Workplace Organization Boosts Productivity

by Tom McBride, Partners for Creative Solutions, Inc.

 Dramatic productivity improvements can be achieved using teams to implement the 5S/workplace organization process (sort, set-in-order, shine, standardize & sustain).  A 20-person company wished to institute 5S to help prepare for anticipated growth.  Their proprietary production process converted customer-supplied material to finished product by adding a critical feature.

After evaluating potential return on investment and likelihood of success, a small production line was chosen as the pilot.  Four operators ran a processing machine and a packaging operation.  There were two shifts, five days per week.

A 3-day improvement event involved a team consisting of operators from each shift, supervision, support personnel, and an outside trainer/facilitator.  The scope focused primarily on 5S, but also borrowed from other pertinent tools like changeover reduction and Total Productive Maintenance.  The following major steps were taken:

  1. Training on 5S principles
  2. Disposing of what was not truly needed in the work area, and cleaning the area
  3. Analyzing the current process for opportunities
  4. Developing and implementing solutions
  5. Establishing ways to sustain the gains

Videotaping a few cycles in step 3 was most revealing.  Significant waste was incurred before the machine even started. Operators made multiple trips across the building to get things they needed, such as a roll of tape.  Each trip required the machine and crew to wait.  Soon, a couple of quality checks were performed, and again the machine and crew waited.  Since this machine was the pacing item for the line, any stoppage impacted production.

Based on the machine’s cycle time, the team calculated the theoretical daily output to be 80 pallet loads.  Using the generally accepted 85% of the ideal for world-class performance, there was a long-term potential of at least 68 pallets per day.  Although eyes rolled at the suggestion that they could more than double their production from current performance of 31 pallets per day, the desire to improve was evident. 

We focused our efforts on the question “what prevents the machine from running?” Solutions mostly involved effective application of 5S, but also included establishing best practices, performing quality checks off line, and establishing a common focus among operators and support personnel.   

Results were astounding!  In the first four weeks following this team event, production rose over 45% to an average of 45 pallets per day!  Since this short event only addressed low hanging fruit, we are confident that the team can continue to increase daily production.