Using Lean Principles to Make Your Plant Cleaner and More Efficient

Michael Parks, Veritiv
Tags: lean manufacturing

The application of lean principles is spreading to nearly every type of business and industry. There is literally no place, function or operation that could not benefit from lean enterprise. Research indicates there may be an undiscovered opportunity to apply lean principles to the holistic cleaning of a manufacturing environment.

The History of Lean

For those of you who may not be familiar with lean, here’s a short history lesson. Most everyone knows what Henry Ford is famous for – the assembly line. But what most don’t know is why the assembly line was so transformational. The assembly line replaced a system that had been in existence practically since day one of modern man. It was called the shop system. Everyone had a specialty. Every town had a cobbler, a haberdasher, a plumber and so on. Even in manufacturing, everyone had a specialty. One person made a latch, another person made a base plate, another a screw, yet another a bolt. In a somewhat haphazard way, they eventually found their way into a finished product. So when Ford developed the assembly line, it was quickly adopted. Now, all parts are made in the same place and available at the right time.

You likely have heard the old adage, “You can have any color you want, as long as it is black.” That has become somewhat of a joke today, but for Ford it was a reality. Back in those days, the model change for Ford took 18 years.

Right after World War II, Kiichiro Toyoda saw an opportunity. Ignoring the wishes of his family, he made the jump into automobile manufacturing and focused on the ability to produce quickly, with high quality, but also with flexibility to make the products consumers wanted. One of his engineers, Taiichi Ohno, developed the concepts that now form the basis of lean enterprise. Ohno’s concept was based on simplicity or small steps that could make a huge difference.

What Lean Is and Is Not

Lean is a systematic method for the elimination of waste within a process. Lean is centered on making obvious what adds value by reducing everything else. At the center of lean is a set of principles known as 5-S, which is really all about workplace organization.

Now there are other terms you are going to see, such as Six Sigma and kaizen. These are, in a sense, competing philosophies, but often they co-exist in implementation.

Kaizen is the Japanese word for “good change” and is used frequently in connection with lean. Kaizen is a daily process focused on quick hits and quick change. It usually involves a team leader, a team charter and the assembly of a cross-functional team.

Six Sigma is a set of statistically driven techniques and tools for process improvement. Developed by Motorola in 1986, it is used in many industrial sectors but can be difficult and expensive to install and maintain. Six Sigma seeks to reduce the rate of “defects” in a process. A Six Sigma process is described as one in which 99.99966 percent of all opportunities to produce some feature of a part are statistically expected to be free of defects.

So you can see lean is a simple workplace organization process and not as complex as Six Sigma. However, each has its distinct roles in an overall continuous improvement culture.

Pursuit of Perfection

Lean is the pursuit of perfection while being fully aware you will never arrive but not failing to continually try. Another principle is “what is the customer willing to pay for?” With this principle, the belief is that if you are spending money for anything and not getting 100 percent of what you are expecting, you are wasting your money.

Lean Is a War on Waste

Lean is a war on waste. That is what it attacks. Often it is invisible until lean is applied. The traditional seven wastes are defects, inventory, processing, waiting, motion, transportation and overproduction. Others include product, energy, labor, space and safety. That is critical to keep in mind. You cannot have a truly safe environment if it’s not lean. Let’s dive in and find out why.

The application of lean principles is spreading to nearly every type of business and industry. There is literally no place, function or operation that could not benefit from lean enterprise.

Have You Leaned Your Cleaning?

In this article, I will explore one area that may be an undiscovered opportunity to apply lean principles. That is the holistic cleaning function in a facility. Why do I ask the question, “Have you leaned your cleaning?” I believe there is an undiscovered opportunity to apply lean principles.

Why do I say holistic? Certainly, when we look at the 5-S principles, we see that cleaning is represented. The third “S” is shine or Sieso after all. When companies conduct or implement a lean event, they go through several steps that have cleaning activities embedded:

Sorting is the elimination of materials that are not needed. This certainly “cleans” up an environment and makes it look less cluttered.

