Monday, 8 December 2008

5S and 3Mu (Waste)

Like blogger Stomponli, I get quite put off by thick catalogues, brochures and other junk mail which I have absolutely no need for. For example, I recently received 2 brochures together with the notification from LTA (Land Transport Authority) to renew my car road tax. They were about the new seat belt requirements for school buses. As my children are all fairly grown-up, the youngest being in junior college, I really had no use for the information in these booklets; and so I did what any 5S-minded individual would do; I promptly ‘Seiri-ed’ (discarded) them. Thankfully they weren’t as thick as those beautiful, glossy magazines from Ikea and Sony.

It then occurred to me that my action incurred considerable waste. Just think of the resources that went into producing and delivering the brochures to me. And more resources will be needed to dispose off or recycle them. Now multiply that by the thousands who are like me.

One reason why 5S is so popular is that it can be used to reduce or eliminate waste in many situations. But the waste we deal with in 5S is a bit different from that for the LTA booklets. In our case, the waste is not in the form of physical waste of energy or materials. Rather, it refers to wasteful activities that do not add value to the final product or service. This video clip illustrates what I am talking about.

With proper 5S, the person in this video would not need to waste time searching for and accessing the item he wanted. Yes, it’s only a few seconds but it is still waste. Furthermore, it causes some frustration to the workers.

The Japanese have an interesting way of classifying this type of waste. They call it Muri, Mura and Muda; or 3 Mu for short.

1) Muri means Irrationality or Strain. It means; “Doing that which cannot be done”. It usually refers to tasks that are very difficult or impossible to do; such as maintaining prolonged periods of vigilance, or having to remember a lot of things, or straining to read small words or symbols in dim lighting conditions?

2) Mura means Inconsistency. It means; “Not doing that which should be done”. It usually refers to situations where things that are not running as they should; such as when there are systems but people do not follow. One example is the yellow boxes at road junctions where cars are not supposed to stop in. Another example is the people who rush into MRT trains the moment the doors open and not giving the passengers a chance to alight. Their actions slow down the entire process and results in waste.

3) Muda simply means Waste. It refers to activities that do not help or add value, e.g. waiting/delay, rework, repair, etc. Muda is often the result of Muri and Mura.

I have read a Chinese 5S book which translates the 3 Mu’s as, 三不 or, 不合理,不均衡,and 不精简。

The 3 Mu’s are all around us; in our workplaces, homes, roads, public places etc. In any place where there is human activity, you will find them. I believe that if more people are conscious of, and are able to spot these wastes and then apply the simple techniques of 5S to eliminate or reduce them, this world could be a slightly better place to live in.

One technique in 5S which is widely used to reduce waste of the sort I have discussed here is Visual Control. I will explain the next time.


In my other blog, I once posted an essay about a very different type of waste. Do check it out here.

Death is only a sadness. Tragedy lies in waste.” – Herman Wouk