There is nothing humorous about the deaths of 3 people and serious injuries to a dozen or more others in Apple's Foxconn factory in China over the weekend. It happened at the plant Steve's buddy Terry Gou built to get his costs under control about 800 miles further inland and away from the folks who made the outrageous demand of close to two bucks an hour … the same folks who were jumping out of high rise dorms to avoid another day of work making Apple products. In Chendu there are people who could keep Steve and Terry in the chips for a third less than that – that's the theory anyway.
At this point Steve and Terry gotta believe they can't buy a break. Murphy's Law seems to be dogging them at every turn, they must be thinking. Terry's not making any money, Steve can't get to market on time, and bad publicity keeps raining down on both of them.
Until they figure out that cheap manufacturing is not excellent manufacturing, however, they can pretty well count on meeting Mr Murphy again soon, and often. That means starting with legitimate 5S.
5S is not straightening, sweeping, sorting, sustaining and whatever the other 'S' stands for. There is nothing excellent or lean about that. In fact, while it is just a guess on my part, it's a safe bet the Phoenician boat builders swept, sorted and the rest … and had trouble sustaining. In other words, that stuff is nothing more than Spring cleaning and it has gone on since the first Neanderthal decided to get rid of some of the crap that had accumulated in the cave.
5S is the systematic integration of all of the facets of manufacturing in the workplace in a manner that assures the best cost, optimum flow, perfact quality and absolute safety. As this chart shows, straightening and sweeping is nothing more than a superficial, final step after the work place has been holistically designed and put in place.
A work place that has been designed without analyzing and determing the requirements for each of these elements cannot be sustained, and every one of the elements will sooner or later fail.
Whatever happened at the Foxconn plant will be identified and corrected, and you can be sure that an effective 5S effort would have found it before it maimed and killed people.
The work methods element of 5S is pretty straightforward – it is simply determining the best way to do the work and assuring the work place is laid out in the manner that best facilitates it. The changeover, maintenance and material flow parts are fairly simple too – it is just figuring out what has to be done and making sure the tools, materials and information necessary are readily accessible, and there is clear access to the machine to do the job.
Quality and safety go pretty much hand in hand. Jus ask lean/safety wizard Michael Taubitz if you don't believe me. The defect and injury mapping process is the only way to go. Analyze each step to identify the possible defects and injuries that could occur … and put in place whatever mechanisms are needed to make sure they don't.
Sweeping, straightening and sorting a work area that has not been designed to assure that maintenance, change-overs, material flow, work methods, quality, and, yes, safety are optimized is merely cleaning up an area in which these things will eventually go wrong.
So Steve and Terry – you guys are about five S's short of beginning to get a clue. I sure hope you figure it out before the trail of bodies your clueless concept of manufacturing has left behind it gets much longer.