Leveraging practical 5S tools for Lean and continuous improvement progress

Take advantage of existing resources as your organization ramps up its 5S capabilities – a key to lean and continuous improvement progress.


Your company gains competitive advantage and customer service traction through a set of systematic methodologies, such as using a company's existing technology. That’s the advice of Randy Kopf, a continuous improvement manager at Team Accountability Boards are located in 24 areas at the RMB plant in Fountain, CO, showing respective 5S results.RMB Products, Inc. in Fountain, Colo.  As an engineer-to-order, make-to-order company, RMB serves aerospace, chemical processing, semiconductor and bio-pharmaceutical markets. Its rotational molding and laser sintering (additive manufacturing) capabilities provide flexibility in complex part geometrics and compatibility with a wide variety of highly-engineered polymers.

5S at RMB is a key element in the company's preparedness, plan execution, and supporting on-time customer service. It dovetails with overall improvement strategies such as lean manufacturing. Preventive maintenance is among the areas that benefit from the standardized 5S methodology: Sort, Systematize, Sanitize, Sweep and Shine, Standardize and Sustain (with the addition of Safety as a sixth element in some organizations). Practiced throughout an organization or within work areas, this systematic approach helps associates organize the workplace, identify and eliminate problems and sustain improvements.

Lean Training, then Facing a Choice

RMB personnel received lean manufacturing education through a government grant from the Colorado Association for Manufacturing and Technology (CAMT) in 2012 and 2013.

“Either we had to develop our own 5S tool set or find an off-the-shelf solution,” said Kopf. “If you find yourself in this situation, it is a dilemma. We did a Google search of available tools and found Systems2Win. In addition to lean manufacturing, they address six sigma. We acquired the tool set and it was absolutely the right decision.”

RMB identified 24 plant areas to train, audit and score. For each area, they employed a 5S standard checklist, a 5S sustain checklist, 5S assessment and 5S scorecard. “We added preventive maintenance and safety,” Kopf said. “We also created a Team Accountability Board at each work area, with their respective results regularly updated.”

Ramping Up Performance Improvements

“But we were not impacting all areas,” Kopf said. “So we created a peer pressure tool -- a cumulative score report showing how each area fared with respect to another. This had a dramatic impact. First, it helped us complete all 5S audits. Next, it was like a race to improve.”

The low scores identified lean manufacturing improvement opportunities. “After one year, the scores rose across the factory. More importantly, the heavier the workload, the more people were prepared to handle it,” Kopf said.

Practical Process Improvement Teams

RMB launched Practical Process Improvement teams in May of 2012 to solve selected, high-profile issues related to customer performance. It also addressed business process improvements. So far, six such teams have resolved challenging issues related to quality, schedule attainment and risk aversion. Team members include subject matter experts and others. Using PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act)-type of methodology, they zero in on possible solutions, gather data, test solutions and measure overall results against baseline performance with a control metric. They report out the results to the executive team and stakeholders. 

Progress Continues

“One of the elements of CI is that you haven’t reached the end,” Kopf said. Requirements for achieving higher performance levels have been tightened. The CI team added a monthly average scoring on the individual elements of its assessments, revealing the high and low score within the facility and sparking additional improvement initiatives.  Results from preventive maintenance practices used by maintenance personnel and in local work areas continue to draw greater visibility within the operation and from internal auditors representing RMB customer interests. Kopf anticipates extending the use of 5S tool sets to additional plant and office activities.

Lea Tonkin is the president of Lea Tonkin Communications in Woodstock, Ill. She is the former editor-in-chief of Target magazine and Target Online newsletter published by the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME). She has served as business editor for a chain of Chicago-area daily newspapers and as an editor for Plant Engineering, PurchasingWorld, and other publications.

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