Shop Maintenance and Cleaning

How to get your crew behind the idea that "a clean shop is a safe and happy shop." May 6, 2006

We are a very fast paced woodworking organization with short lead times. We are well known for our quick, on-time customer turnaround and a "get it done no matter what it takes" attitude. Our old shop was neat and well kept, because much of the organization was developed/built by me over many years when we were much smaller.

Last year our shop burned to the ground the Saturday before Christmas. We had a new shop under construction, but it was not finished at all on the interior. We made the best of it and went to work in the new shop within two weeks with no insulation, heat or plumbing. I have to thank my guys for continuing the high quality and service through this.

After a year of working in the mix of all the building trades, the sheetrock and trim is all in and the machines have all been replaced, the racking is in. But the shop is a slovenly, disorganized mess. The machines were easy to replace. It's all the cabinets, jig hangers, tool chests that you built over the years that you miss the most.

I just can't get my guys back onboard with cleaning up and putting things away. I constantly find myself walking around picking up things, trash, tools, wood. They claim that these goals, while good goals, are counterproductive to our short lead times. I know deep down this is backwards thinking. I have excellent employees, but on this issue I just can't get through. I fear I will have to resort to a heavy handed approach, which generally gets results, but doesn't really help morale. What do you suggest for getting shop organization back on track?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor S:
I think you're not alone... many of us struggle with this problem. The shop is just another tool, no different than a block plane or a drill gun. Keeping the shop clean and well maintained is crucial to safety, quality control and high production. Have your crew imagine trying to work well with a dull, chipped block plane iron or a dead battery in a screw gun. A poorly maintained shop is no different... it's wasteful and frustrating. Thinking like this doesn't happen overnight, and quite frankly I don't care if my crew ever believes it or not. I simply instituted a shop maintenance program that is religiously adhered to... or else.

Monday mornings: Machine calibration. 1 man calibrates all machines to one another using master rule. 1 man cleans and sharpens all plane irons, chisels and scrapers. 1 man takes supply inventory and orders anything low. Time spent is usually 30 minutes or so per man.

Daily, 10 minutes before closing: 1 man (on rotating schedule) blows out all machines and sweeps floor. Everyone else sorts and stacks scraps/fall-offs and organizes tools for next day's work.

Fridays, 30 minutes before closing: Everyone cleans everything top to bottom. All scrap is either sorted and stacked or tossed out (dumpster pickup is Monday). Every nook and cranny is vacuumed, the dust collector bags are emptied, etc.

I calculate that we spend roughly 3-4 man-hours per week on shop cleaning and maintenance. This may sound like a lot to some, but for me I'd rather spend those few hours in prevention than days of down time for repairs or injuries. Don't wait for your crew to "get it," just schedule it into their work week. That way they'll do it whether they get it or not.

From contributor T:
You seem to have a good grasp on what you're good at: can do attitude and quick performance. You would not have that unless you had a happy crew. I suspect the problem is somewhere else. I'll bet if I came into your shop, and asked you where certain things were supposed to live, I would get a different answer depending on who I asked. That old slogan, "A place for everything and everything in its place," starts with a place for everything.

You need to implement a 5S program. The first step is to Sweep. Get the stuff out of the building that has nothing to do with your manufacturing processes. Your shop is not a warehouse, nor is it a museum.

The second step is to Sort out where things are supposed to live. If the range of possibilities is democratic, the end result can't be anything but random. Random will end up as chaos.

Before you start with this, you have to figure out what you are up against. Start with small things you can be successful with. Have one of your guys round up every portable electrical tool in the shop. Put them all on the same bench so you can arrange them according to usage patterns. Sort these tools into the groups of: cutting tools, drilling tools, sanding tools, esoteric - use them every now and then tools. Step back and ask how you would like them to live when you walk up to them and where you would like them to be when you need them. This might be a great time to discuss with your crew which model of tool they like best and how many of each type they need. (I think jig saws should live in a saddle with the handle aimed up. Blades should be nearby and there should be a pond to collect the cord and keep it from getting tangled up with other cords).

As soon as you start asking the crew for their input, you will discover at least one or two who are willing to provide some leadership in this campaign. Pretty soon they will start having ideas about it. If anybody makes a suggestion, applaud it and, if possible, act on it.
Not all of the guys' ideas are going to be great ones. We have a problem with white putty cans not making it back to port. One of the guys suggested an invisible dog fence program. His idea was to wrap a dog collar around the can. You carry it out of the zone, you get zapped. (Maybe this isn't such a bad idea?)

