Small steps to improvement

The roll machining department at Steel Europe in Dortmund swears by the 6S method to make work safer and improve product quality

It’s 10 a.m. in the roll machining shop at ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe in Dortmund: The sun streams in through the many windows, revealing clean floors, tidy and well organized workplaces, and happy faces. Four years ago, the roll machining team took part in training on the continuous improvement process (CIP) including the introduction of the 6S method and then integrated their new-found knowledge step-by-step into their daily work routines: Both management methods help keep workplaces and surrounding areas safe, clean and efficient – that helps improve product quality and lowers costs.

The results in the roll machining department are impressive. “In the past our work processes were much more complicated and disorganized, tools were not always immediately to hand, we had to do a lot of walking from one area to another, and cleanliness and safety were often neglected,” reports shift coordinator Oliver Zenner. “The hose workshop is a good example: Hydraulic hoses contain among other things lubricant for the rolls and need to be replaced regularly during maintenance work. They vary in length depending on where they are used. In the past they lay in a tangled heap on the floor, and to cut them to length we had to get down on our knees and measure them with measuring rules,” says Ingo Chudzian, who worked the old 4th shift. “We had no idea what hoses were there, it was pretty chaotic. After we cut them, we had to wash the hoses to clean off the dirt from the floor. That made the whole floor wet and slippery.”

“Routes are shorter, workplaces are clean and safe, and overall we get finished quicker”

INGO CHUDZIAN, ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe

And now? “Since our CIP and 6S training, we have greatly simplified our work processes: For example, hoses are now cut to length on a workbench which is already marked with the required lengths, taking a lot of the strain off our backs! The cut hose lengths are then washed in a tub, so there’s no more water on the floor. All tools have their own place, routes are shorter, workplaces are clean and safe, and overall we get finished quicker,” says Chudzian.

Thorsten Münzhardt from the Business Excellence department in Duisburg conducts the CIP and 6S training seminars at TKSE and has 15 years’ experience in this area. “6S stands for Set in order, Sort, Shine, Standardize, Sustain and Safety and is a component of the CIP. In practice it works like this: Usually a team leader requests us to implement a continuous improvement process in his or her area of responsibility, including the introduction of the 6S method. As outsiders, we then shadow a shift and divide the work into “value creating” or “wasteful” activities. We also make a note of all potential accident risks which we then present to the team leader and team in a training seminar.

The special thing about the 6S method is that the teams then develop their own solutions, matched exactly to the needs of the employees: That makes them easier to identify with – also because afterwards work can be done faster and more easily. Sometimes the same job can be completed in half the time and is a lot safer,” says Münzhardt. “CIP means taking small steps to improvement, that’s why it takes a while for its success to become visible, but it’s worth the wait: Employees are more motivated, we avoid accidents, work more efficiently and reduce costs. 6S can be applied everywhere –including in office jobs – because unnecessary activities can be found in all areas of a company.”

That’s something the roll machining team can confirm. While many of them were skeptical to start with and couldn’t imagine that their ideas would really be put into practice, now they are all converts: “After the training we cleared up, sorted things out, arranged our tools in order and cleaned everywhere. It cost money to implement all the ideas, but it was money well spent. Today we all work together to keep everything tidy because it really makes our jobs easier. Nowadays I start my shift with a smile on my face,” says inspection fitter Thomas Simonetti.

And what is the message for colleagues who do not yet know CIP and 6S? Everyone agrees: “Get ready for a positive surprise, it’s worth it!”