This month I’d like to tell you about a workplace transformation that occurred when UFP Technologies in Georgetown, Massachusetts employed the 5S system to improve workplace organization. 5S is an acronym for sort–keep only what is needed in the area; set in order–put everything in the right place; shine–keep everything clean and in good working order; standardize–create rules to support a neat, clean, safe, organized workplace; and sustain–maintain organization by measuring progress and taking corrective action when needed.
UFP Technologies is a world leader in the production of packaging products. The Georgetown plant converts foam material into products we see every day and had recently installed a new production process. The company found itself facing congested workcenters and limited storage room. Rather than expand the facility, the company looked at ways of using its existing space more efficiently. It viewed the 5S system as a means of achieving that goal.
A team was organized to receive 5S training and to select a workcenter for a focused 5S event. The 5S team selected an assembly area that had traditionally been difficult to organize. The first task was to assess the current condition of the assembly area. The team started by creating a map of the area, depicting the flow of material, people and equipment. Next, digital photographs were taken of areas that presented opportunities for improvement. The final step of the assessment was completing a checklist that reflected each phase of 5S and provided an objective rating of the area’s condition.
The team began the 5S process with the sort phase. It was obvious from the checklist that many things in the assembly area did not belong there. In effect, the assembly area was a temporary warehouse for many items. Some items would be needed in the area eventually, but certainly not in the immediate future. Each of these items was returned to the warehouse, where they would remain until needed. Other items were identified as scrap and disposed of in an appropriate manner. A third class of items fell into the “not sure what to do with” category. These items were identified with a special tag that included a disposition date. If these items were not claimed before the date on the tag, then they would be disposed of in an appropriate manner.
Once the team completed the sort phase, the second phase, set in order, was begun. The 5S team undertook the task of finding the best place to keep each item identified as being necessary in the area. A major issue for the Georgetown plant is the high mix, low volume nature of its business. The area had to remain flexible and allow equipment and material to be moved in and out of the area frequently. For maximum mobility, many items were put on wheels. Likewise, a defined staging area was created for incoming materials. This staging area was given limited space so it would hold only the number of jobs that could be started in a short period of time. The team realized that there was no benefit to bringing jobs into the assembly area until they could be started. Although the team understood the importance of completing a job once it was started, there were times when priorities changed and jobs had to be stopped and others started to make room for more pressing jobs. Therefore, a small work-in-process (WIP) area was established. When the Set-in-Order phase was completed, the “flexible” assembly area was divided into four main sections—material staging, assembly, equipment storage and WIP. All sections were identified with signs and tape on the floor.
In the third phase, Shine, the team completed a thorough cleaning of the equipment, floors and workbenches in the area. The 5S team also identified other things, such as ceiling fans and lights, that were in need of cleaning and put a plan in place to have these tasks completed on a regular basis.
As the next step in the 5S event, the team developed some ideas for preliminary workplace organization standards needed to keep the place organized. Changes, such as creating a visible location for all cleaning supplies would help to keep the area clean. Other ideas focused on assuring that things were put away when finished and minimizing the amount of material in the area.
Finally, the team formulated a plan for sustaining 5S in the assembly area. The plan consisted of completing the workplace organization checklist on a weekly basis and monitoring week-to-week scores. Posting digital photos of the assembly area as it looked at the end of the 5S event would remind everyone of how things should be kept, reinforcing the work done by the UFP Technologies Georgetown 5S team.