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One of the basic tenets of manufacturing is there is never a shortage of challenges. When times are good, the challenge is how to make more on-time deliveries with the least cost possible. In this current economic environment, the challenge is how to make on-time deliveries with the resources available. Regardless of the economic environment, on-time delivery of profitable products that meet the customer expectations is the objective.
As companies reduce employees, it gets more difficult to meet the objective. People with the knowledge of certain tasks leave the business, just as those tasks seem to become more critical to meeting customer expectations. Some tasks are now performed by people who have to be trained to do those tasks or are done by people who have not done the task for a number of years.
One of the simplest ways to make sure tasks can be performed simply and easily by a number of individuals is through workplace organization. This does not necessarily require new equipment, but rather the tools required to do the task are organized in such a way as to be easy to identify, obvious in their proper function in the process and noticeable if not returned to their proper place.
Organization is not only about the physical workplace. Done properly, it also organizes the mental approach to the task. There are many techniques used to accomplish this, from suspending the tools from above the workstation to shadow boards and foam inserts. The best solution is determined by the task and how the operator needs to access the tools. The point is to lay out the workstation in order to make it simpler for the operator and easier for him or her to perform the task properly (rather than improperly).
With the proper workplace organization, it becomes easier to do the task and easier to train new operators.
Currently, one of the most popular approaches to workplace organization is 5-S. This approach was originally developed as a part of the body of knowledge now labeled as lean manufacturing. You can find out more about it in the book “Five Pillars of the Visual Workplace” by Hiroyuki Hirano. In English, the five steps are sort, straighten, standardize, shine/clean and sustain.