In today’s work environment, a company should strive to produce quality product, maximize margins and reduce cost as much as possible. At times, this can be very difficult. Work ethics and methodologies of “how to do things” have developed over many years and can be deeply rooted in many manufacturing theatres. We find at times the “way we have always done it” may not be the most practical way today. This is apparent with the advances in automation, labor force reduction and shifting market demands.
Of course, automtion has a role in the manufacturing world today as it has taken the task of repetitive processes that are tedious and not best suited for intelligent human interface. However, when valuating tasks our operators and technicians perform, there is a question we should ask ourselves as managers. “Are they working hard?” In most cases we can answer “yes.” However, the other real question to ask is, “Are they working smart?”
“Work Smarter, Not Harder!”
This does not mean simply read the work instructions and perform the task as written. It’s much more than that. Sure, the work instructions outline the task to be performed correctly but how about efficiently? Many times, work instructions are written by process engineers and released to operators based on the engineer’s knowledge of how the machine operates and how to go about making the machine produce acceptable results. That is all fine and good, but sometimes the process can be overwritten and have many extra steps that may not actually be required or can be combined to make the process more efficient. We should not try to write an operator into a corner when designing effective work instructions or processes. This also can cause issues during a process audit where operators have figured out more efficient means of carrying out the process but it is notdocumented.
With that in mind, let’s elevate this a bit and look at efficiency from a higher altitude. When we talk about steps in the context of this column we are talking about steps in a process and steps in movement. For example: Step 1—Turn on machine; Step 2—Walk (step) to cart A and retrieve product. When an operator is at his machine or equipment, he is following steps to complete a task and most likely reset and repeat. Step 1, turning on machine, is solid. Not much we can change there. However, Step 2, walk and retrieve product, does deserve a second look.
What I’m getting at here is this: Are we sure the operator is working smart or is he working hard? We all know we need to keep the equipment and work area clean but are we just wiping down the machine and sweeping the floor? This is where the 5S system comes in.
What is 5S?
5S is the name of a workplace organization method that uses a list of five Japanese words: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke as a guide for work space efficiency and effectiveness.
The 5S discipline really gets down to the heart of working smarter and not harder. When designing a process or reviewing a workstation, it is advantageous to keep 5S in the back of your mind. Let’s look at 5S in a little more detail and see how it can affect both “steps.”
Here is where we look at the area and decide what is needed and what can be discarded. It is a good idea to take a “before” photo so it can be reviewed later. During this phase, it is a good idea to tag items that are not necessary in the area. Some use the term Red Tagging during this phase so that unneeded items stand out. These items should be removed from the work area to a holding area for review and possible disposal. What should be left are the needed items for the area.
Now that we have only our needed items we need to put them in their place. Prioritize the items necessary for the task. How often is the item used? More frequently used items should be stored close to the operator to reduce “step movements.” Label the storage locations. If carts or tables are required, label their locations on the floor. Also, label safety hazards or requirements.
With everything now in its proper place it’s time to clean! This should be a daily 10−15-minute task. Clean inside and out. Create a cleaning log sheet and empower your employees’ ownership. Allow comments or problem alerts.
Here is where we verify the effectiveness of the first three Ss. We evaluate and make sure our organization is correct. We finalize work flow diagrams, daily cleaning sheets and assign ownership for work areas. Create an audit team to periodically inspect the work areas to praise strong ethics and provide guidance for observed nonconformance.
This final “S” involves the training of personnel on the 5S discipline. When successful team members will practice the first four Ss without thinking about it and without being forced. Ownership of the workplace as if it were their own home becomes apparent once the system begins to work.
In conclusion, the focus here is maximizing throughput while minimizing the amount of effort required. Whether this means reducing or optimizing process steps and encouraging feedback by operators/employees, or reducing movement steps by optimizing workspace, tools and removing clutter. Remember, too many steps may be a missed step if a process is overwritten or a workspace is cluttered and operators/employees need to constantly make unnecessary moves or constantly hunt for missing tools.
In my daily routine, I find myself correcting myself on certain tasks by thinking of the above disciplines and quietly whisper to myself, “Todd, work smarter, not harder.”
1. Wikipedia, 5S Methodology.
Todd Kolmodin is the vice president of quality for Gardien Services USA, and an expert in electrical test and reliability issues. To read past columns, or to contact Kolmodin, click here.