Running a sheet metal shop can be complicated if not ran efficiently. Many companies have started opting for lean operating models, but even if you don't choose to do so fully, some of the fundamentals can help improve the overall efficiency of your shop. Let's take a look at the 5S method of lean manufacturing and how it can help improve your processes.

The 5S method

First, what is the 5S method?

It's based on a set of five Japanese words that describe the steps needed for organizing a workplace. They are:

  • Seiri, or sort
  • Seiton, or set in order
  • Seiso, or shine
  • Seiketsu, or standardize
  • Shitsuke, or sustain

In some circles, the 5S method has become 6S, with the last step being safety.

How can each of these steps be used to improve the efficiency of your metal shop processes?

Step One — Sort

The first step in the 5S process is seiri, or sort. In essence, this means sorting and cataloging everything in your process. This includes inventorying any individual pieces that might be used in production and eliminating any unnecessary steps from the process.

This can help make your system more efficient by reducing the lost time that might be spent sorting through inventory and improve your supply chain by preventing downtime caused by missing components.

Step Two — Set in Order

Step two in the 5S process is known as seiton, or to set in order. In essence, this step means you keep everything organized and in its proper place. That could mean rearranging all the components used in the manufacturing process. You can also arrange workstations so each piece being manufactured can be quickly moved from one station to the next without interrupting or slowing down production.

Setting everything in order improves your workflow by removing obstacles before they become problems. The smooth workflow will improve your overall efficiency.

Step Three — Shine

Step three, seiso or shine, doesn't just mean polishing the finished product until you can see your reflection in it. It means keeping the workplace clean and safe and improving equipment maintenance procedures. Keeping everything clean makes it easier to spot problems. Maintenance procedures, especially preventive maintenance, will allow you to catch small problems before they become big ones. The latter is essential, especially when having one piece of equipment go down can upset the entire production process. Having a piece of equipment fail could make it difficult to deliver the finished product on time, which could jeopardize your relationship with your clients.

Step Four — Standardize

The next step is seiketsu, or standardize. This doesn't necessarily have to apply to your manufacturing process, though it's essential to have a standardized method for that as well. This step refers specifically to standardizing the means you use for the previous three levels. This ensures all the hard work you're doing isn't being lost in translation when you're training new crew members or shifting your process.

The majority of this step is creating a standardized process and then taking steps to implement it. This could be in the form of training sessions for new and existing employees or in the form of feedback from your employees on how well the process works and any changes that could be made to it. It's all about finding what works best for you and your crew.

Step Five — Sustain

The final step in the process is shitsuke, or sustain. This means you're supporting the changes that make your operation more efficient. That is the primary goal of this step. Reinforce those training sessions, audit the processes to ensure all levels are being followed, and change the process as needed if you run into any problems.

Adopting lean manufacturing processes can be complicated, but you don't have to use an utterly lean model to gain some of the benefits. Try utilizing the 5S process. You might be surprised how much more efficient your shop becomes.