MRO Magazine

Don’t let lean maintenance become dangerous

The 5S principles of lean – sort, straighten, shine, standardize and sustain – ought to be complemented by a sixth S, namely safety. Without it, none of the other five matters.


May 1, 2015
By PEM Magazine

There’s always a danger when implementing a new management philosophy that people adhere to the letter but not the spirit of it. Taking action without understanding why is dangerous; if you don’t make connections between what you’re doing and the impact on other operations, something will go wrong.

Minimize waste
Maintenance offers a perfect example of how, if it is left out of any lean initiative, it can scuttle the program. Unplanned maintenance leads to wasted time all along a company’s chain of operations. Waiting is wasted time, and is one of the eight great wastes that lean practices are designed to combat. The other wastes are overproduction, motion, transportation, underutilized employees, defects, non-value-added processing and excess inventory.

If a machine goes down, it affects another person’s productivity goals – and potentially their compensation. The prospect of not hitting numbers can lead workers to do workarounds, which can lead to non-standard and therefore unsafe procedures. People in a hurry do unsafe things. If a production line goes down unexpectedly, someone in warehousing might have to rush to retrieve a replacement part from stock, possibly operating a forklift faster than they should or neglecting to stop and sound the horn at aisle intersections. In maintenance, a technician might forget his lockout/tagout training and leave the power to a jammed conveyor on before reaching in through a pinch-point to make whatever adjustment is necessary. Both incidents are potentially fatal mistakes – all for failure to respect the need for scheduled maintenance. By planning maintenance you reduce surprises.

Institute a consistent vision
Within a global company, with many divisions and cultures of its own, you can imagine what a challenge it can be to institute a common, consistent vision of lean, even in its own maintenance practices. An example of lean fusion drawn from my own environment can be seen in the collaboration between Parker’s Sporlan Division (Washington, MO) and Parker Industrial Profile Systems (with East and West Coast locations). Sporlan provides HVAC components – and a broad selection of solutions in that category. IPS offers T-slot aluminum framing to help accomplish those five Ss, including team scheduling boards, job tracking boards and cell communication boards to help communicate project status. These visual and organizational tools are invaluable for both production and maintenance in keeping work flowing smoothly. They are also key tools of lean.


Foster a lean culture
The challenge when trying to design safety into a lean operation is making sure you don’t play whack a mole with waste. That happens when, while removing waste from one area, you create it somewhere else. In the case of maintenance operations, disciplined schedules and clear visual tools connecting users of all production equipment used in a lean environment will go a long way toward ensuring that safety is remembered as the sixth S of your lean culture – and culture is key here.

Safety and production must be considered together, not in opposition to each other. A company needs its employees coming back to work every day so production can continue. An accident disrupts that plan. Providing the tools for a safe work environment keeps it alive by letting employees know they matter.

Stephen Richardson is a pneumatic product manager for Parker Canada Division. Reach him at