Inventory solutions: A well-organized tools and parts area is key to a productive work environment

July 9, 2020
Organizing tools and parts via a Lean 6S system can help tidy your work space and add to the bottom line.

Imagine nuts, bolts, cables, wires, tools, saw blades, drill bits, and spray paint mixed together in drawers, bins, and scattered on the floor of your shop. Now imagine the time it takes your team to locate the part they need, digging through the piles, combing through the drawers, and growing more and more frustrated with every bin they search – all to find a ¼-inch slotted flat head machine screw to repair a downed machine. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and your downtime continues, slowing or even halting production, eventually hitting your bottom line and taking money right out of your pocket.

About the Author: Jim Laprade

This scenario is all too common in the manufacturing industry, and yet, the work your team is doing is of critical importance to the success and profitability of your business operations. The organizing of tools and parts, and knowing where your consumables are is key to an efficient, productive work environment and minimizing your MRO costs. Vendor- and customer-managed inventory solutions not only create efficiencies in the workplace, but these services also optimize inventory, enhance safety, improve productivity, and save your company money.

Applying a Lean 6S system in your facilities will create an efficient and profitable workplace. The system includes six parts: safety, sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain.

Safety. This step encourages every individual within your facility to pay attention to and identify hazards in the workplace so that preventative measures can be implemented in order to keep your team safe and your operations running smoothly.

Sort. Start by having your current consumable inventory fully reviewed, removing anything that is no longer needed for daily work. Unnecessary equipment bogs down operations and creates inefficiencies that can easily be avoided. An optimized inventory reduces cost and waste.

Set in order. Having the right parts in the right location ensures that your team can locate what they need when they need it. This step focuses on organizing your parts, tools, and equipment based on function and location. Placing commonly used parts and tools nearest to the individuals who use them most reduces foot traffic and increases speed. This also ensures that parts are visually easy to navigate.

Shine. A clean workspace isn’t just about having a clean floor and tidy shelves. A workplace devoid of dirt, grime, dust, and disorganized parts helps to ensure the safety and well-being of your employees. Through cleaning and tidying, you are creating a preferred future state of your workspace.

Standardize. Create standard operating procedures and educate, train, and implement them within your workspace. Develop communications (signage) to remind workers of these new procedures and continue to set and manage the expectations of your employees. Making storage and cleanliness requirements visual and obvious reminds staff of expected cleaning schedules and procedures. Implementing regular inspections to ensure these procedures are being followed will also enforce this standardization.

Sustain. After implementing the Lean 6S system (ensuring safety, sorting, setting in order, shining, and standardizing), you must sustain your efforts in order to realize the maximum benefit of the system. Sustain your efforts by following through with your formalized standard operating procedures and training new hires and re-training all employees regularly. Set and manage the expectations of each team member and ensure you have a partner managing your inventory and implementing the system.

Finally, remember that each step in the 6S system is important, no matter how big or how small it is.

It’s easy to put this process in writing, but it’s another to implement it. How do you accomplish this for your facility? There are two distinct options: DIY and Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI). Both options work toward the same goal: a clean and efficient small parts area with appropriately sized inventories; however, the differences between the two will matter to your operations.

Choosing the DIY route is an option if you have the bandwidth and personnel to transform your space and maintain the process. Maintenance is key and critical to the success of the lean system. The DIY option can create internal challenges as it requires additional time and resources that many businesses cannot afford. Conversely, VMI requires these things of your supplier as they are responsible for the transformation and maintenance of your small parts area.

Both DIY and VMI processes should follow the 6S system. The former requires you and your team to work through, maintain, and excel at the system at all times, and this typically means more training and more work hours for your team. The latter requires all of the same but is managed entirely through your MRO distributor. MRO distributors function as an extension of your team without the added cost of another employee and should be well-versed and skilled in implementing the 6S System, taking the worry off of your shoulders and allowing you to focus on what’s important – your business.

Once this system has been implemented, you can be confident that cables are where cables belong, saw blades are no longer mixed with spray paint, and fasteners are located in close proximity to where they are used most. Downed machines can now be repaired more efficiently, getting you back up and running as quickly as possible.

Whether you choose to manage this process on your own or work closely with your MRO distributor of choice, consider the following: your operations deserve the time and focus of a Lean 6S system; your business deserves the positive results of implementing the system; and your team deserves the efficiencies and added safety that the system promotes.

Implementing a Lean 6S system is one step in ensuring your business remains your priority. Focus on optimizing your inventory, creating efficiencies, and adding to your bottom line and reap the rewards of a Lean 6S system.

Tactics and Practices

This article is part of our monthly Tactics and Practices column. Read more Tactics and Practices.

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