Organizing Tools For Higher Operator Efficiency In Chinese Factories

    Looking for tools, or using the wrong tool and fumbling (or causing issues that need reworking), is a significant waste of time.

    You might have seen production operators who cling to “their” hammer or “their” caliper. I have even seen temporary workers coming with their 20kg toolbox and bringing it home at night – it seems to be common practice in Thailand!

    All of this hurts productivity. And the root cause is simple: the workers were counted on to organize their tools, and no engineer tried to design a good system.

    Hence the goal of organizing tools for higher efficiency for production operators.

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    The right approach is to implement basic rules. There is nothing new here – it corresponds to the first 2 S’s of a 5S program:

    • Look at all the tools currently present in the workspace;
    • Sort them into categories: used multiple times a day / used occasionally / seldom used;
    • Get a sufficient number of each type of tool;
    • Store those “seldom used” to make them easily searchable and accessible, ideally within 2 minutes;
    • Set rules that make sense in your environment; the rule of thumb is that “within reach of each operator’s hands” is always good.

    A smart setup is a shadow board for tools. Here is an example:


    The advantage is the enforcement of rules… if a screwdriver is missing, everybody can see it, and a team leader can ask where it is (that’s “visual management”, an important concept in Lean manufacturing).

    After that, it is a question of ergonomics and productivity. If a screwdriver is often used, it can be suspended in front of the operator – this way it can be grabbed and used with no delay, there is constant power supply, and it is always in the same place.

    How is your factory? Are tools nicely organized, in a way that supports convenience and work well done by production operators? Or do thing slide down slowly after each attempt to instill some order?

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