Improving efficiencies in Vita with 5S

Duncan Geddes

by Duncan Geddes

To discover how the Vita Group’s acquisition of Technical Foam Services has helped to improve efficiencies, we talked to Steve Honour, Operational Excellence Manager at Vita and Przemyslaw Gorecki, Operations Manager about the implementation and benefits of the 5S methodology.

Steve Honour, Operational Excellence Manager, Vita

Steve Honour, Operational Excellence Manager, Vita 

S: “I’ve been working in the industry for 21 years and I’ve always been involved in lean manufacturing. I did an MBA study in lean and I’m also a Six Sigma Black Belt. I’ve been involved in this kind of work since 1994 and joined Vita in 2001, where I lead Operational Excellence within the technical division, which means looking at how the factories operate. 

“We usually start with 5S and then we’ll look at how we can improve efficiencies, and how we can speed things up. A lot of that sometimes is done by investment in new kit, the layout of equipment and training people. There are a lot of tools that can be used, including 5S and SMED (Single-Minute Exchange of Die). We also implement things like SQCDP, which is a daily meeting covering safety, quality, cost, delivery and people. That’s usually a 10-15 minute get together of the key people in the business, and they talk about these topics.” 

Przemyslaw Gorecki, Operations Manager

Przemyslaw Gorecki, Operations Manager 

P: “I came from Poland in December 2004 and I’ve been working at TFS (Technical Foam Services) since 2007. I was a Supervisor and then a Production Manager before becoming Operations Manager.

“Before the acquisition, I had never heard about 5S. So, when Steve came here and started talking about 5S, I said, “I’ve got no idea”. I’d never heard that term before – it was pretty scary for me as it was out of my comfort zone. But now that 5S is being implemented, I’m thinking “how was it possible to work without this?” It was hard to find stuff before. We were wasting a lot of time. Now I’m really impressed with the progress.”

How has Vita’s approach to improving efficiency evolved over time? Is it? Has it become more of a focus in recent years or is it something that’s been consistent from day one, in your experience? 

S: “There’s a lot more focus on it now. Especially around the safety element of it, because if somebody gets injured it’s obviously not good for that individual or the company. Improving Health & Safety is an integral part of the 5s system and part of everything we do.   

“5S removes all the clutter from the workplace and gives everything a home. (A Place for everything & everything in its place). You then clean and inspect the equipment, but you’re not just cleaning it, you’re looking for problems such as cracks in the casing, loose wires, leaking seals etc. 

“Then you have Standardisation which is the system that helps you maintain the first three ‘Ss’ via regular housekeeping, auditing, and involving people. The final ‘S’ is Sustain and to do this it’s critical to have the discipline to ensure that you maintain these new standards, which is probably the hardest bit, to be honest, because once you’ve done it all, it’s very easy to let it all go back to how it was. 

“Part of my job is to assist in auditing the Technical Divisions factories and to make sure that the business is keeping up the focus on things like 5S – recording of downtime, dealing with issues around downtime, and then fixing processing problems & issues.” 

When I first came to TFS in November 2021, I did a 5S audit, and the score was 17 out of 100. The last audit, done in March 2022 was 49. So, it’s a big improvement.” 

P: “I thought it would be something that I’d have to lead on, and it would take a lot of my time. I had to put in some effort and have a lot of conversations with supervisors. But once I got them on board it was like a snowball, and it cascaded down. 

“I’m getting reports from people saying that they’re really pleased with how the factory is changing. Suddenly we don’t have clutter, we don’t trip over stuff that’s not supposed to be there. So, in a pretty short time, there is a quite significant improvement on the shop floor – which people do see and appreciate. 

S: “From November 2021 to March 2022, there was a vast amount of change and I think the description of a snowball is correct. When you start a snowball, it’s very difficult to get it going and bits fall off, and you have to push it back together again. But once it starts rolling, it becomes very big very quickly. And that’s how it actually works, because people see the benefits and they buy-in.” 

Do you have goals in mind over the next year or two? 

S: “Yes, I’d like to see the audit score up to around 65-70% minimum. I’d like to see all the floor painted and marked out, housekeeping checklists on the machines and more involvement of operators in dealing with problems with equipment – regular cleaning of equipment and checking for things like fluids, grease and oil. Basic maintenance. And then also having skilled engineers doing regular preventative maintenance on the machines so that we can get the most out of the equipment. If the machines are in good condition, they are safer and there’s less chance of things falling off and hitting people, wires snapping, etc.”

What is 5S? 

S: “5S comes from the Toyota Production System and was designed by a guy called Taiichi Ohno. It’s used as a base for workplace improvements throughout the organisation. I also see 5S as a test because you need discipline to be able to do it and maintain it. 

“The first ‘S’ (Seiri, or Sort) is about identifying what is needed and what is not in the work area, and to do this we use a system called red tagging. That involves itemising everything that the team feel is not needed at that current time. They’re placed into a red tag storage area for a period set by the team – it could be for a month or more. The team will sit down, go through the list and determine which items are needed in the area and which can be stored elsewhere. 

‘Set’ or ‘Standardise’ is about giving everything that is needed a home so people know where it should be, and things are easier to find. This uses labelling and visual management so that everyone knows where things go, so they can put them back. We also do things like process flow maps and spaghetti diagrams so we can minimise what is known as the ‘seven wastes in manufacturing.” 

‘Shine’ is where you clean and inspect the equipment. You give it a deep clean and you look for problems with that equipment. Then you can set up regular housekeeping.” 

