Building a Successful Lean Manufacturing Program Takes Effort

Building a Successful Lean Manufacturing Program Takes Effort

Never being satisfied with any aspect of our operations is key to our success at Laser Precision. Even our continuous improvement program is subject to…continuous improvement.

Before joining us 15 months ago, Jeff McGuire, our Production Manager, spent most of his career working for Toyota, group companies, establishing relations with strategic Japanese suppliers and bringing their lean manufacturing protocols into line with the Toyota Production System (TPS) as created by Toyota. With years of experience and training with TPS experts in  Japan and the US, we asked Jeff to provide his insights on what makes 5S Methodology (see Adding Structure to Continuous Improvement) successful or unsuccessful.

Missing the Mark

“Taken at face value, a majority of organizations think the first three elements of the 5S Methodology (Sort, Set in Order and Shine) are about housekeeping,” he said. “The program is often presented to workers as if a clean workspace is an end in itself, and if maintained, value to the company will automatically follow.

“The real goal is productivity. Take tool placement, for example. Having a tool in its proper place (Set in Order) means that each time the operator reaches for it, they pick it up without any loss of time. It’s the same whether they are at Station One, Two or Three. We’re talking seconds here, but seconds or even micro-seconds saved are key to any 5S program.

“Each of the first three steps are also about making the job easier for the individual to do on a daily basis. Looking around for lost tools or tripping over misplaced parts for eight hours take a toll on the body,” Jeff said.


It is Jeff’s opinion that non-Japanese companies do not spend enough time nurturing the proper mindset in the individual worker at the start of a program. “It’s not enough for management to understand the program and create a set of standardized behaviors and post them on bulletin boards,” Jeff said. “In Japan, children learn these behaviors at an early age. To them it is just considered to be common sense.

“In the West, more effort is required. The effect of micro-seconds saved or the stiffening of muscles are cumulative. They are invisible in the moment. Constant and proper education is required to create tangible benefits in the minds of workers to what is not observable moment-to-moment. Momentum starts to build the instant they see how they benefit personally. Once each individual worker personally adopts this outlook, benefits start to flow from the worker to the company to the customer because they are actively looking for ways to bring value into every aspect of their job.”

Holistic Viewpoint

“The conversation of 5S usually revolves heavily around personal workspaces,” Jeff said. “But Sort, Set in Order and Shine equally apply to the way a particular facility flows internally from station to station.” At Laser Precision, we’ve given a lot of thought to the way we’ve placed our equipment on the floor for the best process flow. From our lasers, to large and small press brakes, to the CNC milling section, to manual grinding right down to the logistics of the dock. The flow is very clean and highly functional. This careful planning has given us a head start in adopting 5S methodology in the shop.

5S Failure

Jeff says that most organizations only have a 4S program. “The first ‘S’ that falls away is ‘Sustain,’ the hardest one to master. Many companies quickly lose interest in lean systems. Part of the reason is their program has been diluted by consultants who haven’t taken the time to understand the true concepts of the original TPS as created by Toyota, or have ‘cherry-picked’ elements for fast implementation. Organizations trying these ‘mini-5S’ programs don’t see any effect on the bottom line, but do see the consulting fees mounting up on the expense side of the ledger. So, they quickly abandon the idea.”

With leaders like Jeff guiding our efforts, we will continue to “Sustain” our lean manufacturing methods at Laser Precision for the benefit of our workers, our company and especially, our customers.