6 Methods Every Successful Manufacturer Needs to Know

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6 Methods Every Successful Manufacturer Needs to Know

Matt Bernot
December 9, 2020
8 min read

Efficiency is always the name of the game. Every business owner tries to accomplish the same thing—to create a sustainable and reliable stream of income without overextending resources. How does this process begin? For manufacturers, it begins with planning and setting the stage for things to come. 

Brought to life in Japan during the 1960’s, the 5S method was first utilized in automobile production. Allowing manufacturers to substantially reduce workplace waste and distraction, the 5S method quickly expanded into other industries, such as government, finance, and education.

Since its inception, technology has changed. Well, more accurately, saying “technology has changed” in the last 50 years is like saying “the universe is large” compared to Earth. Though the original proprietors of the 5S method surely could not have foresaw the colossal changes that modern technology has ushered in, they would certainly stick to the original principles of the method to get things done.

Let’s take a look at how the 5S method can be modernized to fit 21st century manufacturing—and how 2020 has made the 6th S possibly the most important of them all.

Sort (seiri 整理)

The first “S” will be one that’s familiar to you. Basically, it’s taking inventory of your business. No, not just the raw materials and finished products, but everything.

Take time to carefully look around and inspect your surroundings. Account for every detail, no matter how seemingly insignificant. Tools, machines, computers, desks, decorations, pencils—yes, everything. Ask yourself what value each object holds. Does it serve a purpose, or does it simply take up space?

The goal here is to remove clutter, distraction, and anything else that will hamper efficiency. If you have less items clogging up your operation, the less time it will take you and your employees to accomplish your tasks for the day. Certain technologies will facilitate the finding of inefficient processes within your organization, but it begins with you taking stock of all of the variables located in your physical workspace.

Set In Order (seiton 整頓)

At this point, you’ve taken stock of everything. You know where to find all of the spare box cutters, that the plants on the second floor surely haven’t been watered enough, and that the accounting department has seemingly taken control of your business’s pen supply. 

Taking stock of your office is great. You even managed to get a lot of old equipment out of the way that was just piling up dust. But now, ask yourself this—is everything arranged in a way that facilitates optimal efficiency?

For example, are all of the machines used to manufacture your most popular product grouped together on the floor? Are your accountants searching through jumbled spreadsheets in order to find accurate numbers? Are areas and objects appropriately labeled so that the efficiency of their use can be maximized?

Odds are that you’ve recognized—and possibly have tried to solve—many of these issues in the past. Instead of continuing to use band-aids to remedy a gunshot wound, set aside time to dive in and fix the issues at their source. It’ll be messy at first, but you’ll come out healthier on the other side.

Shine (seiso 清掃)

Finding the right place for everything wasn’t easy, but you think you’ve done it. Your employees are starting to notice the improvements, and you’re noticing improvements on their end too. There’s just that little extra pep in their step that comes with a renewed sense of professional pride and purpose.

As it always goes, the only thing harder than getting to the top (in terms of success, organization, building good habits, etc.) is staying there. You got rid of clutter, synced up your operations, and even put a dent in some things you’ve been putting off for a while. You can’t help but ask yourself  “how long can this last?”

Getting organized is a lot like driving a brand new sports car off the lot. Your endorphins are rushing, your confidence is soaring, and the world is at your fingertips. Then reality sets in—your gas tank hits E, your check engine light flickers on, and you find out your insurance company is upping your premium quite a bit compared to your Honda Accord days.

The truth is, you have to work hard to stay efficient and clutter-free. It won’t happen naturally. You and your employees will naturally stick to what you know, but don’t fret. Start each day by tidying up your processes and finish each day by sticking to them.

Standardize (seiketsu 清潔)

For a process or procedure to become truly standard, it needs to be consistently and thoroughly reinforced. This starts from the top down, but it takes a team to make it happen. 

How have you enabled your employees to stick to the system? What is their role in maintaining and upholding the standard? What will keep this all going smoothly?

The goal here is to establish protocols and procedures to keep the 5S method on track. The best way to do this is to keep everyone involved and to be transparent. Make it very clear to your employees what their roles are. The more empowered they feel, the more they will buy into the process you are implementing. After all, the success of your manufacturing operation lies within your employees.

As you continue to optimize your processes, positively reinforce the things that are done successfully and very clearly acknowledge the things that don’t. Ask your employees their thoughts—they could recognize an improvement to a process that you didn’t catch. Don’t let bad habits become the norm.

Sustain/Self-Discipline (shitsuke しつけ)

Your employees have gotten pretty good at following the new procedures you have in place. Heck, it seems they may be starting to like it. (As much as they can like something at work, anyway.) You’ve gotten into a good routine, made progress in areas that you’ve been lacking in, and have seen your employees follow suit.

As your company grows, you will have to continue to trim the hedges. Make sure that you organize training sessions—not just for new employees, but for existing employees to stay sharp, too. On the floor, your veteran employees are your ambassadors. You may not always be visible to new employees, so make sure that your experienced employees are setting the tone.

Your company won’t be immune to issues, but fear not—issues give rise to opportunities. Each procedural flaw that comes to light also brings with it a chance for improvement. Learn from your mistakes and make sure that they don’t happen again. Share your successes—and your mistakes—with your employees, too. Learning and growth happens as a team.

Safety (anzen-sei 安否)

Yes, workplace safety has always been a relevant concern, but it’s taken on an entirely new meaning in 2020. You’ve probably experienced your fair share of issues maintaining safety standards this year.

As you continue to streamline your business, personal safety needs to be at the forefront of that process. If your employees don’t feel as though they are being cared for, they won’t care about their work. It’s as simple as that. So in addition to hardhats, make sure that masks and sanitizer are sorted and set in abundance around your workplace.

This entire article has been focused on the importance of efficiency. And rightfully so—an efficient business is a profitable one. But this sixth “S” is about much more than the bottom line, it’s about the people who make your business a reality. Without taking care of them, you can’t take care of your business.

So, sometimes efficiency will take a little bit of a hit when you are abiding by necessary social distancing guidelines, or when your budget has to include a literal metric tonne of hand sanitizer. It’s ok—people come first. Efficiency and profits will follow close behind.

Matt Bernot Headshot

Matt Bernot

Matt Bernot has spent the past eight years working in software, banking, and finance. He specializes in business technology solutions and teaching efficient processes to help organizations accomplish more. Matt is a huge fan of the Philadelphia Flyers and a father to a pair of incredibly goofy cats.