Lean manufacturing brings added value to customers and reduces the wasting of resources. There are many wastes in how HVAC construction contractors work.

Basic wastes include: defects, overproduction, inventory, unnecessary process steps, movement of people and materials, and waiting. These manifest themselves on the job site, in the shop and office, and even in service work. Is it time your operations lost some of its fat? Here are 50 ways to go on a manufacturing “diet.” 

At the job site

  1. Free work areas, trailers, gang boxes and yards of unnecessary clutter, including tools, boxes, spare parts, etc.
  2. Return excessive tools and equipment, especially rented equipment.
  3. Mark, tape down and remove out of traffic’s paths all power cords to avoid tripping.
  4. Mark all boxes stored at the work site as to real content.
  5. Store consumables in easy-to-get-to locations and in the order of frequency or sequence of use. Set minimum and maximum amounts or standard quantities for consumable items and clearly mark them. Put all information needed (quantity to order, vendor part number and name, vendor contact information, etc.) for reordering this material on a card, so the person doing the reordering can do it quickly and correctly.
  6. Locate tools, lifts and gang boxes where they are used and easily retrieved.
  7. Get rid of excessive material — aka stashes — on the job site.
  8. Have designated positions for items needed to perform the installation (other than tools and gang boxes). Examples include chemicals, duct, pipe, lifts, field drawings, safety equipment, etc.
  9. All materials should be stored on carts, pallets or other means, so it can be moved easily. Nothing touches the ground.
  10. Have designated areas for cleaning supplies and keep them organized.
  11. Make sure the blank copies of all forms (time sheets, work orders, pre-task plans, etc.) required by workers are current, labeled and stored in an easy-to-find location. Ensure that it is clearly marked where to turn in completed forms.
  12. Have lay-down areas easily identified for material, mobile carts, toolboxes, lifts, etc.
  13. Have someone assigned to maintain the lay-down areas for material, mobile carts, toolboxes, lifts, etc. This responsibility may be rotated among workers.
  14. Ensure that tools and equipment are properly cleaned and placed back in the proper location after each task or shift. Have machines and equipment cleaned daily or “as scheduled,” following an established checklist.
  15. Where possible, have materials set out before each shift, so it is ready for installation.
  16. Have each gang box clearly identified and properly stored when not in use.
  17. Be clear on what goes into each box and where. Have someone assigned to making sure the gang boxes stay organized. This may be a rotating assignment.
  18. Ensure those delivering to the job site know where to put material or tools and equipment. Give instructions when ordering the material, and be sure to have signs matching the instructions. If possible, design the yard flow so suppliers enter one way and exit another, never having to back up.
  19. Post the daily and/or weekly work plans/production schedule, so it is visible within the work area or trailer.
  20. If your supplier delivers to the job site regularly, consider storing less of what can be delivered each day.
  21. Hold a weekly review of new improvement ideas, and the approval and implementation status of existing ones.
  22. Conduct monthly site organization audits, post the results and actions, and include what, who is responsible and when.

In the shop

  1. Get rid of scrap metal. Recycle it. The hidden cost of handling and storing scrap outweighs the savings of having it on hand.
  2. Keep workbenches, desks, tabletops and work areas free of unnecessary items. Unnecessary means they are used less than monthly.
  3. Keep walking aisles unobstructed and clearly marked with yellow tape or paint.
  4. Mark trash cans and storage areas as such: red for hazardous, and yellow or black for not hazardous.
  5. Put tools on shadow boards, in foam cutouts or otherwise labeled, so they can easily be found and spotted if missing.
  6. Mark permanent locations for mobile carts, toolboxes, tool A-frames, etc., so everyone can see where they go when not in use.
  7. Ensure that electrical cords are out of the way to avoid tripping and are not tangled, especially where they are seen at a glance.
  8. Locate tools, fixtures and jigs at the workstation where they are used and can easily be retrieved.
  9. For large tools, carts, gauges and specialty toolboxes  that are used sometimes and shared, identify and clearly mark their storage locations.
  10. Establish and mark minimum and maximum amounts or standard quantities for consumable items and have a reorder information card available. Ensure that these consumable items are refilled daily for the next shift.
  11. For file cabinets and storage shelves, label the contents in a consistent and organized manner. Organize file folders or contents of the cabinet in order to retrieve something without much time. Make it visual. Have all binders/books labeled consistently with a visual way (color codes) to know if a binder/book is missing, such as “2 of 5.”
  12. Designate, organize and visually mark where all cleaning supplies are stored.
  13. Make it visually obvious what items are ready for work, what items are work-in-progress and what items are completed.
  14. Keep floors free of debris and require that work areas and workbenches be cleaned after each shift. Keep tools/equipment cleaned and placed back in proper location after each task. Ensure that machines and equipment are cleaned daily or “as scheduled,” following an established checklist.
  15. Display the daily/weekly fabrication schedule in the work area. 

In the Office

  1. Keep the work area free of unnecessary items (machines, equipment, trays, and/or furniture).
  2. Remove unused or unnecessary work documentation, old training material or unnecessary work procedures or instructions from the workstation/work area, including tables and cabinets. Remove outdated or torn announcements from bulletin boards and cubicle walls.
  3. Label individual offices as to occupant and title, and have a way to tell if someone is “in” or “out” of the office.
  4. Each individual office should have a way to label and organize work-in-process, so others can find needed information when the office occupant is away.
  5. Label all file cabinets as to contents in a consistent and organized manner, so files can be found.
  6. Clean light fixtures/diffusers on a periodic basis.
  7. Display instructions and contact names for when the fax, copier and printer malfunctions.
  8. Ensure the team knows how long information must be stored in files, etc., and how long until it expires.

Service work

  1. Keep service trucks and vans free of unnecessary parts or material. If not used in six months to a year, don’t carry it. Eliminate stashes of material and tools in service vehicles or at the warehouse.
  2. Keep roiling stock inventory on service trucks and vans updated every three months to account for changing seasons, and maintain a systematic process for restocking service trucks and vans.
  3. Return excess tools and equipment from trucks and vans.
  4. Ensure that all boxes and bins stored in vans are marked as to real contents.
  5. Design the yard flow for one way in and out.

Dennis Sowards is an industry consultant and guest writer for Snips. His company is Quality Support Services Inc. He is author of The Lean Construction Pocket Guide, which has sold over 6,500 copies. He can be reached at dennis@YourQSS.com or (480) 835-6048.

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or email devriesj@bnpmedia.com.