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Go “Lean” and Organize Your Business

Friday, Nov. 2, 2007
By Rachael J. Mercer, Contributing Editor

Rick Fifer, services development manager for Akzo Nobel Coatings Inc., began his presentation, “5S: A Building Block of Process Centered Environments,” by introducing course participants to a “lean” buzzword blitz, explaining how many terms for processes with similar goals are popping up all over the automotive industry. “Lean has taken the collision industry by storm,” says Fifer. “You cannot open an industry publication or visit an industry-related conference without some sort of reference to ‘lean’ and a lot of supposed, lean-related concepts, theories, processes, principles, systems or tools.”

The Toolbox

Today’s participants learned:
• 5S is a systematic approach to create and maintain a clean and manageable work area.
• Sort, Set in order, Sweep, Standardize and Sustain are the principles of 5S.
• Implement 5S to increase workplace efficiency and employee morale.

Fifer began by defining the 5S principle: “5S is a systematic approach to create and maintain a clean and manageable work area with the ultimate objective of building a strong foundation for a lean transformation by reinforcing teamwork, establishing discipline, and producing quick, visible results,” said Fifer. “Sort, Set in order, Sweep, Standardize and Sustain are five steps you can each take today.”

He uses Venn Diagrams to explain how lean thinking, 6 Sigma and the “Theory of Constraints” can often include competing or overlapping philosophies. Instead of focusing on their differences, Fifer points out how these three theories can work together for continuous improvement in the collision auto body shop, and defined 5S for the participants.

“Despite the bombardment of 'lean' information, many in the collision industry are intrigued by the idea of implementing lean applications within their business but are unsure of where to begin,” he said.

Fifer addresses skeptical participants by explaining why technicians and shop owners should bother with these steps. “Anyone can take these steps, which cost little or nothing to implement,” he explained. “The steps can help improve quality, increase production and efficiency and reduce cycle time and costs. Additionally, these steps help increase CSI and ESI, improve safety and increase profits.”

Participants are encouraged that, although the 5S principles appear to be independent of each other, the first three steps occur simultaneously: Sort the tools, equipment, materials and inventory, then set them in order and sweep and shine. Quickly, three of the five steps have been accomplished.

Following these three steps, participants were encouraged to complete the steps by standardizing their work areas and sustaining the changes they’ve made. Fifer offered specific tips for each of the 5S principles, walking attendees through a step-by-step method for improving each technician’s workspace.

Fifer wraps up his presentation by encouraging participants to “start small to create an ‘Island of Excellence.’” Using top-down leadership, Fifer encourages owners and managers to get everyone involved by scheduling 5S activities into the production schedule, and to make it fun for employees by providing lunch, music and incentives. “5S is more than just spring cleaning,” said Fifer. “It is a cornerstone to establishing a lean culture in your collision shop and must be practiced all day, every day, by every employee.”

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