October 2012 | Commentary | The Lean Supply Chain

Eliminating Wasted Motion

Tags: Supply Chain Management, Lean

Paul A. Myerson is Professor of Practice in Supply Chain Management at Lehigh University, and author of Lean Supply Chain & Logistics Management. 732-441-3879

At some point in our careers, most of us have felt we've wasted time or effort accomplishing a job that should have been easier, more efficient, and possibly safer to do. One way to help workers make better use of their time and effort is to identify and eliminate sources of wasted motion.

In a truly Lean work environment, workers should be able to quickly and easily identify items they use most often, while those they use less often should be farther away and less conveniently reached. Lean practitioners call this Point of Use Storage.

Another Lean concept, Visual Workplace, can be applied to any facility. It emphasizes that a work environment should display easy-to-understand labels, lines, and instructions.

A third concept or tool known as Kanban minimizes motion and transportation waste by providing visual clues to manage minimal inventory through the pull of downstream processes. This concept requires stocking just enough supplies or inventory in an area to keep it from being cluttered, while at the same time maintaining enough inventory for workers to perform their tasks without running out of the needed materials.

These Lean concepts can be applied in various areas of your supply chain, such as an office or warehouse, as part of a system called 5S or Workplace Organization. The 5S elements are: Sort Out, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. 5S is a team-based tool that represents an excellent starting point to develop the culture and discipline needed to implement Lean.

Implementing 5S

The 5S process begins with assembling a team and identifying a workplace area to improve. It is usually best to start in a messy area, such as a supply closet or maintenance room, so you can show greater improvement.

The team starts with a workplace scan. They take "before" photos, rate the area's current state, list action items, and diagram the current layout and movement of materials and people.

Then the team tackles each 5S element in turn:

  1. Sort Out. The team goes through the area and throws away or relocates items—garbage, furniture, equipment, tools, excess inventory—that are not necessary to perform the activities normally done there.
  2. Set in Order. This step refers to the ideal organization of the area. The guiding principle is "a place for everything, and everything in its place." In this step, consider concepts such as an improved layout emphasizing efficient flow and a Visual Workplace.
  3. Shine. The team gives the area and all its equipment a heavy-duty cleaning.
  4. Standardize. The first three S elements are intended to transform the area to an ideal, safe condition. To maintain this condition, the fourth S element—Standardize—defines activities that support the ideal condition, such as review rules; inventory, tool, and equipment checks; and housekeeping checklists.
  5. Sustain. The final step may be the hardest 5S activity of all: maintaining the area in its best possible condition, keeping it "tour ready." If a culture of workplace organization doesn't take hold, the entire activity becomes a spring cleaning exercise that has to be periodically repeated.

If we can focus on reducing motion waste using Lean concepts such as 5S, Visual Workplace, more efficient layout, and Kanban, we can make our workplace safer and more efficient for the long run.

Parts of this column are adapted from Lean Supply Chain & Logistics Management (McGraw-Hill; 2012) by Paul A. Myerson with permission from McGraw-Hill.