5sThe philosophy of 5S represents a way of focusing and thinking in order to better organize and manage workspace, specifically by eliminating the 8 Wastes as defined by the Lean Manufacturing system. It is one of the most widely used and fundamental components of Lean Manufacturing. Its simple, common-sense application is highly effective and reliable as a stabilizing force in Lean strategies.

5S stands for two sets of words: one in Japanese and one in English.  They are:

  • Seiri – Sort
  • Seiton – Set in Order
  • Seiso – Shine
  • Seiketsu – Standardize
  • Shitsuke – Sustain

Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps and how they can benefit the manufacturing process or other system in need of more efficient and waste-free operations.

Sort – This step focuses on the elimination of any unnecessary workplace clutter.  In a process called “red tagging,” all workplace items are sorted through, with a red tag placed on any that are not absolutely necessary for completing a task. Once tools, supplies, materials and equipment have been tagged, they are then relocated to a holding area for a follow up evaluation. Items that are only seldom used can be stored closer in proximity to the workspace, while obsolete clutter should be discarded.

Sorting’s benefits include: a more effective use of space, simplified tasks, a reduction in hazards, and a significant decrease in distracting clutter.

Set in Order – The goal of this step is to examine methods of storage that are effective and efficient, sometimes referred to as “visual management,” and then create a work environment that is organized, ergonomic, uncluttered and easily navigable. Some questions to ask during this step might be: Which specific items are needed to perform a task? How many items need to be readily accessible and where should they be located?

The methodical storage of materials means that every item has a predetermined location where it will remain until it used, and then it will be returned immediately following its use. Labels and color coding are also helpful techniques to use in this step. With an organized and efficient use of storage, everyone is easily able to locate important items and enjoy a less stressful work environment.

Shine – With the clutter gone and the storage organized, the next step is to properly and thoroughly clean the work area every day. This step is critical as a way of sustaining the improvements begun in the Sort and Set phases. All storage areas, machines, equipment, tools and work surfaces must be cleaned and checked regularly. Employees will feel more comfortable in this clean and uncluttered environment, which could also lead to increased ownership of the organization’s goals and vision.

Standardize – Now that the first three steps are in play, it’s time to standardize these new practices. All employees need to be included in the creation of a set of standards that will become the new norm for the workspace. When these new standards and best practices are implemented, the old habits will soon die out and be replaced by the more efficient patterns of behavior. New standards, however, will probably require some oversight and enforcement until they are habitual; reminders such as visuals and emails are effective tools to help these new standards become set in stone.

Sustain – The final step of 5S is certainly the most challenging: remaining disciplined enough to sustain the positive changes made in the first three steps. It is critical that the new system be maintained or the efforts and costs put into developing the new system will be pointless. By putting a formal system in place that includes regular training and communication, employees will be able to comfortably conform to the company’s 5S procedures.

The 5S system is not complicated to understand; the challenges lie in successfully implementing the steps and sustaining the practices. Among other things, a successful 5S implementation will improve workplace safety, develop self-esteem among employees and reduce training time for new employees.

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