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How to Maintain Your Lean 6S Action Plan

By Admin

Guest post by Mike Pedro, marketing content coordinator at Magnatag Visible Systems

The reason mature manufacturers are able to prosper in today’s volatile economy is because they’re willing to adapt their manufacturing operations to include new and effective management principles. In recent years, manufacturing trends have swayed toward a more efficient method of managing workflow, employees, and component processing, in an effort to minimalize losses and optimize lead times. Lean manufacturing, also referred to in some circles as the Toyota manufacturing model, has changed the way many factory managers choose to conduct their manufacturing cycle.

In the case of R.W. Lyall, implementing a lean 6S  program in their factory is a fundamental step toward lean thinking. As mentioned by Greg Hernandez, the Marketing Manager at Lyall, implementing a 6S process in the company’s lean manufacturing efforts has turned out to be one of the company’s most valuable assets to date. The 6S process is a more comprehensive implementation of the traditional 5S process that sparked interest in the lean process years ago. Focusing on five unique actions that can help prevent waste and improve productivity (i.e., sorting, straightening, sweeping, standardizing and sustaining those processes), the 5S method is considered by many to be the cornerstone of lean ingenuity. The 6S process builds upon this foundation, adding a safety component into the mix.

Other manufacturers have successfully implemented the use of Kanban inventory systems, production scoreboards, visual maintenance systems, floor markings, and safety awareness systems into their factories in hopes of fast-tracking their lean development cycles. However, implementing these techniques requires extensive training and continual experimentation—which is the very essence of what it means to adapt a lean train of thought. The question is: How do you ensure that the improvements in your factory are continuous, while avoiding slipping into old habits? The answer is three words: Communication. Motivation. Training.

Time after time, managers jump into the lean process expecting instantaneous results—and that simply isn’t the case. Lean manufacturing starts with implementing an effective methodology to the supply-chain or manufacturing process, followed by the task of sustaining the achieved growth. Only then, if you are able to accomplish these tasks, should you expect lasting results. As a lean system evolves, several components must become visually obvious—what is expected of employees, what needs to be done, and how to do it. As a result, visual factory management has become a standardized practice in manufacturing facilities around the globe. Many industry leaders are adopting visual factory management into their shop floors in an effort to complement their lean processes.

At Magnatag, we produce whiteboards and marker-boards that are used by manufacturers to sustain lean behavior. In the photo below, you’ll see an example of a safety board that is maintained by factory employees to help increase safety awareness and provide motivation to think and work safely.

two men working with six sigma visuals.jpg

Placing a board like this in the right location (making sure all participants on the shop floor can easily see it) is an extremely powerful motivational tool from a factory manager’s viewpoint. Safety maintenance boards not only facilitate discussion of safe working habits and good practices amongst employees, they also create a heightened sense of awareness of factory expectations. And, when you boil the lean process down to the fundamentals of what makes a great factory run smoothly, it all comes down to communication. An efficient means of communicating company expectations and behavior on the shop floor is an invaluable asset to any lean facility.

Increasing employee involvement helps overcome a lack of motivation and focuses employees’ energy on key performance behaviors and metrics that make improvement self-sustaining. Holding on to early gains and maintaining a continuous improvement cycle is much easier when your environment helps you see that goals are being met and that everything is in order. Whether it’s lines of tape on the floor, production scoreboards, add-on lights, electronic message boards, or audible signals, all of these queues serve to alert employees to the important factors that make a factory successful.

The heart behind Toyota manufacturing comes from a desire to seek continuous improvements within the manufacturing process. Without improvement, your factory will not be able to meet the ultimate purpose of implementing a lean thinking: eliminating waste.

 About the Author: Mike Pedro is the marketing content coordinator at Magnatag Visible Systems. He’s an expert when it comes to the ins and outs of scheduling, communication, lean manufacturing, and productivity. He is also editor of The Magnatag Insight Blog.

Interested in learning more about lean manufacturing? Check out these blog posts:

Lowdown on the Lean Manufacturing Process [Infographic]

Leading Manufacturing Magazine Lets Lyall Weigh in on Lean

Lyall's Lean, Mean Custom Machines: 1973 to Today [Photos]

Shattering the Myths of Lean Manufacturing