In March 2009, Coffs Harbour was hit by devastating floods and the TEE factory, for the first time in 20 years, found itself under a foot of water. While the company’s directors were evacuated by boat, the lean manufacturing program that was by then well established in the company managed to save them from a very large damage bill…
Before the Lean program was introduced, a lot of stock, raw materials and even paperwork were stored under benches, on the floor and anywhere they would fit. All of this would have been lost in the floods, where there was simply no time to prepare for the influx of water that came up through the drains. But because of the 5S program, these areas were clear and free of stock (which had mostly been sold off) and raw materials (which were correctly shelved and stored) and paperwork (which had been archived and stored on the upper level), minimising the floods damage and allowing TEE to return to full scale production after only one day (many other companies in the area were closed for weeks following these floods).
TEE uses a modified 5S system (incorporating the 5S principles of Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardise and Sustain) to organise and optimise every process in the company, from filing paperwork to element production to despatching. The system is constantly evaluated to ensure it is not only working but improving the company.
TEE’s stock and stores had gotten completely out of control, to the point where it became too hard to look for a part amongst the stockpile, so staff would simply order a new one to avoid delays, which in turn, meant that the stockpile would never get smaller! During the implementation phase of the 5S program, the amount of items that were found lurking in corners or behind other stock were simply staggering and after implementing the program Thermal has reduced its stock holdings by 10%, not to mention the nearly $8,000 that was made by selling off unneeded items and equipment that was found. By getting on top of this ‘hoarding’ syndrome, TEE managed to reduce costs in the purchasing department by 5%!
Thermal prides itself on maintaining the fastest lead times in the industry and the lean manufacturing program has gone a long way to making this easier and our lead times even shorter. The simple idea of having an organised workspace where tools and storage are clearly labelled and all excess stock or rubbish is constantly removed means that every employee can quickly and easily find the parts and tools they need to do the job. From the admin staff right through production to despatch, the time saved by having a 10% improvement on processing times adds up to big savings to both TEE and the customer!
Everything has been looked at, from the simple process of removing rubbish and excess stock, through to examining each and every process for validity and efficiency. Anything that wasn’t necessary to the process or the product has been removed in order to minimise wasted time and effort. Now items are being produced faster (meaning lower labour costs), out the door faster (meaning less downtime for the customer) and with less errors (meaning less wastage).
With better layouts in both the factory and offices, TEE staff have found it a much more pleasant working environment, with no clutter crowding them into small areas. From this, many employees at Thermal have begun adopting the 5S attitude in their home lives as well, with ‘blitzes’ being done to remove unused items that may have been in the home for years and labelling and organisation being put in place to make their personal lives easier and less cluttered.