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Applying 5S Methodology in Your Forging Operation

July 25, 2015 / , , , , , ,


While keeping a clean shop may sound more like a slap on the wrist than a business strategy, many industry leaders are finding that implementing and following strong organizational procedures can enhance workflow, reduce safety instances, and improve quality. In fact, according to an article from Plant Engineering, experts say that a clean shop is one of the five signs of a reliable plant. Top performers, the article states, treat clutter as “unacceptable” and consider the tasks required to keep a plant clean “part of routine business.”

To create and maintain an organized workspace, many industrial metal-cutting companies use a lean manufacturing method known as 5S. Often called the “housekeeping tool,” 5S is used to reduce waste and optimize productivity through maintaining an orderly workplace and using visual cues to achieve more consistent operational results. It is often the first lean manufacturing initiative companies implement.

In summary, 5S methodology includes the following five pillars:

Each of the five S’s are designed to work in tandem with each other to create a clean, standardized, and, hence, efficient and effective workplace. By having everything in its place, an operator should essentially be able to turn more metal with less time wasted spent looking for tools and material. This reduces downtime and other process bottlenecks.

However, as this iSixSigma article states, a successful 5S program is more than following a checklist. “5S is more than a form or a procedure – it is a discipline that needs to be understood, embraced, implemented and continually measured by the workforce for the program to be effective and add value,” the article points out. “If used properly, this is a powerful improvement tool that is simple and inexpensive.”

An article from IndustryWeek says that effective 5S programs should be about more than keeping a clean shop. “A 5S system is not a housekeeping program, it is a problem prevention and problem identification system,” the article states. In fact, the article states to be successful, 5S should always be used in conjunction with the “5Y”—the root cause analysis system of asking why five times. So, for example, if 5S reveals that a bolt is out of place, the process should be to ask why continually until team finds the root cause and take action, according to the article.

Like any lean initiative, 5S isn’t a quick fix and won’t solve every operational problem. However, several industry leaders in the industrial metal-cutting space are seeing the benefits of implementing the methodology. A.M. Castle & Co., a metal service center featured in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, relies heavily on 5S to keep work areas clean and eliminate waste. Scot Forge, a leading forge featured here in Forging Magazine, also uses the methodology, and has even added a sixth “S” for safety. Finally, Jorgensen Forge, a forge based in Tukwila, WA, says it uses 5S as way to get all of its employees involved in organizing the workplace. The forge also claims the tool helps maintain standardized conditions and procedures, which it feels is “the key to achieving a world-class work environment,” according to its website.

For many companies, 5S is the starting point in their lean manufacturing journey, and hopefully, the beginning of many operational improvements. By taking the time to create and maintain an organized, efficient workspace, companies can set the stage for becoming a world-class operation.

For more information on implementing 5S, check out the article, “How to Get Your 5S Initiative Up and Running.”