As a member of the manufacturing business community, you know that quality is always king. But as technology continues to improve and manufacturers work to increase the range of their product offerings, many business owners will attest to the fact that a streamlined manufacturing process is just as important as quality when it comes to staying competitive and showing your clients what makes you the best in your business. Finding ways to make your production processes efficient without sacrificing quality can be a difficult balance to strike, but there are a set of steps that you can work with your team to implement to help your business maintain its excellent product quality while streamlining every project.
The 6s Lean
Many manufacturers are familiar with the 6s Lean system, also known as the 5s + Safety. This system was designed specifically to promote productivity without sacrificing safety or quality, and while it may seem like a lot of information to take on at first glance, implementing it into your business practices is fairly simple. The 6s Lean outlines six strategies to use daily in your manufacturing business to ensure a high-quality streamlined product:
Sort. This first step sets the tone for the rest of the process. Sort your materials by what is needed and what is wasteful and mark them accordingly. For the items that are needed, decide which ones are needed immediately and which can be stored somewhere nearby for easy access without cluttering up your workspace. If you know you can’t use some materials or their quality has been compromised, go ahead and get rid of them. Keeping unusable materials will not only make your workspace crowded but may also prove to be disruptive later down the line when you can’t remember why this item is sitting on your desk (this is also why marking each item according to its usefulness is key to making this step a success!).
Set in order. You know which materials you need, so now it’s time to set them out in order of when you will use them, and, if applicable, where. Your employees may be sharing a manual mill with other team members or maybe they each have their own space to work – whatever your physical space will allow, your employees can work together to find the best way to set out the needed materials in order through a system that allows them to grab the next item as soon as it’s needed.
Shine. While this step does encourage cleaning, the main idea is to set yourself up for success with an organized, tidy workplace and taking steps to prevent any injury that may be caused by clutter or uncleaned areas. Check the floor around your workspace, your desk, and any surface that might need tidying up. You can also use this time to clean your equipment and tools; this may not be a daily task but you can check for cleanliness on a regular basis to ensure all equipment is working properly and safely.
Standardize. When it comes to best practices, especially in terms of streamlining production, standardization is the key. You need to develop a set of practices that apply to everyone across the board. Depending on your business’ products and needs, you can decide how much leeway and individualization each team member can safely implement, but the goal of this step is to establish that crucial processes are being handled the same way as often as possible. For example, you may decide to use the same third party vendors as much as possible so your products can be maintained in a standardized way that is easily shared with clients. Communicating standardization might be accomplished through a checklist that hangs on the wall near each desk or through weekly team meetings that remind everyone of expectations and updates; you can tailor this to the needs of your employees as you remember that those needs may evolve over time.
Sustain. This step is one of the hardest, because it’s never truly complete! It’s all about maintaining the practices that you have implemented in the first four steps. At first, you may find that your team is eager to jump right into sorting their materials and setting them in order, but it could prove to be wearying, especially for those employees who feel that valuable time is being wasted or that some steps are unnecessary. A key part of sustainability in your new processes is to bring your team members alongside you as you adjust to these changes – tell your employees why you are making these changes and what you hope to accomplish with them. This not only allows your employees to understand the process behind your process, so to speak, but also gives them the opportunity to offer suggestions or changes based on their own experiences and needs. Working together, you can create best practices that allow everyone to streamline their processes in a more cohesive manners.
Safety. Interestingly enough, the final step of “safety” was only recently added to the other steps. Before it was added, safety was considered a given – every manufacturing employee and business owner knows that ensuring safety is a daily, if not hourly, task on the manufacturing floor, and safety seemed to be intrinsic to the other steps. But even with that in mind, many manufacturers felt that a specific focus on safety would encourage manufacturing business owners and employees to remember that taking to steps to keep themselves and others safe is a vital part of their work day. The idea of safety is both proactive and reactive – finding ways to prevent accidents is always ideal. But are you prepared to respond quickly and effectively if an accident does occur? Reviewing safety standards regularly with your team is the best way to keep your accident numbers down and every employee safe and well.
The 6s Lean model may seem like a lot of changes to make, but you will almost certainly find that not only do these changes flow intuitively from one step to the next, but that you will also find your company’s production processes more efficient than before. Don’t forget – while the goal of 6s Lean is to create processes that your team can use every day, your steps may not remain stagnant! Update your plans as needed to reflect the best practices for your employees and clients.