The '5-S' Method for Sheet Metal Shop Organization

The '5-S' Method for Sheet Metal Shop Organization

Everyone is organized in his or her own way. Some are organized so they can find what they need quickly, while others have a more random approach. What one does in his or her own shop is their business, but HVAC sheet metal fabrication shops are competing for business, and that means we need a different level of organization. We want a level of organization that allows the work to move quickly through the shop with little delays and "treasure hunts."

HVAC duct fabrication shop owners pride themselves on having a neat, clean, and efficient shop. Using Lean techniques, owners can improve the shop’s organization further without major capital investments.

The Lean method seeks to add value to the product for the customer. It's value that the customer pays for. Value is the opposite of waste; and Lean works to eliminate waste. The customer doesn't pay us for a sheet or coil of metal. Sheet metal is only of use to the customer when it's fabricated, installed and working. Value is added when the metal is being cut, welded, rolled, beaded,or bent. If the metal is waiting its turn on the plasma cutting table, or waiting to be run through the TDF machine, it’s waste.

Time is money; we want to keep the metal flowing through the shop and delivered to the installers. A key Lean concept is to make value flow. When organizing the shop, do it so the work flows.

Excessive Wait Time
When I help contractors study their shop flow, we discover that sheet metal pieces are waiting more of the time than they're being fabricated. In one company, only about 10% of the steps involved in the entire fabrication process were value-added.

Flow isn't improved by working harder or faster, but by redesigning how the fabrication process works, and how well the shop is organized. Don't do work in batches, where all the pieces are moved through the shop in stacks. Instead, move one duct piece at a time through the shop until it's completed. The burn table may still cut many pieces out of one sheet, but don't keep sorting and moving work in batches. It may seem efficient to batch work, but it actually isn't. When work is done in batches, most of the pieces are waiting while one is being fabricated.

In construction, there's much "treasure hunting" going on. Workers looking for material, tools, or equipment don’t add value. The same goes for HVAC sheet metal shops.

The "5S" method is a Lean tool for creating a more effective shop. It's used to organize the shop's tools, material and equipment so workers have what they need, when they need it and where they need it. This eliminates many treasure hunts that happen all day. We want to locate the tools used at each machine right next to it, or even on it.

Sorting
The first "S"—Sorting—should be done first for a good reason. It means to sort out all that’s necessary for fabrication from that which isn’t. Most shops that I visit have materials and tools lying around, cluttering the work area. Many of these aren't needed. If you haven't used something in the last year and don't have a specific use for it coming up, get rid of it. Or, at least move it out of the main shop work area. One shop I visited had duct stacked in the shop that was from a job completed eight years previously. They had it "just in case" they might need it. Clutter is waste; get it out of the way.

Simplify
Organizing the shop is part of the second "S"—Simplify. For tools and for material used in fabrication, such as corners, screws, determine where each should go based on where they're used. A shadow board or other visual can show the location and make finding it easier. Locate tools and parts by frequency of use, and in the order used, not by some method a library might use. Workers should carry some basic tools with them while working. For example, I watched one worker constantly looking for his tape measure.

Sweeping
"Sweeping" means to physically clean up the work area. Less clutter makes it easier to spot problems and creates a safer work area. Sweeping is more than cleaning. It means to deliberately pick up (sweep) the work areas for tools and material that are out of place and return each to its assigned place as defined in Simplifying. By returning tools to the place they're to be kept, the next user can find them quicker, and there's less treasure hunting.

Standardizing
"Standardizing" means to create standard ways to keep the work areas organized, clean and orderly, and standard ways to do the 5S's. We want to have a standard color code, standard gauges, welding machines to reduce learning curves when looking or use them.

Self Discipline
The final S —"Self-discipline"— means to follow through with the 5S agreements. We want to "maintain the gain." One way to do this is to design a 5S checklist and have different workers score the shop monthly, using the list. This helps maintain focus and indirectly educates those doing the assessment. A simple test to see how far the 5S efforts have come is to use the 30-second test. Can a worker go to a toolbox or material storage ares and, excluding travel time, find what he needs in 30 seconds or less and move on? If not, then more 5S work is needed.

Employee Buy-in Essential
For the 5S methods to be successful in a shop, the workers need to understand why they're important, and they need to be involved in applying them. Otherwise the shop will soon default back to its disorganized state.

Duct fabrication shops can improve the speed of how work is fabricated without sacrificing quality. We want work to reduce treasure hunting to help the workflow. Organization is a team effort, and winning more work is the goal.

Dennis Sowards is an industry consultant teaching shops how to apply Lean tools. His company is Quality Support Services Inc. He can be reached at [email protected], or by calling 480/835-1185.

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