Over the last several months, Weifield has embarked on applying lean manufacturing principles in the Prefabrication division — with fantastic results!

The program is called ‘Lean 5S’ — 5S represents Japanese words that describe the steps of a workplace organization process:

– Seiri (Sort)
– Seiton (Straighten, Set)
– Seiso (Shine, Sweep)
– Seiketsu (Standardize)
– Shitsuke (Sustain)

In simple terms, the 5S methodology helps a workplace remove items that are no longer needed (sort), organize the items to optimize efficiency and flow (straighten), clean the area in order to more easily identify problems (shine), implement color coding and labels to stay consistent with other areas (standardize) and develop behaviors that keep the workplace organized over the long term (sustain).

According to Doug Angerman, Weifield Prefabrication Manager, lean manufacturing principles were developed in the U.S. right around the end of WWII; manufacturers in the U.S. were hesitant to embrace these principles, so the originators took these principles to Japan, where they embraced the idea. Toyota was the first adopter of lean practices and almost immediately benefited from increases in production, quality control, and consistency, as well as lower costs through the elimination of waste.

Weifield began our transition to Lean 5S after taking a tour of a medical device manufacturing company who had full-scale 5S initiatives in play.

“One of the first areas we felt needed attention was tools– answering the age-old questions like, do we have that bit, or that wrench? Where do I find it? So we started creating shadow boards at each station and tool boxes. This way we can easily find what we need and easily identify what is missing,” said Angerman.

In the process, Weifield began implementing several Lean 5S best practices, such as the ‘Heijunka board’ which is a visual scheduling tool, a concept originally created by Toyota for achieving a smoother production flow and realizing ‘Heijunka‘ — which means ‘smooth production’ in Japanese. Weifield also utilizes a Kanban labeling system – allowing us to control production and prevents overproduction or underproduction through easy identification of things. The team also holds regular ‘Kaizen‘ for short duration improvement projects.

“Kaizen events are focused meetings with a group of people that work to understand and solve problems,” said Angerman. “We used one of these events to address the organization of our shipping and receiving processes — got everyone together and solved these problems.”

Angerman said the entire Prefabrication team readily embraced Lean 5S.

“All of the guys are very committed to getting better, and are excited about the results we see in our productivity numbers,” he said.

Said Michael Fletcher, Prefab Lead: “Once we got floor tape down, everything fell into place. We separated the shop into zones – each Mechanical Assembler is responsible for a zone and reports to me at the end of the day on the state of their zones. They ensure tools within their zones are put away, tables are back where they belong, people in their zone are wearing PPE, and so on. These assemblers are extra eyes to help keep us aligned.”

Added Jon Heaner, Fabrication Foreman: “We now have a place for everything and a home for everything. If we need to get a spare part, I have a cart for shop spare parts – everyone knows they can pull off that cart and where it is located. In the past, it could be a hunt to find things. All of our shelves are stacked in the same manner, all of our assembly tables have parts in designated areas, and we immediately throw boxes away. It really helps to reduce wasted time and movement.”

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