The fifth part of the 5S program is Sustain. This needs to be more than a platitude. You might start with a floor plan of your shop. Divide this floor plan into specific maintenance zones. Take this floor plan out to your guys and let them know that they can be in charge of who is in charge of which zone. Tell them that if they can't get it filled out, you will help them. This will introduce some accountability into the system and might even cause some peer group mojo to happen.

If you get the Sort thing figured out first, it will be easier to Standardize tool locations, which will Simplify getting the tool that you need.

We've been pushing this concept for a couple of years and the benefits are really starting to show. My guys are turning into little Leanmeisters themselves. This thread brings to mind an article I read last year about PACCAR, the producers of Peterbilt and Kenworth trucks. Their mission is to produce the highest quality truck available, and be the lowest cost producer of that truck. There was a single paragraph in that article that included the following statements: The value of their stock doubled in one year... and their workers never had to spend any time looking for a tool! The fact that both statements were made in the same paragraph should not be lost on us.

From contributor L:
I've had some success with two things: I hired a college kid to come in for a couple of hours after class 3 days a week. He kept things cleaned and waxed and lubed, which rubbed off on the other employees.

The second was to make a place for all tools. Each machine has its own tool cabinet (I don't know why the machine manufacturers don't do a better job of providing either tool-less adjustments or a spot on the machines for the required tools). Spare blades, setup and measuring tools, etc. are provided a spot. Drawers are divided to keep them organized. The tool manual and maintenance record is in a 3 ring binder. All the cabinets are similar: white melamine, 2mm banding, on good casters. They are made to help support long work where applicable.

At the assembly benches we made backbenches that have a place for everything (well, almost). Small tools are hung on a white board with their outlines in black. Routers, staplers, etc. each have a pocket they fit into with their blades/bits in a slot and their handles ready to grab. Screw guns, drills and the like are nose first in holes in a shelf. The assembly benches themselves are 4x10 tops on hydraulic lifts.

The laminators each have a roll around cart with a place for each tool, and each has a full set of trim routers for every use (no bit changes). There is a notch to hold the cords separated for each tool and overhead cord reels. I've put considerable effort into this, but there are still things that could be better. There is no bigger waste than looking for a tool!

From contributor A:
Three years ago, I was managing a small shop that had similar issues. I did as much as I could to organize work flow, tool and material storage, and I tried to lead by example. I lost the battle when it came to simple things like sweeping up, returning tools to their proper places and organizing at the end of the workday. The guys on the floor would only believe that this took time away from production. The shop had an unbelievably high error rate, which we had to battle with to deliver excellent cabinets and excellent service.

I left when I saw that I couldn't make any real changes. At the end of the day the owner didn't want to court bad feelings by laying down the law. The shop went out of business about eight months after I left - not just because the guys on the floor wouldn't buy into clean up and organizing - but blowing off these efforts didn't help when the going got tough for them.

Shop organization affects them, the cabinets they are building and your shop's bottom line (which is their bottom line). Sorry there is no good advice here, but I hope that your employees can learn they will perhaps benefit the most.

From contributor U:
We have 13 builders and 7 finishers. We have one full time and one part time person. Their only jobs are to keep the shop spick and span. They clean the saws at least once a day, they sweep the shop floors continuously every day and empty all the dust collectors every day. We used to have the builders do this, but finally figured out that it is more important to have them build than clean. Yes, it is only about 15 minutes a day per guy, but that is 4 - 5 hours of shop time that is better spent building, not cleaning. Since each of our employees would also walk on hot coals for us, they were delighted when we hired the one full time guy to clean. He takes unbelievable pride in his work and we praise him for his work, just like everyone else in the shop. Our floors are clean, the machines are clean, the trash bins are emptied 2 - 3 times per week, the bathrooms are clean, and when it snows, the ice is shoveled so we can all walk from our cars to the front door and everyone is happy. Do the right thing by all your builders and hire someone to do the job of cleaning. Everyone will be happier.

From the original questioner:
Those responses were just what I needed. I sat down with the guys and read some of your ideas and we are working together with many of them. We already have a new maintenance schedule for cleaning and maintaining tools. Spirits are high. Thanks!