To be lean, you have to be clean

Rick Morgando
Tags: lean manufacturing

Anyone familiar with lean manufacturing is familiar with the 5-S approach - a lean trademark. Seiri (tidiness), seiton (orderliness), seiso (cleanliness), seiketsu (standardization) and shitsuke (sustaining) are the five components that lie at the heart of the Toyota Production System, or what's popularly referred to as lean. They are all important, but let's spend some time discussing seiso - cleanliness.

If cleanliness isn't important, why have so many famous quotes been dedicated to the subject?

"Cleanliness is indeed next to godliness." - John Wesley

"Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run." - Mark Twain

"Cleanliness and order are not matters of instinct; they are matters of education, and like most great things, you must cultivate a taste for them." - Benjamin Disraeli

"All will come out in the washing." - Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Believe me, the list of quotes goes on and on. In the plant, the importance of cleanliness arguably reaches its highest. Here are just a few reasons why cleanliness is included in the lean 5-S system:

  • Dirty machines are difficult to operate effectively, which results in product defects.

  • The dirt, grime, grease and oil dirtying up the machine can contaminate the product.

  • Dirty machines are hard to inspect. As Saavedra says, "All things come out in the washing," including machine problems requiring attention before they affect production.

  • People don't like to work on or around filth and grime, which increases the risk that important tasks won't get done.

  • Leaked oil and grease around the machine creates safety hazards, including the risk of slippage and fire.

  • People take more pride when they are operating or working around clean machines and a clean plant - the same way you feel better about yourself after cleaning and waxing your vehicle.

  • During plant tours, your current and potential customers will notice your attention to cleanliness; it's among the most obvious indicators of a quality-oriented, well-managed business. It could be the difference-maker in getting that next big contract.


    New water-based cleaning and degreasing agents
    can be used in parts cleaners.

    There is much to be said for keeping your machines clean. Here are some tips for keeping your plant clean, lean and reliable:

    1. When a spill occurs, immediately put absorbent pads in place to mitigate the risk of slippage, fire, environmental contamination, etc. - particularly for an oil spill. While this may not provide a permanent solution, it enables you to manage the risk until the root cause of the leak can be found and corrected. Great products are available in the market for soaking up the spills that will not only keep your floors clean but help you stay clean with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

    2. Make it easy, safe and comfortable for your team to keep the machines clean by providing them with the tools they need. A range of products like spray devices, cleaner pumps, foam guns and dilution control systems is available to make short work of cleanup jobs.

    3. Select chemicals that are easy on your employees and easy on the environment. Forget about cleaning with harsh solvents. New water-based cleaning and degreasing agents that are non-toxic and biodegradable make cleanup jobs safe and effective. These cleaners work, and they help you comply with EPA and state volatile organic compound (VOC) regulations.

    4. Don't forget to extend cleanliness to the inside of your machines by cleaning parts thoroughly before assembling machines during repair. This will help you avoid startup-related failures. The same water-based cleaning and degreasing agents you use to clean the outside of your machines, floors, walls and other areas of the plant are just as effective in cleaning parts when they're coupled with appropriate parts-cleaning devices.

    5. Don't make cleanliness an occasional area of focus to appease and impress visiting dignitaries and VIPs. The real benefit comes from continued focus. Remember Disraeli's warning: Cleanliness and order are not matters of instinct. You'll need focus, tenacity and leadership to gain the benefits you desire, and it's indeed an "acquired taste."

    "Cleanliness is indeed next to godliness." Perhaps that's why you've got to be clean to run lean. Improve the reliability and inspectability of your plant and its machines by taking a fresh approach to cleanliness. Plus, you'll make your maintenance and operations employees happier, healthier and prouder to be a member of your team. You'll also find that your customers, the EPA and OSHA will be impressed by your efforts. In all cases, the benefits are a slam dunk.

    About the author:
    Rick Morgando is the brand manager for Kafko International, the manufacturer of Oil Eater cleaners and degreasers. For more information, visit or call 800-528-0334.

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