Ever wonder where to get started with LEAN? Well here’s a no-nonsense, jump-right-in introduction to my favorite 5S tools, complete with recommendations on how to use them!
Industrial Label Maker
One great 5S tool for just about every business is an industrial label maker. One of the hardest things about creating labels in any sort of production business is that a lot of moving parts and moving bodies can lead to an abundance of wear and abrasion. Most of the time, labels don’t handle this abuse very well, and can become faded, unreadable, or completely destroyed in a relatively short period of time if you’ve been using masking tape, paper, or some other low-grade material. Alternatively, industrial label makers can produce labels made of vinyl and be many times more durable. As for the use of labels themselves, your possibilities are fairly unlimited here: Labels can be applied to the outside of shelving to easily enable employees visual identification (and customers, in a client-facing environment), or to bins and other organizers for the same purpose. Labels can also be applied to equipment lockers for each employee, as well as some gear itself – such as a safety or ‘hard’ hats.
Floor tape is a LEAN tool whose viability largely depends on the type of business you’re in. In general, floor tape is best utilized by any sort of industrial work environment. One primary use for floor tape is to indicate walking lanes and “safe areas” for workers on foot; this is especially true if you have a workspace in which vehicles or moving machines work alongside employees on foot. In the case of machines with moving parts, floor tape can be used to indicate the radius of a swinging arm or part so that workers don’t accidentally get injured by moving production pieces. Additionally, lanes created with different colored tape can help indicate where forklifts and other small vehicles are to be driven, and where it is safe to walk. In other 5S organizational projects, or in daily operations, floor tape can be used to organize materials or items as they move into or out of production. Using distinct floor tape colors in your staging area to create boxes on the ground can let your employees know exactly where certain items should be placed as they are made, making loading orders a relative breeze. Take it one step further, and you can actually adjust the size of your floor tape box to be used as visual indicator: If you know how many items should fit in a certain space, you can gauge productivity and by extension under or over-production with a visual check of the items in your staging area floor tape bins.
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Foam Tool Organizers
Ever see nice new tool sets with foam inserts that keep everything exactly where it’s supposed to be? Well, making these organizers for a custom set of tools at the industrial level is also an option for improving organization, and, thus, productivity. Foam tool organizers can be made by simply tracing your tools on a piece of durable foam, cutting out the shapes with a razor blade or, preferably, an industrial hot knife, and then applying the finished foam layer to a backing material such as durable plastic or fiberglass. (You can find a step by step guide on how to customize your foam tool organizer here.) Workers tend to lose a lot of paid work time looking for things that their colleagues have left lying around after completing various projects. Foam organizers can give your tools a central return spot. As long as workers know what to do and are trained to promptly return tools to their spaces after use, all of your projects involving those tools and equipment will benefit. These organizers can also be used for more than just traditional “tools.” If you have small parts, items employees need to see or receive each day, or just about anything else, a foam organizer can act as a holding box for items valuable to your business is a variety of ways.
Floor signs are one of my favorite LEAN tools because they’re just so gosh darn simple and straightforward. Unlike floor tape, floor shapes, and other tools, floor signs require no training to learn a system and no mental association between a color and a meaning or message. Floor signs just say what they need to say, and in plain English. Need to let people know where garbage should go? There’s a floor sign for that (Don’t believe me, click here). Want employees to wear hard hats beyond a certain point? There’s a floor sign for that as well. In fact, for just about every workplace situation or need there is an appropriate floor sign that can be used. Even if you can’t find what you’re looking for, there are customizable and even changeable floor signs that allow you to order a specific sign or change messages on the fly. In general, industrial floor signs can refer to either standing signs (such as those yellow fold-outs you see to indicate slippery areas around spills) or floor vinyls which actually apply to the ground itself.
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A 7 Waste Observation Form is a LEAN technique that allows a business to zero in on a specific area, office, or operation and then look for waste. The “7” in the name refers to the seven categories of waste someone conducting the observation should be looking for; distinct categories allow you to catch things you might not otherwise look for if just searching for general “waste.” The seven categories are: defects (defective items with any sort of problem that makes them less than desirable or unusable), inventory (any material in an area that is more than what is needed by the step immediately following, and will therefore sit in place until more demand comes along), processing (any activity that doesn’t add value to the product or end user and just eats up time), waiting (places in which permissions and paperwork bottleneck forward progress), motion (personnel movement that doesn’t directly benefit forward progress), transportation (time spent moving material from one area to another), and overproduction (more products than required by the next process – or customer if at the end of the chain). These forms can give you, in explicit detail, an idea of what you need to remove.
Floor Marking Shapes
Floor marking shapes are used much in the same way as floor tape and floors signs: as visual indicators of a certain area or process. Some of the more common uses of floor shapes are the use of four corner pieces to outline where pallets of materials should be set for loading or storage, or to mark off aisles so that materials aren’t placed in the way of high-traffic areas. Arrows are also used often to indicate flow direction or to lead someone from one stage of production to the next.
30 Day Action List
A 30 day action plan is largely a responsibility tool. It is a document which can be viewed on either a computer screen or printed out, which lists all of the actions that need to be taken care of within the next month, or 30 days. The idea is simple, but the beauty is in the small selection of details required by the list. The tasks are listed, along with the date they are completed and who is responsible for them. In addition, it will be noted what problems were run into, if any, and who is responsible for fixing them, along with any recommended solutions. These statistics keep workers responsible and on task for mid-range goals.
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