The 6S System – a Key Lean Manufacturing Tool at the Foundation of Continuous Improvement Initiatives

6S MaintenanceBuilding a house, with all of the different parts – from the framing and electrical to the roof and the drywall – has some similarities to how Swiss-Tech views the structure for Continuous Improvement.  Just like you’d start with the foundation when building a house, the foundation of our Continuous Improvement efforts, is the 6S System.

“6S is like the foundation of a house, because it impacts or supports so many other parts of Continuous Improvement efforts”, Swiss-Tech SQE and Continuous Improvement Engineer Frank Frederick said.

The 6S System is also a key Lean Manufacturing building block and has positive effects at many levels of the Continuous Improvement process.

What are the 6 S’s?

The 6 S’s

First comes first. What are the six S’s?

  1. Sort – Examine contents of the area and what to remove
  2. Set in Order – Labels, signs, lines on floors, organizational indicators
  3. Shine – Thoroughly clean and keep it clean
  4. Standardize – Guides for how to maintain changes
  5. Sustain – Teach, communicate and build buy-in
  6. Safety – Maintain hazard communication, machine guarding, person protection equipment, incident prevention, loss prevention

Using the 6S System

6S is an organizational process that we use to improve different areas or departments at Swiss-Tech. “6S really shows us and our teams that there is a Place for Everything, and Everything in its Place”, Frederick said.

Our 6S projects are always team based with people who work in the area and then employees who don’t work in the area every day to bring different perspectives to the project.

“We start with education.  Learning the fundamentals of the 6S System sets up the chosen team for success right out of the gate” said Frederick.  The team meets in a dedicated training room to learn the 6S System.  After the team understands the basics, we then use a Plan, Do, Study, Act approach; all of our 6S projects start with the team discussing the area, making a plan and then performing the agreed upon improvement plan.  Everyone is involved and encouraged to speak up throughout this process.  After planning, and with team alignment on the goal, we execute.  We assess at each phase of the 6S process to verify success prior to beginning the next step.

Benefits of 6S

We already mentioned that 6S System is a key building block of Continuous Improvement, but there are several more benefits that make these projects so impactful.

  • After the project is done, it creates a work environment that is more organized and allows for more focus, better workflow, and efficiency for the team.
  • It allows the department or team to provide better support to the rest of the manufacturing team.
  • It improves team communication and morale because they worked on and completed the project together.
  • Any current outside perceptions of clutter or a lack of organization is eliminated.
  • Quality at the source is easier to maintain because areas are easier to work in and it’s easier for employees to find what they need to complete a job.
  • Point-of-view storage saves time because everything is easy to find, close at hand and where it needs to be.
  • The full process – the project, the plan, and the execution – builds a team’s ownership and pride in their area.
  • The areas generally look better for employees and customers.

Maintenance Area 6S Project

Recently, we completed a 6S project in our maintenance area. The team, led by Frederick, included Nate Cruz, Lisa Straight, Mike Reinke, Auston Conboy, Steve Eichorst and Manuel Valadez. The three-day project focused on our previously unorganized maintenance area.

The 6S Project helped the team realize that just because that’s what they were used to their area looking like…there was a much better way to organize and set up their workspace.

“For me as a facilitator, you get people who initially see it as change that won’t stick, but I help them understand what it is, what the benefits are and once we get started, it becomes motivating for those employee because they start to see instant change,” Frederick said. “The team members usually get into the project and start to own it and people end up loving the change.”  An engaged team that embraces ownership, is key to long-term success of the Sustaining element.

And getting good feedback from other employees helps too.

“After we’ve done an area, you see other employees looking in to see the final product…and people start asking when their area will be next,” Frederick said.

“The 6S System can be one of the most difficult projects to execute, but it has been the most rewarding to me, as I am able to see instant positive change in the target area and the development of the team as it relates to the 6S process. You can see the pride and ownership develop and they begin to understand what nice looks like”, Frederick said.

More 6S at Swiss-Tech

“Sustaining the change is the hardest part of the process but developing those good attitudes about the process is what helps sustain it,” Frederick said.

Frederick has been part of projects of all sizes at Swiss-Tech and other organizations, our 6S teams have completed several formal projects, but Frederick likes to use the 6S principles in most of the projects he’s involved in.  “Having support from management and maintaining that the fundamentals are standard practice sustains the healthy culture we’ve worked hard to build.”, said Frederick.

Our teams will continue to work on 6S projects as part of our commitment to developing a safer, easier to work in environment with reduced inventory, mistakes or breakdowns and elimination of waste – which are all part of our Continuous Improvement efforts.

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