Setting in order is about organization and keeping things in their right place, which contributes to a clean and orderly environment.

Shining, the act of cleaning, can also be interpreted as: sweeping, sanitizing or scrubbing; cleaning the workspace; using cleaning as a form of inspection; preventing machinery and equipment from deterioration; keeping the workplace safe; and keeping the workplace clean and pleasing for work to be performed.

Often when 5-S activities are conducted, they are focused on one area or subject matter, not the entire facility and not the overall cleaning function. So one area or function might see improvement, but the overall facility might still need help.

Many companies that have embraced lean have not applied those principles to the cleaning process. In fact, many companies still view cleaning as a “housekeeping” function, almost as a necessary evil. As such, not enough focus is applied, shortcuts are taken, and the overall facility suffers. The focus might be on getting by as cheaply as possible, unaware of the waste that is being created, which far outpaces any dollars saved on the front end.

What are the real issues waste created by this lack of focus?

The same is true for a manufacturing plant, office or any other work environment, or even your home. The longer you wait to make needed repairs and improvements, the more expensive it will be in the long run. And, the longer you take to maintain something properly, the faster it will deteriorate.

Reminds me of that time I did not pay attention to some squeaky brakes, and an $85 brake shoe replacement ended up costing me $500. You see it happening. The carpet is stained and begins to fray, concrete is breaking up, equipment is running slow, and oils are leaking more and more. And yet, no real action is taken.

Cleaning is often not given proper priority or resources. Shortcuts are taken, and things are overlooked. The cost to replace carpeting can be in the thousands, and other types of flooring in the tens of thousands. Replacing other materials can be equally expensive.

Frequently, we see a cleaning staff disconnected from the rest of the business. They operate almost autonomously, often untrained or using “tribal knowledge” to do their jobs. The challenge is when you short-cut cleaning, you accelerate deterioration of the environment, putting pressure on the need to spend huge dollars to repair or replace.

Another factor with poor cleaning practices is employee morale and engagement. Cleaning has a direct link to this, yet many companies short-cut or ignore the cleaning process altogether.

A recent study indicated that 87.8 percent of employees say that the cleanliness of the work environment directly reflects the feeling of being cared for by their employers. Why then do we find so many environments on the decline, not very clean and wasting time, effort and money by simply moving dirt around and ending up with less than a first-class environment?

When employees care more, they are more productive, give better service and even stay in their jobs longer. This clearly indicates that cleaning needs to take more of a priority. By leaning the cleaning function, both the company and the employees can benefit.

Workplace Environment and Employee Emotional Health

It has been said that the implementation of lean enterprise also improves morale. What are the factors contributing to this?

Empowerment is certainly a strong contributor. In William Byham’s 1988 book, Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment, he pointed out that empowerment is the feeling of job ownership and commitment brought about by the ability to make decisions, be responsible, be measured by results and be recognized as a mindful contributor to overall company goals versus just hands doing a task directed by someone else. Lean provides the means for job ownership, measurement, a feeling of self-determination and so on. It’s easy to support the case that lean contributes to higher levels of morale and engagement.

Thanks to the Gallup organization, we know that engaged employees are key to success. Gallup’s studies have shown that companies doing all the right things — making sure employees feel appreciated, having the tools to do their job, etc. — have a 70 percent more likelihood of success.

Empowerment, and therefore higher morale and engagement, also relies on employees taking personal pleasure or satisfaction in the work they do and the environment in which they work. This brings me back to my central question: Have you leaned your cleaning? Or have you put it off to the side, reduced the resources available to the cleaning function or not given it appropriate attention?

Now I would like to show you examples of how a first-class environment could still benefit from applying lean to their cleaning, as well as a third-class environment that desperately needs to apply lean principles.

