Bricolage is a podcast for makers, made in the united kingdom by dominic morow with new episodes more or less every week!

Engine of More: 5S

Engine of More: 5S

Where are the teabags in your house? Are they near the kettle? Have you ever tried to make a cuppa in a strangers kitchen? Were you able to guess, logically, where to find the cups, the tea spoon and so on? If you live alone and no one else ever visits you, then it matters not at all where you keep your teabags in relation to your kettle. But, the moment you share a space some co-operations or agreement might be required (without wanting to go too deeply into domestic hierarchies and social dynamics).

In its simplest form, 5S is about where we put the kettle in relation to the teabags. We can spend time talking about Japanese words, or Henry Ford or Lean Manufacturing, but I tend to find those ideas can put people off. I will present below a short potted version of what 5S is, what 5S isn’t and how it could be used in the Hackerspace. Sometimes 5S is also called “the visual workplace” and it is used by companies as part of a Lean Manufacturing initiative.

The basics, 5S is 5 words beginning with the letter S… these are wildly open for variation but all have more or less the same intention or meaning. They are as follows:

  1. Seiri 整理 -Sort

    The process of sorting through items in a work area, working out what belongs there, what doesn’t, what is used frequently and what isn’t, understanding how many of what is needed and removing anything that does not belong in the area. This step includes the ominous sounding practice of “Red Tagging"

  2. Seiton 整頓 - Set In Order

    Once we have sorted which items are needed in an area, we can then access which are truly important and should be easiest to find and identify. At a bench top pillar drill, this might include the chuck key, safety glasses, drill bits, sweeping brush and work clamps for instance. Items that belong with the tool and need to be found and replaced easily for each use of the drill.

  3. Seisō 清掃 - Shine or Sweep

    Shine is the process of deep cleaning the work area, it need not be any more than the cleanlyness that is practical for that area but should include the removal of dirt and dust and any other grime. Often a photo is taken and posted somewhere to show the “normal” working cleanliness of the area. Cleaning and tidying are not the same thing.

  4. Seiketsu 清潔 - Standardise

    This is one of the key steps that is really missing from Hackerspaces. Understanding how to ensure that the above 3 steps aren’t simply a one-off event but that processes and responsibilities are put in place to ensure that the work-space remains in order, with all the parts needed for it to be useful and stays clean. This could include creating a rota system for inspection or be part of an induction process. No doubt there are many ways that standardisation could be introduced as part of an RFID access system, through team curation, as part of the responsibilities of a floor manager or other volunteer action management.

  5.  Shitsuke (躾) - Sustain or Self-Discipline

    This step is the hardest of all, its about making 5S part of the behaviour and culture of a space and, in my opinion, is the most important. It goes back to the broken window idea, of how the environment and the behaviours of those in it shape the norms of a community and a space. In industry one of the most common mistakes when implementing a 5S program is to confuse 5S for a one-off-deep-clean and tidy. We see this sort of thing often in Hackersapces. The key is not simply to keep throwing volunteer hours at the problem to remove the symptoms of lack of systemic thoroughness. i.e. if the chuck key can just be put any-old-where near the pillar drill, it will be put just about anywhere.

Everything in its place, and a place for everything.

Running a 5S process in a Hackerspace would actually be fairly easy especially steps one to three, and that’s the issue. The real work is not the sorting, setting in order and the shining. It’s the emotional labour of the standardisation and the sustainability of it.

Based on my own experience of Hackspaces, its fairly difficult to get agreement on what a specific workbench is for, what should live on it, who should decide what gets added to it and who should be responsible for it. The general theme in all my writing here is pretty much about the topic of managing a hackerspace in a way that creates a much more useable space for a lot more people to enjoy, whilst having better not worse standards of tooling and quality.

So let’s run a hypothetical 5S on one workbench in a utopian Hackerspace.

The Wabi-Sabi Workshop has a pillar drill on a workbench near the window. Recently there has been a problem with drill bits going missing, the area being left covered in swarf as well as the chuck key constantly being borrowed for other tools so it can’t be found. The workbench has also been used for assembly and is often covered in half finished projects, wet glue. off cuts and other items that clutter the area.

The floor manager and the woodwork tool curator get together and agree that going forward, the pillar drill workbench and the drill itself will be for woodworking only. They decide to run a 5S process for the drill.

  1. Sort

    They start by sorting through all the stuff that they find on the pillar drill work bench. The identify items that belong with the pillar drill and items that do not belong with this drill. They find that there are several chuck keys of slightly the wrong size near the drill that people have tried to use with it. They also find a number of masonry and HSS bits with the drill. They collect all the unwanted parts into a big box marked “Red Tag Area” they put a red QR code on each item and with an app, they enter a photograph and short description of each item they are removing from the bench to the box, so others can easily see what’s been removed. Anything that is needs throwing away or putting away in another area is binned or put away as appropriate. No item is “Red Tagged” if there is a clear owner or home. If they are unsure what the item is and if it belongs with the drill, they still put a Red Tag on it. Later if an item has been tagged and it is found to be needed with the drill, it can be removed from the tag area and put with the drill. More about that later.

  2. Set In Order

    The floor manager and the woodwork curator look at whats left. The decide between them which items are used regularly with the drill and which items are less often used. The regular items are set out visually. The woodwork curator takes time to make a special drill but organiser, she colour codes the different pots that hold the commonly used drill bits and paints the same colour of the ends of the drill bits. She makes a big easy to read chart on the wall showing the colours and the bits they correspond to, it looks like this:

The floor manager has identified that certain items of PPE are required at the drill, whilst all members of the Wabi-Sabi workshop have personal PPE given to them at boot-camp, the floor manager wants to ensure that appropriate PPE is available always at the drill. He makes a shadow board for the wall right next to the drill that looks like this:

Just some random image I found on Google of a PPE shadow board for illustration not for a recommendation on what to wear at a pillar drill you pedant.

