As we began our Lean Construction journey back in the early 2000's one of the first tools from our Lean Toolbox was the 5S process. Grunau's Lean mission is "To continually examine our processes to provide greater value to our customers without waste."
To assist in accomplishing our mission, the 5S tool follows a five-step process of Sorting, Straightening, Sweeping, Scheduling, and Sustaining to reduce waste. These principles have been applied universally within our tool room, shops, offices, vehicles and jobsites.
- Sort: Divide necessary items from unnecessary, and remove items that are in the wrong place. Apply the 80% rule: if not used 80% of time, store it elsewhere.
- Straighten/Set In Order: Organize items so there is "A place for everything and everything in its place". Use Visual Arrangement techniques, including labels, to reduce search time. Commonly used items should be close to the location where they will be used.
- Sweep/Shine: Sweep the place visually, and physically clean the work area. Prevent accumulation of dirt and debris with innovative ideas. Return any stray items to their proper place as determined during straightening.
- Schedule/Standardize: Establish a systematic method to maintain the condition accomplished in the first 3Ss. Create standard, documented instructions and work flow guides.
- Sustain: Follow through with commitment to maintain the changes generated by 5S. Make the first 4Ss habit and part of the company's culture.
The first area to use the 5S tool was in our tool room. Having worked with the company for over thirty years acting as Project Engineer/ Project Manager on various projects around the country, I knew that supplying our tradesman with the proper tools at the right time was critical. The process, an example of which is shown below, needed improvement.
A team was assembled to develop and execute a plan to reduce the amount of time to fill a typical order by 50%. As is true with all the Lean tools, it is necessary to measure before and after changing a process if one is able to say with certainty that waste has been eliminated.
We counted the number of physical steps to fill the order based on the present location of all the tools. Approximately 525 steps. The team started looking at the items that are more frequently used and placed those items closer to the staging area for outgoing tools.
The team also looked at how tools were stored and decided to pattern the tool room after a supermarket with aisles and shelves. The aisles were then clearly marked with large overhead signs and tools on shelves were clearly identified. There were labels for everything; a place for everything and everything in its place. As a result of their efforts, the steps were reduced to 262.
The rule within the Grunau Company is: you should be able to locate in 30 seconds or less the item you are looking for. If not, we need to look at doing a better job of 5S. Think of the amount of time that is wasted as a result of looking for "whatever" at a jobsite, office, shops, wherever.
Without doubt, that first Lean 5S event in our tool room provided the impetus to move forward. When Grunau's President walked into the tool room, his reaction was "WOW"!
Yes, what a difference Sorting, Straightening, Sweeping, Standardizing, and most important, Sustaining can do in just a few days of contracted effort by a team of dedicated individuals all making valuable contributions.