Our recent Asia trip was exciting in many ways. A number of our classmates got to travel abroad for the frist time. We all got to practice a little bit of Japanese or Chinese, and we saw a handful of really interesting factories. Since I had never really visited a factory before (except for a candy factory where my friend’s dad worked when I was in 3rd grade). So I was most interested in seeing manufacturing operations.
A few months ago, some MIM alumni came to our operations class, and gave us a quick primer on some LEAN management strategies. If you are already a business student, I’m sure you’ve heard of 5 S. If you’re new to the world of business, check out the Wikipedia article. Briefly, 5 S is a methodology for storing and maintaining items.
These steps can be particularly powerful in organizing tools on a factory floor. Think about lost, misplaced, or disorganized tools. Imagine the drawer in your kitchen that holds scissors. How easy is it to find them when you need them? Perhaps you’ve thrown a few other things in there, and the scissors are covered by that take-out menu.
Or maybe your roommate put them back in the knife drawer by mistake. The extra seconds it takes to find them probably aren’t a big deal when dinner is on the line, but it can contribute to massive inefficiencies on the shop floor. 5 S is designed to prevent that.
I saw this tool board which perfectly demonstrates 5 S in use at a computer factory outside of Shanghai. Notice the outlines on the board? This tells us right away that the tool is in use. It also makes it obvious where it belongs when the employee is finished. As long as the workers know how to use and return tools – and they follow the procedure, the factory should be able to minimize time wasted due to missing tools. Operators know precisely where to find the set of pliers they need.
It’s often easy to separate academia from the real world. It can be hard to apply theory outside of the classroom. OFr those of us who don’t have a business background, it can be especially difficult. The MIM Asia trip offers opportunities to draw connections between the two. It reinforces the application of the things I am learning in class.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing a bit more about our trip. I think it will become more and more relevant as we unpack the experiences over this next term.