5S Supplies Improve Safety and Organization in Auto Repair Shops

A few months ago Creative Safety Supply donated a variety of 5S supplies to an auto shop at Portland Community College. CSS also worked with the college to help make their facility safer and more efficient. You can read more about the changes made here.

After I seen the success of this project I decided to work with a fairly large auto repair shop to assist in their lean project. The owner of the shop told me that over the past year or so his shop has been busier than ever, but he was actually earning less profit per customer. In addition, he had reported an increase in the number of accidents that had taken place, one of which was very serious. My job was to evaluate the shop, and help come up with and implement lean strategies that would both improve efficiency and safety.

Shop Evaluation

I worked with the shop owner for a few days watching and learning how things were being done. During this time I noticed quite a few problems that I thought I could help with. At the end of the third day, I sat down with the owner and laid out my initial assessment, and what I thought could be done to improve the shop. Here are the main points that were covered:

  • Visible Safety Signs – While the shop had most of the safety items that were needed, they were often out of place, and never labeled clearly for easy access.
  • “Danger Zone” Safety Tape – In areas where the vehicle lifts were, as well as a few other spots, I recommended using high quality safety hazard tape (See Figure 1) to indicate where the danger from these machines was. Marking off, for example, how far out one of the lifts could go would quickly alert people to watch out for moving parts.
  • Shop Tool Organization – I estimated that this shop had 4 or 5 of virtually every tool that they needed. In some cases, it was necessary to have multiple of each tool, because they were frequently used. In other cases, however, the shop owner explained that he had to repurchase items that were misplaced, and then they were often found again, resulting in many unnecessary duplicate tools. I recommended using foam tool organizers (See Figure 2) to avoid this issue in the future.
  • Organization Improvements for Parts – Just like the tools, the shop had hundreds of different parts that they kept in the shop for when they were needed. The parts, however, were not kept in any discernable order, which made it very difficult to find things when they were needed. This also lead to a lot of unnecessary ordering of new parts, sometimes with rush delivery.
  • Training – As with most major safety and organization improvements, it would be necessary to train the employees on all the changes.

Many of the changes were very minor, and the shop owner approved them right away. Some of the organization improvements I recommended included a fairly large investment in new equipment and 5s supplies. While he was hesitant at first, he came around when I showed him how quickly it would pay for itself through reduced waste and dramatically improved efficiency.

Implementation of Safety Signs & Safety Tape

The shop owner and I planned to work over a weekend to put in the safety signs and safety tape, so it could get done while nothing else was going on in the shop. I had ordered all the necessary safety floor tape and safety signs that were necessary so we had them on hand. Along with two individuals who were hired to perform some cleaning, we put the following safety items in place:

  • Fire Extinguishers – We found all the fire extinguishers, hung them in their proper places, and placed signs above them for easy visibility (See Figure 3). For two of the extinguishers, we also added signs around the corner to ensure they could be seen by the entire shop.
  • Eye Safety Signs – There were several work areas where sparks or debris would be in the air when in use. We inspected the eye safety equipment, and added numerous signs letting people know that eye safety goggles were required in the area. This included two larger signs, and several smaller sticker that were placed directly on machines for improved visibility (See Figure 4).
  • Moving Vehicle Areas – We used solid yellow safety floor tape to identify the path that the indoor vehicle used for lifting parts and people traveled. In the past this vehicle would drive where ever it was needed, but now it would be required to stay in the designated area, allowing for a much safer and more predictable workplace.
  • Danger Zones – As mentioned above, we took yellow and black striped safety floor tape and marked off the areas where all machinery with moving parts were used. Anytime employees were inside the ‘danger zone’ they were required to wear certain safety equipment (which was indicated by safety signs). In addition, we marked off the areas where vehicles were driven in and out for repairs.

On the Monday when the employees came in, we spent the first 90 minutes of the day explaining all the changes. They were largely receptive to the adjustments. At this time, I also explained the future changes for organization. While the employees seemed more skeptical of these changes, they were more than willing to give it a try, since they knew the existing system wasn’t working.

Implementation of Organizational Improvements Using 5s Supplies

The following weekend the shop owner and I worked to implement the new organizational system. The implementation process was long, largely because we had to take all the existing parts and tools and get them organized. For the parts, we installed large set of industrial shelving, and placed everything in a logical order based on the frequency of its use, and what types of jobs it was used for. We used industrial label makers to create highly visible vinyl labels to indicate where all the parts would go.

In addition, each part was labeled with a custom QR code that was linked to a new inventory tracking software. This way, the shop would always know exactly what was available, and what needed to be ordered. In addition, this software would make keeping certain items in stock much easier, which would prevent the need to use expedited shipping, which would save the shop an estimated $2000 per year.

Implementing the organization system for the tools was the last challenge we faced. We used the same industrial label makers to create vinyl labels with QR codes (See Figure 5) for each of the tools, as well as labeling where they would be placed when they weren’t in use. Each employee was then given their own QR code, which was placed on their ID cards.

When someone needed to use a tool, they took one of the scanners (which were placed throughout the shop) and scanned their own code, followed by the code of the tool they were checking out. This would help track who was using which tool, and when it was put back. This allowed for improved accountability, and much less wasted time looking for tools.

Adoption of the System and 5s Supplies

The following Monday, we took a couple of hours and trained everyone on the new systems. To their credit, the employees all agreed that they would follow the new systems. As was expected, over the first month, there were some problems, especially with checking out the tools. Mostly it was related to people forgetting, or else being in a hurry so they didn’t follow the standards.

Over time, however, these instances became less and less frequent. As the employees began to see how these systems were able to benefit them directly, they were not only more likely to follow the standards themselves, but also to encourage the other employees to do the same. The shop owner felt that the changes were an incredible success, and over the following 12 months, he saw significant improvement in his profit per customer rating, and the amount of waste he saw in his shop went down significantly.


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