Printing Lean

Waste, waste everywhere

August 31, 2007

We took a look in the last issue at something that everyone can see — inventory. This time we're tackling another topic that everyone has seen but most have probably overlooked: waste. I'm not talking about material you can't use or sell. I'm talking about what the Lean community refers to as the "Seven Wastes", and they're everywhere in your shop.

What are these seven wastes, you ask? Before we can answer that question we need to talk about another term —value. Value is defined as worth in usefulness or importance. Value is what our customers expect from us. Value is whatever the customer considers as "worth in usefulness or importance" and will pay for.

Waste, in simple terms, is anything that the customer feels does not add value to the product or service that they're paying for. In the printing business the customer values having images transferred to a substrate and presented in the finished form that they specify. Those actions add value to them; they wouldn't want a blank label if they ordered four-color process, nor would they accept sheeted product if they had ordered roll product.

Anything that does not add value to the product or service that we provide to a customer is waste, and this is where people get tripped up, because in order to eliminate waste you first have to see it.

In a Lean environment there are seven basic wastes that we strive to eliminate. They are (modified for printing):

-    Overproduction: Producing labels, forms, cartons, or signatures too soon or in a quantity greater than that desired by the customer;

-    Waiting: Includes operators who are standing idle next to a running machine waiting for a roll or lift to be completed. It also includes downtime waiting for materials, equipment breakdowns, or waiting for someone to sign off on the setup or run;

-    Transporting: Excessive movement of materials to and between people, equipment or storage locations;

-    Overprocessing: I call this one "overkill". Excessive or needless processing or reworking of a product, especially one that already meets customer requirements;

-    Movement: Any movement by a person that does not directly add value to the product. Having the right anilox in the press is value added, but walking around looking for the right anilox is waste;

-    Defects: What most of us think of when we hear the word waste — bad product or scrap;

-    Inventory: Having more raw materials, work-in-process or finished goods than what is absolutely necessary to maintain continuous production or to provide what the customer wants.

Now that we know what the seven wastes are, how do we get rid of them? The answer lies in one of the simplest tools in the Lean tool kit: Five S.

You may have heard of 5s (or the 5 S's) before. If you have you might be in that majority of people who think 5s is a housekeeping exercise. Let's be absolutely clear on this one point — 5s IS NOT a housekeeping exercise.

5s is a proven method to identify and eliminate waste or muda (Japanese for waste). 5s helps you to see obstacles to continuous flow (mura) and eliminate overburdening people or equipment (muri). We'll tackle mura and muri in another column.

5s helps you to see overproduction and excessive inventories, helps you to prevent defective product from being made, helps prevent injuries and accidents by eliminating excessive motion and transportation, improves morale The list goes on and on.

For those of you who haven't heard of 5s, the term is derived from the first letter of each word that describes the five steps in the process.

Sort through and get rid of everything, and I mean everything, that isn't used on a daily basis. I can't tell you how many times I've been told, "Hey, I need that" tool that's covered in months of dust and grime.

Set In Place everything else that's left. This doesn't mean simply lining every hand tool on a pegboard and painting outlines around them. This means putting an item where it's going to be used most often. If a specific tool is used only in a specific location then put it as close as you can to that location. The idea is to have the tool where the operator needs it, eliminating the waste of walking back and forth to retrieve it.

Scrub or Sanitize or Shine. This means cleaning every square inch on, in, around, and under the work surface and equipment. This isn't just to make everything look nice and neat, although that is a benefit. Having the work area in pristine condition allows anyone to quickly and easily spot leaks or other out-of-spec conditions that could lead to defective product, equipment malfunction or even an injury.

Standardize the practice of keeping only what you need, only where you need it, and in optimum condition.

Sustain these practices and you will improve safety and morale, quality, delivery, machine performance, and your bottom line.

Some of you might have already tried to implement 5s and were not able to sustain it. Some of you have probably tossed out a few things and swept up — maybe even had a "red tag" day — and have proclaimed to have "done" 5s. Some of you feel your shop is just fine the way it is — you don't have any waste. Still others are probably very good at sorting and setting in place. Most printers fall short when we get to the third S, and the fourth and fifth are usually nonexistent. This is due to a lack of understanding about 5s — that it's not a housekeeping exercise.

5s is a critical first step on the Lean journey. Simply put, if you can't implement and sustain real 5s you do not have the discipline that is needed to transform your business and become a Lean enterprise.

Top management's role

In any Lean transformation the responsibility for promoting, training, leading, and sustaining 5s lies with top management and not the folks on the floor. A company's highest on-site executive must get out onto the floor, walking the walk. I can't tell you how many times I've been taken on plant tours where the top executive is boasting about their cleanliness and "5s program", only to see him or her walk around or past something that's out of place or that is obviously indicative of a problem. This sends the wrong message to everyone on the floor — that 5s is "someone else's job" and is just another management fad. No one is too good to bend over and pick up a piece of paper or move a cart back into position — including the occupant of the corner office.

Once obvious waste has been eliminated you can start working on real, lasting change. You'll begin to see people walking a little taller, working a little safer, making a better product, faster, and you will see a positive bottom line impact.

Tom Southworth is the founder of Southworth Consulting LLC, a Niantic, CT based consulting firm specializing in Lean and continual improvement for printing and the graphic arts. He is a Senior Member of ASQ and is Lean Bronze Certified by SME. He can be reached by email at
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