Lean happens on the shop floor. When working hands-on in manufacturing, there are a number of items that can help you. Throughout the years I have optimized a small lean toolkit that I bring with me for my everyday practical work. Here are seven gadgets that help me to do lean on the shop floor.
1: Focusable Flashlight
One item I find very helpful to have on the shop floor is a focusing flashlight. Often, when talking with others, I find the need to point out something at a working machine or process. Now, for obvious reasons, I am very hesitant to stick my fingers inside working machinery. If the safety stop works, then there will be an interruption of the process. If the safety stop does not work … well … let’s not go there.
Hence I need a pointing device that does not interact with a machine. Initially I thought of a laser pointer. However, the laser may shine on metal parts and reflect into someone’s eye. Even with a low powered laser I prefer to avoid this. Even worse, some machines have an automatic fire-extinguishing system that reacts on flashes. I don’t want to evacuate the shop floor because the Halon fire-extinguishing system activated. Such things make you unpopular on the shop floor (Note: hasn’t happened to me yet). Even if it the light hits only some optical sensor, it may mess up the quality of the product.
The solution: a focusing flashlight. The beam can be set narrow enough to point out an area on the machine, yet the light is not strong enough to interact with mechanical or biological optics. My flashlight of choice is the Led Lenser flashlight from the P series, for example the ultra compact LED Lenser P2, LED Lenser P3, or – my preference – the significantly brighter LED Lenser P5. All of these use LEDs and hence have a long battery life. Additionally, the focusing system gives a clear and precise ring of light, with a slightly blue hint around the edge. This makes pointing even easier.
As well, I’ve also found this flashlight very helpful when looking into dark corners, such as on the inside of boilers, pipes, or other larger products found in some factories.
2: Solar Calculator
Often, while on the shop floor, we want to make a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation. Now some people are really good at calculating in their head – but I am not one of them. Hence I usually carry a Cheap Solar Calculator around with me. A solar calculator carries advantage of not running out of battery power, and a cheap calculator works because its basic functions are quite sufficient for lean on the shop floor.
The next thing I often need is a Stopwatch. One important aspect of lean is speed, and so there is often the need to measure the speed of machines, processes, transport times. and much more. I carry a digital stop watch with me for these.
However, before you whip out a stopwatch, there is one important thing to realize. In many factories, workers are allergic to stopwatches. Like anybody else, they do not want to be measured, especially not if it determines their workload or salary. Hence you should check with management, workers, and unions beforehand if you want to measure times. Only after the all-clear should you start to take times.
4: Measuring Tape
Yet another item I occasionally need is a Compact Retractable Measuring Tape.
Here, two tape features are important: compactness and the ability to lock the tape. The length is not important. My tape is only 1 meter long (I work metric), and this is quite sufficient for me. I prefer compactness over length.
I use the tape to measure how many rollers there are per meter on a rolling conveyor, and how many more I need to put them closer. For longer distances, I estimate by counting my steps (the average step length of an adult is around 70 cm or around 27 inches). This is good enough for an initial measurement in most cases.
Of course, pens for note-taking are always important. I spent quite some time researching the perfect pen, and ended up with Uni-ball Jetstream Retractable Roller Ball Pens. These are simply the best disposable pens you can find outside of Japan (Japan has amazing pens!). The Jetstream dries quickly, writes smoothly and without effort, and does not bleed. It is not the cheapest pen available, but at around two to three dollars per pen it doesn’t break the bank if you lose one either. Just make sure you get the retractable version, otherwise there is the risk of loosing the cap. If you use a fine point or a bold point is up to your personal preference.
6: 3×3 inch Post-it Notes
With regard to paper, I am a huge fan of Post-it Notes, especially the 3×3-inch size. They are cheap, they fit in any shirt pocket, and they stick to many surfaces if needed. I have attached Post-its to machines, made manufacturing simulations using Post-its on a white board, and organized my notes by sticking Post-its onto other paper in my folder.
Of course, there are better options if you do intensive note-taking, but for quick note-taking on the fly I love Post-its.
7: Belt Pouch
Finally there is the issue of where to store all this gear. Female lean experts have the ability to carry around a handbag, but for males this can look odd. Stuffing your pant pockets doesn’t look professional either. I ended up using a belt pouch and settled for the Maxpedition M-2 Waistpack, as it was big enough for my stuff but not so big that it’s in the way. Plus, it had two loops for pens. This small pouch has served me well on multiple occasions on the shop floor.
In Addition: Smart phone
Nowadays most people – including me – carry a smart phone. Of course, this can replace the calculator and the stopwatch above. There are even custom apps (both free and paid) to support the observation of operators using an MTM or REFA system of predetermined motions. However, I like the haptics of a real calculator and a stopwatch over my smart phone, but if you prefer your mobile phone then go for it.
This lean tool kit has helped me many times when doing lean on the shop floor. Additionally, it also impressed my colleagues and clients. I hope this list of tools will also hep you with your work in lean manufacturing. Now go out and improve your industry.
I highly recommend the Led Lenser flashlight, M3 Post-it notes, and Jetstream pen. Feel free to choose any brand that suits you with the other tools, and please let me know if you have any additions. Don’t forget to check out my other post on my Extended Lean Toolkit that I bring only when needed. I hope this list helps you with your lean implementation. Now go out and organize your industry!