Thursday, 20 September 2007

Seiso is Cleaning (1) – The Importance of Seiso

The third ‘S’ in 5S is Seiso; and it simply means Cleaning.

Example 1: Our beloved AR-15

Many of us who have gone through NS (National Service) will remember that all soldiers were given a ‘wife’ when they joined the army. During my time it was the AR-15. Now they have a new one, SAR-something. Right from day 1, we were told to take good care of our wives. We have to keep it clean. And so we were taught how to dismantle our weapons and clean it thoroughly using a variety of tools like tweezers, rifle cleaning rod, steel brushes, flanelite etc. Every morning, when we drew our rifle from the armoury, we had to clean it. Every evening before we return it, we had to clean it again, no matter how late the hour or tired we were.

We had regular rifle inspections, and if our rifles were found to be dirty, it usually meant ‘extra duties’. Cleaning our rifles became such a basic part of army life that we could even dismantle our rifles and clean them in the dark. If you gave me an AR-15 today, it is likely that I would still be able to do it by instinct.

Question is; why is it so important to keep the rifles clean? The simple answer of course, is that we want it to be in tip-top working condition at all times. A dirty rifle is likely to give rise to problems. And in the battlefield this could spell disaster.

Example 2. The beloved lorry.

Some years ago, when I was still working as a management consultant with the National Productivity Board, I was assigned as a Productivity Manager to a company called Tat Seng Paper Containers Pte Ltd on a part time basis. This company produced carton boxes and delivers them to various MNCs. The company had 4 delivery trucks; two were owned by the company and two were owned by subcontractors.

One evening, we had a meeting until quite late in the evening. When the GM, Mr S M Low and I went to the car park, we noticed someone passionately cleaning a delivery truck. I said to Mr Low; “Wow, your staff is really hardworking; cleaning his truck at this hour.”

“That chap is not our employee,” replied the GM, “He is one of the contractors”. You can see why this contractor was so diligent in taking care of his truck. He knew that his livelihood depended on it and thus he needed to keep it in tip-top working condition. He also needed it to last for as long as possible as it represented a big chunk of his investments, probably bought with his hard-earned savings.

The lesson from these two examples is this:

Cleaning is a form of Preventive Maintenance.

Cleaning removes dust and dirt from our equipment. Dust and dirt are the cause of many equipment problems. Hence, we can say that cleaning removes the direct source of many equipment problems. This basic principle is applicable to all equipment; including those that our Creator gave us.

Example 3: Our teeth

Our teeth are important equipment which we use regularly. Some people do not take care of their teeth resulting in their loss before they even reach the age of thirty. But some people, like my dad have a good set of teeth even when they reach a ripe old age. Why the difference? The answer is mainly because the second group of people take good care of their teeth. How?

1) By regular brushing and flossing.
2) By visiting their dentist regularly.

Have you ever thought about what the dentist does whenever you saw him? The first thing he does is to do scaling. Scaling removes the ‘dirt’ which your normal brushing could not. Plus, in the process of scaling, the dentist carries out a detail check of your teeth to detect any minor problem and take action before it becomes serious. You could say, Early detection saves teeth.

Herein lies the second function of Seiso.

Seiso is a form of Checking or Inspection.

Perhaps you can understand better now what I wrote in my first article concerning my visit to Japanese factories. We were told in no uncertain terms that a dirty factory simply cannot be a productive factory. All Japanese workers are responsible for keeping their machines clean. In other words, to take ownership of them.

So far, I have limited my discussion to equipment cleaning. The logic applies to other aspects of your workplace as well - your parts and materials, your facilities, environment etc. although maybe not to such a large extent as equipment.

Next time, I will blog about how to carry out Seiso.