Lean and Clean

Oct. 1, 2008
How 5S, a management philosophy, can improve work flow and maximize shop efficiency.

Clark Plucinski admits that if his body shops were still doing things the way they did 10 years ago, they wouldn’t be in business today. With locations in Maryland, Ohio, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, True2Form Collision Repair Centers’ executive vice president attributes a lot of his success—they’ve increased efficiency by about 80 percent since they opened their doors 10 years ago—to following an organizational and management philosophy known as 5S.

The methodology adheres to five S’s designed to improve work flow and increase efficiency. Megan Erickson, business manager for 3M in St. Paul, Minn., offers a simple definition: “5S is all about simplifying the work environment by reducing non-value-added activities and items.” She adds that 5S is really an element of lean manufacturing—and it’s one of the easier parts a body shop can employ.

“The most important thing is to start somewhere. Pick an area of the shop with influential employees. They’re going to be leaders.”
—Megan Erickson, Business Manager, 3M


Erickson provides a quick overview of what each of the five S’s in 5S stand for:
• Sort. This phase occurs when you’re figuring out which items are necessary to keep around and which aren’t. You evaluate what’s really needed for a particular job and what can be eliminated.
• Set in Order. During this process, you’re taking the items you’ve decided you need and figuring out where to keep them so they can be accessed easily and quickly. This step is critical in maximizing efficiency.
• Sweep. When you sweep, you make sure that workplaces are kept clean and all of your equipment is in good condition. If things are messy, it’s hard to spot a problem—such as leaking oil, for example—when it occurs. You can catch situations like this much earlier if you actually see them happening.
• Standardize. When you’re working to standardize the process of 5S, you address questions such as, “Who is going to be responsible for keeping the workspace clean?” and “How are people going to be held accountable for staying on top of this new process?”
• Sustain. Sustaining is tough, but it can be done. Essentially, this step means not letting things go back to the status quo. Erickson suggests performing little audits on a weekly basis to ensure the four previous steps are being followed.


A few years ago, Plucinski realized that one thing he needed to make more efficient was the way his shops went about the repair process. While he says he’s not big on labeling the phases of 5S when discussing it with his employees, his shops have been going through different steps for the past three or four years.

When he first realized his shops were waiting too long for parts, he started measuring cycle times—and wasn’t happy with the results. He discovered that estimates were being written without a complete disassembly process, which meant the entire job was held up while additional parts were ordered and then shipped. To remedy the situation, Plucinski began to implement the first phase of 5S—sort.

“We looked at the constraints, what was making us stop all the time. We had to source the parts and figure out what we needed to do the repair properly, to have full visibility and work hard to lock down what it took to fix it right the first time.” By following the first step of 5S, Plucinski was able to figure out how to get parts more quickly—and therefore get more jobs out the door.

“If it’s just an owner’s brainstorm, it won’t work. If everyone is on board, it will work."
—Clark Plucinski, Executive Vice President, True2Form Collision Repair Centers

Now, he says his shops start working on cars the moment they arrive. “We have a goal that within 30 minutes of receiving the vehicle, we have that car disassembled and we’re sourcing parts,” he explains. They also have a goal to spend four hours per day per vehicle. Right now, the company average is three hours. “You want to touch the vehicle more times per day,” he says. “The more times you’re with the car, the faster it actually gets done.” Hold-ups caused by waiting for parts, for example, contribute to less time spent on a car each day.

In addition to establishing goals to improve cycle time, Plucinski also made a point to organize everything in his shops. “Everything has a place, and there’s a place for everything,” he says. “The shop needs to be set up properly.” His cleaning overhaul falls under the second and third S’s—set in order and sweep.

Not only did Plucinski make it easier for employees to find a particular tool they may need for a job—and to know exactly where those tools are located—he also enabled his shops to reflect a more professional work environment. By doing so, there’s the unexpected benefit of increasing employee morale. As Erickson says, “People like to work in a clean environment.”

To implement the fourth phase—standardize—Plucinski says he and his employees had to learn to discipline themselves to follow the new way of doing things. For example, he says now he would never schedule 25 cars to be repaired if they couldn’t figure out how to get all 25 in the system—something they used to do before. “They would all just come in, and we’d try to get them done. We’d have to call customers on Friday, apologizing,” he says.

Phase four ties in very closely with phase five—sustain. Plucinski plans to incorporate 5S into the business’s standard operating procedure (SOP). This would enable all employees to understand the importance of following the practice on a daily basis.


Implementing 5S can seem daunting, but Erickson says not to worry. “I’d recommend not doing your whole shop at once. Pick one department,” she says. “The most important thing is to start somewhere. Pick an area of the shop with influential employees. Every shop has those kinds of employees. They’re going to be leaders.”

Employee support helps a lot. “It won’t work unless everyone participates,” Erickson says. “Every employee from the shop manager to the detailer needs to be totally involved in the process.”

Plucinski found the same to be true at his shops. “Educate your folks—let them become a part of it,” he agrees. “If it’s just an owner’s brainstorm, it won’t work. If everyone is on board, it will work. It’s a result from working as a team from beginning to end.”

Patience and diligence are also important. “It really is a lifelong journey [that encompasses] everything end to end, from the soup to the nuts,” Plucinski says. He isn’t afraid to admit his shops haven’t reached “true success” in terms of implementing 5S to perfection, and they’ve been working on it for years. But, the more they strive to make adjustments, the better things become. “It’s a matter of stepping back and regrouping. This is 10 years in the making. It’s absolutely continuous.”

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