There is a lot of talk these days about Lean manufacturing and Sixsigma and now the latest buzzwords, "Lean Sigma." All of these principles involve maintenance, but people seldom talk about how to specifically apply any features of Lean and Six-sigma to a maintenance department. By breaking down one of the most important elements of Lean it becomes evident that involvement from the maintenance department is critical.

If championed by the maintenance department, Lean will not only increase productivity for production, but it will ultimately reduce maintenance-related downtime and costs. This one principle is taken from the Lean Principles and is called 5 ‘S’. The 5 ‘S’s are building blocks of Lean. When applied to a production floor, it will draw in maintenance automatically and can be implemented immediately. The 5 S’s are sort, straighten, shine, standardize and sustain.

The first ‘S’ is ‘Sort.’ On the production floor, this seems relatively simple. Make sure what is present in the production area is what is needed and nothing more. But in the maintenance department, it is necessary to have tools, diagnostic equipment and spare parts available all of the time. It can be challenging to sort through all of this extra ‘stuff’ to keep around "just in case." The first thing to do is to literally clean house. Whenever possible, move everything out of the area. While cleaning house, take note of the items used most often as well as the items that have not been used in over a year. Often, red stickers are utilized to identify items that are rarely used. The key is to throw out items that will likely never be needed. Often some of these itemms can be recycled and actually generate revenue.

The next ‘S’ is ‘straighten’ or ‘set in order.’ To straighten means when putting items (i.e., tools, parts, diagnostic equipment, etc.) back into the space, you find a storage space for every item based on the frequency of use. Often making use of overhead space is possible, which may require using a ladder for those rarely used items. On the other hand, tools needed on a daily basis should be placed as close to the point of use as possible. In some facilities where it can be a rather long round-trip walk to the maintenance department, it makes sense to keep a small designated area for maintenance supplies on the plant floor. These are often lockable stainless-steel cabinets used to stage equipment specific tools and frequently replaced parts at or near the point of use.

Use visual management

It is important to keep maintenance tools clean and prevent them from compromising food safety. Regardless of where items are located when setting up these areas, use visual management. This means creating special holders for tools and using shadow boards so anyone can tell with a quick glance if a tool or a spare part is missing. Everything should be kept in its place when not in use.

‘Shine’ is the next ‘S.’ This applies specifically to equipment both on the production floor and the behind-the-scenes. Because production equipment in meat- and poultry-processing facilities get cleaned frequently by the sanitation department, it is incumbent upon the maintenance department to take control of the behind-the-scenes equipment. Think compressors, chiller and scalder blowers, refrigeration equipment, etc. This usually requires not only cleaning, but wherever possible painting equipment and the floors under the equipment. If a piece of equipment and the floor beneath it are kept clean, w hen it starts to leak oil, it is fast and easy to spot.

‘Standardize’ is the fourth ‘S.’ Standardize everything from the work-order process to the purchasing process. There ought to be standard methods for processing work orders, ordering parts, applying for vacation time, using certain tools, the care of equipment, etc.

When processes are standardized, it becomes very easy to spot variance.

The final ‘S’ is ‘sustain.’ This means putting the people and processes in place to make the previous four items sustainable.

I remember very little of my physics class in high school, but there was one word that stuck with me and I remember the word to this day: entropy. A loose definition of entropy is the natural tendency for systems to go from organized to chaotic. It is commonly accepted as difficult to change people and their habits. It is also commonly accepted that the larger the change, the harder it is to change. But if you stop and think about it, we seek out change in our personal lives. For example, many people who are single seek marriage. That is a big change, but one people eventually get used to.

So, compared to that kind of change, sustaining some very simple processes and specific features of a healthy 5 ‘S’ program shouldn’t be too difficult, should it?

Mark Eystad is the owner of Mark 1045, Inc. (, Marietta, Ga. Mark 1045, Inc. utilized Theory of Constrains, Lean and Six Sigma Principles bring companies to levels of profitability previously thought unattainable.