, her GM, and told him in detail their findings and what happened at the meeting. She gave a good impression of what John had accomplished in spite of Oscar Patterson.

“Wow! Patty, I’m so sorry. I didn’t expect it would be this bad. I’ll change my schedule and fly there today. This situation will not stand. Why don’t you and Pete take a break and meet me for dinner at Dinardo’s at 7 PM? Bring John with you.”

Patty was glad that she backed up her files the night before, even though it looked like her laptop was fine.

Colonial Williamsburg was only a 45-minute drive away, and it was just 10 AM. Taking Sam’s advice to “take a break,” she and Pete drove away and toured this beautiful living museum. They also had lunch at the Trellis.

Surprisingly, with the Williamsburg respite and all of the walking Pete and Patty did, they were more relaxed and hungry than they thought they would be.

On the way back to Dinardo’s, Patty asked Pete, “How did you save my laptop? I’ve never seen such an agile, athletic move.”

“Twenty-nine years of beach volleyball,” Pete answered. “I was good enough that I tried out for the Olympics in ’92. Humbling experience,” he added.

About 10 minutes before they arrived at the restaurant, Patty’s mother called with updates on the wedding plans … only 10 weeks and counting!

John had arrived early at the restaurant and Patty and Pete met him. He looked nervous.

“John, how’s it going?” asked Pete.

“It’s hard to be optimistic,” John answered.

On that note Sam walked into the restaurant.

“This must be John Davis, the new GM, having replaced Oscar Patterson,” Sam stated with great cheer.

The words didn’t seem to register with John. “Congratulations John, well deserved,” Patty and Pete chimed in.

In the few days they were there, Patty and Pete had grown quite close to John. As the information sank in, tears welled up in John’s eyes.

“Do you think I’m up to the job?” he asked.

“John, you are already doing the job,” Patty answered.

Epilogue: Sam had felt it best to have the police accompany him to see Oscar Patterson with the news that he was fired. Patterson became so agitated that the police had to threaten to arrest him before he calmed down and was escorted from the facility.

With John at the helm, the “shop” was not recognizable in 3 weeks, as he implemented a 5S program that he designed with Patty and Pete. He performed some DoEs to find a wave solder flux that could perform well, without nitrogen, for most of his applications. However, he still used nitrogen for a few boards that had a large thermal mass. All of these, and the many other decisions he made were data driven.

Have you performed a Lean audit of your facility? Do you regularly practice 5S and look to eliminate the 7 mudas? Are your decisions “data driven” as John’s are?


Dr. Ron