Just some random image I found on Google of a PPE shadow board for illustration not for a recommendation on what to wear at a pillar drill you pedant.

One of the main complaints was the unavailability of the chuck key, that it kept wondering off. They decide to attach a chain to the key and put a hook on the wall right next to the drill, they mark it clearly with the words CHUCK KEY with a silhouette of the key. Next to this, they put a dust pan and brush, again with the words DUSTPAN and BRUSH and a shadow of each item.

They lay out the less often used pillar drill items and photograph them. They label the photograph with the names of the items. The put the photo on the wall and on the Wiki page for the drill. A draw is added to the workbench just below the drill and the less used items are put in the draw. Another photo of the items in the draw is stuck to the bottom of the draw. Using a label maker, each of the items that can be found in the draw are added by name to the front of the draw. Where possible, each item is labelled so anyone can quickly identify what it is and where it belongs.

They paint the surfaces either side and all around the pillar drill with RED paint. These areas are to be kept swept and clear. No items are to be left on the red surfaces.

A QR code and a short URL are added in a clear area on the workbench and on the drill, these link to a Wiki page with information about the pillar drill, including a PDF of the drills manual, a maintenance schedule, rules for this tool, the name of the person responsible for the tool as well as the information about the items that go with the tool and links to videos and other useful educational information about the drill.

An area of the floor around the pillar drill is marked out and painted, this is the area of floor space that the pillar drill and its workbench occupy. Nothing else can now be added to this area. This is recorded and added to a plan-o-gram of the workshop by the workshop floor manager.

3. Shine

Throughout the process the curator and the floor manger have been deep cleaning the work area. They repair damaged parts of the workbench, they ensure its level and secure. They sweep all around and under the bench as well as cleaning the drill and all its associated items. Graphite and old confusing signage is removed. The broken light above the drill is replaced. The window is cleaned.

They take a photo of the pillar drill work area sorted, set in order and cleaned. They put this up on the Wiki Page. They print the photo, laminate it and and put it on the wall next to the workbench.

4. Standardise

The woodworking curator and the floor manager agree a maintenance schedule for the pilar drill area. It will be checked on a weekly basis to ensure that the area is fully equipped and nothing is missing or broken. They agree a process for reporting the tool out of order, both the schedule and the out-of-order processes matches those for other tools in the workshop. This is all recorded in the Wiki. A quick daily tidy and clean is added to the duties of the floor manager. As this tool is part of the induction process for the woodworking area, the wood working curator adds these processes along with how the area should be managed and cleared up at the end of a task, to the induction.

5. Sustain

Over time, the management of the pillar drill in this way becomes habit. New members coming through induction learn this way of looking after the work area and it becomes the normal way of doing things. As places for each item needed with the pillar drill have a home, and can quickly be identified and put away again when they are left out of place, the parts for the drill are rarely missing. When a part does go missing, everyone understand its missing and a replacement is ordered quickly. Because it’s clear to everyone how to look after the drill bench and how to put things away, usually there is minimal tidying up for the floor manager. The culture of the space has come to expect a 5S approach to ALL of the clearly identified work areas in the Wabi-Sabi workshop. A high standard is easy to maintain across the whole of the Hackerspace. When a new tool is added, the floor manager understands how much space is available or if something else will have to be removed. A process exists to easily assign a wiki page and its contents for any new tool coming in, and the tool and how to look after it are quickly understood by the members of the space.

Of course 5S isn’t without challenges in a Hackerspace. I suspect a big part of the charm of a Hackerspace to most, is the lack of formality and procedure. I would strongly argue though that this very lack of formality and procedure is exclusionary in someways and serves mostly to prevent most people from using a space by projecting the personality type of the people most dominant in a space. Without standardisation it’s easy to be wrong and appear to go-against the status quo, who demand you use a “common sense” approach, which to anyone but the dominant force in the space, seems shrouded in mystery.

Most likely, the mistake that will be made with the 5S approach is that the Standardisation and Sustain parts of it, the emotional labour parts, will be forgotten, in a vest for a good-tidy up. These systems require discipline and a longer term cultural behaviour change to make them work. I’ve alluded to two people in the parable above. A floor manager and a woodworking curator. I’ll write more about these folks later. I suspect also that getting people in a space to agree what any area is for and what does or doesn’t belong there might be tricky. Ideas and processes aren’t hard to come up with for a Hackerspace, the hard bit is making them land and be embraced. Anyone, pretty much can come up with an idea of how something should be done. It’s getting others to agree and DO IT that is the hard part.

A final thought. I really like making things into a sort of sudo ritualistic cult thing, with weird Japanese names and stuff like that…. but really 5S is just having a system for managing a space sensibly and safely. It’s basically “putting the teabags near the kettle” but for industry. If the “weird” Japanese words put you off, come up with some other words. It’s the process that matters not the names. Henry Ford supposedly had a system called CANDO which is Cleaning Up, Arranging, Neatness, Discipline and Ongoing Improvement… let me know if you make up some really Hackerspace sounding ones!

That is certainly enough writing for one day. 5S is a fascinating area to me. I’d welcome your comments.

today’s thumbnail is me holding 5S for Operators, 5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace by Hiroyuki Hirano published by Productivity Press.

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