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6S is a popular tool used in lean manufacturing environments and its primary benefit is its simple approach. Too many it appears just like good old fashioned common sense. This article outlines some of 6S' obvious benefits.
Phase 1 - (整理) Seiri (Sorting): This is a process to get rid of any unnecessary tools and equipment items from the workplace area. Everything else is either discarded or stored. This step is crucial to achieving greater efficiency through workplace design.
Phase 2 - (整頓) Seiton (Set in Order): This process focuses on organising work areas for maximum efficiency by organising tools & equipment to promote optimum work flows through minimising movement. For instance, all tools & equipment should be located as close as possible to where they'll be needed and processes designed to maximise efficiency. For example, if a tool is only to be used at the end of a machine, that's where it should be located.
Phase 3 - (清掃) Seisō (Sweeping): This method relates to maintaining a disciplined, systematic approach to ensure a clean & tidy workplace and tip top machines. When every shift ends, work areas are tidied and tools and equipment are returned to their designated locations. This should be carried out every day, rather than become an ad-hoc activity that's introduced when things become disorganised. This principle also suggests that by regularly cleaning machinery and retaining it close to its original condition when it ws bought, its efficiency and quality will not be greatly affected. Machinery that's retained in good condition experience less unproductive downtime and will produce quality levels which are very close to new machinery.
Phase 4 - (清潔) Seiketsu (Standardizing): This requires that work practices are followed in a uniform and consistent manner. Many companies have followed the first three Ss many times, only to evidence conditions slowly deteriorate. The “Standardize” part of the 5s' addresses this issue. It's better described as the “what, when, whom, where” of 5S. For instance, when a specific machine needs to be maintained, there should be a system (typically checklists and documented instructions) that details what needs to be done, when it must be done, by whom and where.
Phase 5 - (躾) Shitsuke (Sustain the system): The process of sustaining the system is considered to be the more difficult S to accomplish. Years of experience showed that the other 4S' were not always followed. Maintaining a strong focus on this innovative method of working is essential to prevent anyone slipping back into their previous habits and ways of working. One method to sustain the system is to carry out regular audits, although care must be taken to avoid a system isn't punitive. The 6S system relies on staff involvement and commitment at every levels, and an audit that punishes people will potentially destroy any good work that should arise form the audit.
Phase 6 - Safety
A good 6S implementation has several advantages. The company's assets are kept in good working order. Quality is maintained to levels similar to when plant and equipment was first bought. Maintenance costs are less because deterioration is identified quickly. Set-up times reduce due to better organization and perhaps the greatest benefit is that staff morale improves due to improved working environments. Some senior management feel that staff won't sustain clean and tidy environments. However, in our experience, most employees will implement and will happily sustain the 6S system. Staffs prefer an organized, safe and clean workplace with a 6S culture, rather than a dirty, disorganized one.