Case Study #1

This company has been applying lean principles to its manufacturing and research and development activities for three years. It has good organization, is brightly lit and does not appear to have much on which it needs to improve. The company even maintains an active red tag area and process, and demonstrates the discipline of not letting an open address be taken up by something else for convenience or without purpose. The place looks pretty good and does not have a lot of visible issues.

However, if you were to look closer at how they managed the cleaning function on a day-to-day basis, you would see an opportunity to apply their established lean discipline to their cleaning. Their cleaning schedule and standard operating procedures (SOPs) were dated 2003. This raises obvious questions, such as are these SOPs being followed today and is it possible they are no longer optimal.

In many facilities, this same situation can happen when the cleaning function is neglected and not given the proper focus. The “cleaning closets” are disorganized with nothing in any particular place. When materials are stored in this fashion, damage, shrinkage and loss can occur, creating more waste.

From the waist up, this facility looked great, but when you looked down, it was a different story. The floors were dirty, not filthy in-your-face dirty, but stains and spots throughout. The company employs three people to do nothing but “clean” their manufacturing environments all day long. They threw resources at cleaning. Perhaps the outdated cleaning schedules and SOPS were part of the waste created, but so too was the fact that employees were never trained on how to clean. The result was dirty floors, the use of ineffective products, and wasted time and effort.

Under the lean principle of “what is the customer willing to pay for,” you can see several types of waste being created even though they dedicated three employees to the act of cleaning. Every dollar they were spending was being wasted in that they were not achieving the state of clean they desired.

Case Study #2

This third-class environment applied lean principles to its manufacturing process but nothing else. The environment suffers from low lighting, limited lines of sight and a declining state of the work environment. The cleaning processes were simply moving dirt around, not removing it.

Employee care of cleaning tools was insufficient. Broken tools were stored alongside working tools. Supplies and materials were stored and set in place anywhere it looked convenient. A “throw things anywhere” attitude was present everywhere you turned. There was no rhyme or reason for where things were placed, which blocked traffic lanes and created potential safety issues.

How the cleaning equipment was stored hid several types of waste, including time, effort, energy, transportation and product. Space waste was caused by broken, dead inventory sitting in the environment for years. The office work environment was no better. Cubicle walls went uncleaned, hastening the decline of this costly asset. Floors did not reflect a professional environment.

The application of lean and 5-S principles significantly helped this third-class environment. It is a great example of how sort, set in order and shine combined to improve the cleaning impact at this facility. Now, all equipment is addressed and assigned a specific location. This saved up to 15 minutes per employee per shift change just in locating their tools and equipment. Some tools are now addressed and located throughout the plant, reducing transportation and time waste. Space waste in several lockers were eliminated simply by sorting. Nothing is left in the environment that is not being actively used. The facility still has a ways to go, but by leaning its cleaning, it has begun the journey of lean – to reach out and seek perfection.

The 5 Whys

I call these the five whys of why you should apply lean to your cleaning function.

First Why: It increases the productivity of your cleaning teams. They will spend more time doing the value-added activity of cleaning and less of the non-value-added time of getting ready to clean or moving things around unnecessarily.

Second Why: It enhances the company image. How well a facility is maintained directly reflects the company’s image and culture.

Third Why: It improves morale and engagement. Everyone wants to work in a clean, safe and well-organized environment. When you do, you give more. When you don’t, you give less.

Fourth Why: It makes every dollar count. Why spend even $1 for cleaning if the end result is a less than clean environment? Why spend any money for an environment that is declining and leading to unnecessary future replacement costs?

Fifth Why: It protects valuable assets. Proper cleaning and maintenance of equipment are known to extend the equipment’s life and help maintain a higher level of performance. Likewise, effective cleaning and maintenance of the overall facility can avoid the need for costly replacements and repairs. Instead of ignoring the obvious in order to avoid the expense, companies can keep their facilities and all the materials inside in good condition for years longer by simply leaning their cleaning.


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