Keep Tools Close to the Task to Improve Productivity

In manufacturing, Continuous Improvement or LEAN methods are used to organize the workplace and standardize procedure. The LEAN system is based on the Japanese system of KAIZEN or workplace efficiency. The intent is to reduce waste associated with non-value activity, while improving quality, productivity and safety.


Implementing a LEAN manufacturing environment is one of the best ways to reduce overall costs and increase productivity and ultimately profitability. In the LEAN philosophy there are seven specific activities that do not add any value, and therefore are considered waste. These seven wastes are: Transport; Inventory; Motion; Waiting; Overprocessing; Overproduction and Defects. The mnemonic device used to remember these wastes is TIMWOOD.

The Wastes of Waiting and Motion

Two of the most common of these wasteful activities on a manufacturing floor are waiting and motion. The waste of waiting is just what it sounds like; waiting for machines, tools, information, repairs, any reason work is stopped, even for only a short time. Unnecessary motion is wasted motion. Motion refers to all of the different movement needed to complete a process or task.

Let’s consider this hypothetical situation. A worker on a production line has several steps to complete his task. Before he begins, he bends down to grab a tool. He picks up the tool to complete one task, then puts that tool down to free his hands to do another task, then he reaches to another spot to get a different tool, and he repeats that process many times each day. If just one of these steps or movements could be eliminated, the time saved could really add up. Consider too if this same worker needs to leave a workstation once per day to find a tool or replenish supplies from a centralized tool crib. The time it takes to travel there and back also adds up. Then when you consider how many employees could be doing the same thing, it can add up pretty rapidly from there.

Once you pinpoint the primary source of these wasteful activities, you will have uncovered a real opportunity to improve efficiency and productivity and take unnecessary costs out of running your business. Why is this so important? The only way to improve your profits is to reduce your costs. Removing elements of waste in your processes is one of the easiest ways to take costs out of your business.

Move Supplies Closer to the Job

Increasingly, manufacturing plants are using point-of-use storage on the floor to give workers more immediate access to the tools and supplies they need to work efficiently and safely. There are many ways to do this, including using tool storage cabinets and vending to help manage inventory use. Keeping the right supplies close to the task makes it easier on employees whose performance is measured by how much they get done in a day, because they won’t be as concerned about time away from the job.

Today as manufacturing plants look to control costs and improve productivity, more are adopting the concept of keeping inventory near the task where it is needed. There are many choices today when it comes to tool and supply storage. Cabinets come in many sizes and configurations, so it’s easier than ever to find the right size and capacity for the location.

If improving productivity on the manufacturing floor is one of your primary goals, see if you can uncover opportunities to improve two of the more common productivity killers — waiting and motion. Start small. Locate one area where you see this most and then test it out. Do a before/after audit of the time spent hourly, daily, and weekly and see if you notice an improvement. If you do, slowly start to implement this throughout the plant where you see the most opportunity.

If the workers at your manufacturing plant are spending too much time waiting to complete their work, or if they are moving away from their jobsite to find the tools and supplies they need, the solution might be as easy as storing them closer to where those supplies are needed.

Learn more about tool storage solutions available at Grainger.