‘Standardise’ is about auditing and getting everybody on the same page so we all know when we should do daily cleaning, when we should do an audit, when we should do asset care. 

“The last part is ‘Sustain’, and that’s having the culture in the business that even when you have a bad day and are not able to do everything that you need to do, you still have the discipline to go back to it.” 

What are the seven wastes in manufacturing? 

S: “The best way to remember it is an acronym: TIM WOOD. ‘T’ is ‘Transport’. That’s moving things unnecessarily – for example, if you have to move three pallets to get the one at the back. ‘Inventory’ is the next one. If you’ve got too much of it in the wrong place, at the wrong time, that can cause problems. ‘Motion’ is about bending, lifting and stretching. So, if people are continually using one arm, or lifting or stretching or bending, it can cause a stress injury over time. 

“The ‘W’ is ‘Waiting’ (and delays). People could be waiting for the next process, they could be waiting for instructions, they could be waiting for material. We look at how to try and minimise that. ‘Overproduction’ is probably the worst one of all the seven wastes because it causes the other wastes. If you overproduce, you have to move it and will have excess inventory which people have to lift and process. ‘Overprocessing’ is mixing things for too long. For example, a batch of products only needs a 10-minute mix, and you give it 20, or how many cuts you do on a sheet of foam. Try and minimise it, so you’ve reduced scrap as well as wasted time.

“The last one is ‘Defects’, which is when things are not right the first time. I call this the hidden factory, and when I go into factories, that’s what I look for. You’ll have a process where materials move along, and then something will go wrong, and then it will have to go back and be reprocessed. That’s the hidden factory.” 

Are any of the 5S aspects harder to implement than others? 

S: ‘Sustain’ is the is the most difficult. If you think about it: the first three are physical things that you do. The fourth element is the system that you use to maintain the first three. And the fifth element is what you use to maintain the first four. So ‘Sustain’ is always a problem because it requires preventative actions, like stopping people bringing unneeded items into the workplace, making sure people put things back where they’re supposed to go. That includes pallets, trucks, tools, forklift trucks and materials. If people don’t put them in the right place, then other people are wandering around trying to find them.”

How do you go about ensuring that you get buy-in from the team? 

S: “It’s about creating an environment where people feel valued and encouraging them to be proactive. So, if somebody puts something in the wrong place, you can say to them, “that doesn’t go there, will you put it back?” or “have you put the right waste in the right bin?” or “have you put the pallet truck back?” I spent 23 years on the shop floor as a Production Operator, and I remember I could never find a pallet truck. It’s really annoying when you want one, and you can’t find it – you have to walk around the whole facility to try and find it. But if everybody put items back, the time wasted will be far shorter.”

P: “That was actually one of the best things that we’ve implemented, marking two spots on the shop floor for pallet trucks. It was even the very first thing we implemented.”

S: “It’s good to see the progress at TFS and the layered approach. I spent a lot of time with Przemyslaw, letting him know about 5S and what it is. Then we did a little bit with the team. On the next visit, we involved people more and then we trained everybody on the shop floor. We were raising awareness so that people understood what we wanted them to do and what we wanted the shop floor to look like. And now we’re actually giving the team leaders responsibility to do the auditing and to look for improvement actions. Rather than just doing an audit and getting a score, they have to do the audit and then if they mark it low, identify what they need to do to get it from a two or three to a four or five. It’s just getting to that process where you can make a difference. We need to get every player in the game and Vita know that we can do that if we involve people and empower them.”

P: “From my perspective, that is the most important part of implementing 5S. You have to it with people, not against them, and that’s the only way that it can work and be successful.”

S: “Once everyone’s pushing in the same direction, all those incremental improvements add up.”

How long does 5S take to implement? 

S: “That is the $50 million question. You can implement it in 6-12 months, but then you have to continually revisit it. So, it’s an ongoing process of continuous improvement.”

How regularly should audits and checks be held? 

S: “The way I like to do it is with the site doing audits every month and looking for improvement actions. I will probably do an audit every three or four months just to check that what they’re scoring is in line with what I think. And then we have a discussion about it. The more people that do the audits, the better they understand what they’re looking for or what the requirements are.”

Is establishing 5S an expensive process? 

S: “You can do it cheaply. Probably the most expensive part of it is when you paint on floors and invest in things like cleaning stations, tool boards or maybe additional tools. Cleaning can be expensive if you need to move a lot of equipment.”

P: “The biggest change is the culture in the company and that is free of charge. That doesn’t cost anything beyond your time and effort.”

What happens if the process doesn’t work? 

S: “Basically, the reason it doesn’t work is because there hasn’t been buy-in. If the management onsite are not interested in doing it, it will not happen. It must be led from the top, but also, it needs to be bottom-up as well.”

P: “Sometimes you’re asking people to do things in a different way to how they have always done it, that’s a path where there can be some resistance. But that fades away when they see that, actually, doing it differently is better for them. I haven’t had any negative feedback in implementing 5S.”

S: “No. I’ve done it in many companies. I don’t remember one instance where people have said they don’t like it. Because it’s a better work environment. You know, it’s cleaner, it’s safer. You can find things. It’s more efficient, more productive. There are just too many pluses. The downside is getting it going and obtaining the buy-in, but as long as you do that in the right manner, with people, it usually works.”

For more on Technical Foam Services’ integration into The Vita Group, check out the articles “An update on integration into The Vita Group” and “Improving health and safety with Vita.” 


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