The new 5S

October 15, 2008
By: Vicki Bell

At last week's FABTECH International® & AWS Welding Show with METALFORM in Las Vegas, I walked the show floor, which I'm proud to say I survived. Anyone who attended the show knows what I mean. The show was huge and the aisles were long. The first day, it also was crowded with record attendance—a positive sign at this time when we're focused on so many economic indicators.

Along the way, I stopped by booths and spoke with company representatives eager to talk about new products and enhancements to tried-and-true products. As I took notes, I began to write key words in the margins that jumped out at me as motivators for new developments. Coincidentally, all five begin with the letter "S."

Well-known in lean-manufacturing circles, the traditional 5S, a key component for establishing a Visual Workplace, is part of Kaizen—a system of continual improvement—which is a component of lean manufacturing.

These 5S's are:

  • Sort - the first step in making things cleaned up and organized

  • Set In Order - organize, identify and arrange everything in a work area

  • Shine - regular cleaning and maintenance

  • Standardize - make it easy to maintain - simplify and standardize

  • Sustain -maintaining what has been accomplished

The 5S's I noted at FABTECH as motivators behind product design and improvement are:

Simplicity  Manufacturers are making their products easier to use. Several exhibitors, including suppliers of laser equipment, press technology, and welding equipment, noted that one reason driving the move to simplify use is the skilled labor shortage. Machines need to be easier to use to find more workers capable of running them.

An example of the focus on simplicity is TRUMPF's TruBend 5130, which has been enhanced to bring the operator skill level requirement down while making it more productive.

Safety  It's always good to see manufacturers making their products safer. (China's manufacturers should pay attention.) Among those exhibitors at FABTECH showcasing safety improvements was Metabo. The company has begun adding mechanical brakes to its angle grinders. These brakes stop the grinder wheel within three seconds.

Segmentation  It makes perfect marketing sense to mass produce products that can be used by the greatest number of customers. However, in a marketplace that's become saturated with suppliers making similar products with mass appeal, looking for new markets can involve zeroing in on a niche market and developing a product for that market.

Hobart Brothers focused on the coal-fired power plant segment when it partnered with Boilermakers Local 108 and Airgas to address a need at Alabama Power. To meet the challenges of tough boiler tube repairs during down time and minimize weld rejects on these critical applications, Hobart Brothers worked with metallurgical engineers to develop its Hobart® Boilermaker™ family of low-alloy stick electrodes. The repairs and the timeframe within which they are completed both are critical.

According to the company, the electrodes were specially formulated to provide X-ray quality welds with no starting or stopping porosity.

This initiative represents Hobart's first focus on a product segment.

Service  Exhibitors also showcased their service. Service is always important. It often is the differentiator among suppliers offering similar equipment.

Bystronic began its press conference by touting its expanded service. Noting that the company had made significant investment in the past year in service, the opening speaker said, "It's no longer just about machines, it's about relationships."

The company has introduced Remote Diagnostics for its press brakes. This service often can solve problems remotely, and when it can't, it aids on-site service by providing the technician with more precise information about the problem.

Bystronic also enhanced its telephone system and added technical staff in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

Savings  Industry suppliers, who are looking for ways to save money in their operations, know just how precious each dollar is to their customers. They also are aware of tightening credit. To that end, some are offering special financing.

One of the TRUMPF booth's signs announced its financing service. A booth displaying ironworking machines had more financial terms signs posted than a retailer's going-out-of-business sale.

Suppliers also focused on saving customers time and materials through product innovations.

This 5S program can be categorized by another S word: Smart. Manufacturers who focus on these areas stand a greater chance of prospering through difficult times.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209