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Why Implement 6S in Your Laboratory?
Eliminating waste and improving workflow efficiencies sets your business apart from competitors and boosts the bottom line
Laboratories today face competition not only from local, state, and large dental laboratories, but also offshore competition. A good way to set your business apart from your competition is for your laboratory to look, feel, and execute cases in the most organized manner possible. Workplace organization (6S)—properly implemented with the right mindset—is the beginning of the pride, self-esteem, and professionalism required to fend off competition coming from all angles.
So the question most often asked is “What is 6S going to do for me?” The answer is quite simple. I have often written about the need to identify and eliminate waste in the laboratory (see the IDT September 2013 article, “The ‘Lean’ and Mean Dental Laboratory Machine), and 6S is the foundation for waste elimination. 6S brings order to the workplace by eliminating the hidden waste caused by frequent inability to instantly find things. The practice of 6S promotes a pride in the workplace through a clean and safe working environment, not to mention the first impression that visitors and potential clients have when you are trying to get more business.
Workplace organization means being able to put your hands on what you need, when you need it, without wasted time. It means not having to break your concentration when solving a problem. It also means not looking unprofessional to the client you are trying to make more successful when you try to find something and are faced with a confusing jumble. Frankly, it means having the courage to think more professionally so you can act more professionally.
What are the 6S’s?
There are six primary phases of 6S: sort, straighten, shine, standardize, sustain, and saftey.
Eliminate all unnecessary tools, parts, and instructions. Go through all department and workstation tools, materials, and equipment in the work area. Keep only essential items and eliminate what is not required, prioritizing everything per necessity and keeping them in easily accessible places. Everything else is either discarded or put in storage.
There should be a place for everything and everything should be in its place. The place for each tool should be clearly labeled or demarcated. Tools should be arranged in a manner that promotes efficient work flow, with equipment used most often being the most easily accessible. Technicians should not have to bend repetitively to access materials. Each tool, part, supply, or piece of equipment should be kept close to where it will be used.
Clean the workspace and all equipment, and keep it clean, tidy, and organized. At the end of each shift, clean the work area and be sure everything is restored to its place. This makes it easy to know what goes where and ensures that everything is where it belongs. Spills, leaks, and other messes also then become a visual signal for equipment or process steps that need attention. A key point is that maintaining cleanliness should be part of the daily work, not an occasional activity initiated when things get too messy.
Work practices should be consistent and standardized. All work stations for a particular job should be identical. All employees doing the same job should be able to work in any station with the same tools that are in the same location in every station. Adjustments can be made based on your technician’s skill and role within the laboratory. Everyone should know exactly what his or her responsibilities are for adhering to the first three S’s.
Maintain and review standards. Once the previous four S’s have been established, they become the new everyday procedure. Maintain focus on this new work pattern and do not allow a gradual decline back to the old ways. While thinking about the new work pattern, also be thinking about further improvements and refinements to the system. When an issue arises and an improvement is suggested, review the first four S’s to ensure it fits the requirements and make changes where appropriate.
Your employees deserve to work in a business that will not endanger their health or well-being. OSHA sets guidelines for maintaining a safe workplace, and these should be combined with a good dose of common sense. Safety thinking not only applies to inside the building, but outside the building in terms of security in parking areas and sidewalks.
It is important to have continuous education about maintaining standards. When there are changes that affect the 6S program, such as new equipment, new products, or new work rules, it is essential to make changes in the standards and provide training. Companies embracing 6S often use posters and signs as a way of educating employees and maintaining standards.
Leading the Pack
Workplace organization (6S) is a great place to focus your time and efforts to set your laboratory apart and give you that competitive edge.
About the author
Bob Yenkner is the owner of Practical Process Improvement (PPI) in Higganum, CT.