How to Create a “5S” Workplace

In the past few decades, various forms of “lean” strategy have taken the business world by storm. (Think lean manufacturing, lean management or lean construction.) See related article, “6 Key Lean Manufacturing Principles.”

One of the most popular workplace organization methods to develop from the “lean” movement is called “5S” methodology. 5S has been found to be particularly useful in manufacturing and warehouse environments.

What Is 5S?

In its simplest terms, 5S helps accomplish one of the basic objectives of lean strategy: making problems visible.

5S uses visual signals to communicate important information. These visuals can include diagrams, pictograms, color-coding, floor markings and photographs. They allow everyone to quickly understand the information being conveyed.

 

The 5S methodology originated in Japan. Hence, the five S’s stand for five Japanese words: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke. These words are typically translated as “sort,” “set in order” (or “straighten”), “shine,” “standardize” and “sustain.”

But 5S is much more than just organizing your factory or warehouse to make everything look great. It’s about having more efficient operations, excelling at training and communications and, in the end, saving time and money. A facility that has implemented 5S is able to identify issues quickly, address the root causes, and solve the problems in the short term to prevent recurrence.

 

Let’s explore each step within the 5S process and its application within a manufacturing or warehouse environment:

The First “S” — Sort

The goal of the sorting phase is to remove unnecessary items from the space being organized, and provide a clean slate on which to implement the other four steps.

How to Do It:

Begin by removing virtually everything from the designated workspace. While it may seem as though placing everything into one large pile is just making a mess, it’s an important step in the sorting process, as it allows you to truly decide which items are no longer necessary to your operation.

Arrange four industrial bins and label them as “Keep,” “Remove,” “Decide,” and “Relocate.”

Keep: These are the essential, frequently used items. They are the tools that should be returned to the work area after sorting is complete.

Remove: These are unneeded items that are simply taking up valuable space, such as broken or outdated tools, or components that have passed their expiration date. Many companies use 5S Tags (or “red tags”) when sorting out unneeded items. The tag is easy to see and workers can quickly determine which items are to be removed.

Decide: These are items that need to be evaluated for use. Set a specific amount of time for determining if the items should be kept; after that time has passed, the items are either discarded or organized back into the workspace.

Relocate: These items are not frequently needed but must still be accessible when they are required. They will eventually be relocated to areas that make the most sense.

The Second “S” — Set in Order

This is the phase where all the items in the “Keep” bin are returned to the workspace in a specific, well-organized manner. This phase is truly about finding the most efficient and sensible places for tools and other items within a specific area.

This step helps minimize waste and loss of time by eliminating the need to search around for tools required to complete the job. Every loss of efficiency can gradually bleed a company’s profits.

How to Do It:

Map out the area where the tools and equipment will be placed, drawing on employees’ input to determine the most convenient and comfortable areas for placement. Obviously, the most frequently used tools should reside in easily accessible areas, closest to the station operator.

The key here is to minimize the need for workers to repeatedly reach over and between items. Items that are less frequently used should be placed in other areas.

Organizational Tools

There are a number of organizational tools that are extremely helpful when implementing this phase of 5S methodology. For instance:

Shadow boards and foam tool organizers feature outlines of tools behind or beneath the locations where they are placed when stored. They make it very easy for a worker to quickly see where to return a tool based on its silhouette or outline. They also allow employees to quickly identify which tools are missing.

Floor markings are a staple within warehouses and manufacturing facilities, as they can be used for a variety of different organizational purposes. They can designate a specific workspace, mark off pallet storage, or help navigate pedestrian traffic on the shop floor. Floor markings are available in a variety of different colors, sizes, strengths, thicknesses, and shapes.

Signage is essential to an efficient work environment for safety’s sake and for purposes of improving visual communication within the workplace. Signage is easily customizable and is available as floor signs, wall signs, or standing signs.

Labeling is key to an effective 5S system. Virtually anything can be labeled to help keep work areas organized, efficient, and visual to workers. When properly used, labels help employees understand where things belong and easily identify when something is missing. To this end, industrial printers make printing labels simple, convenient and cost-effective.

The Third “S” — Shine

The Shine phase is basically a thorough cleaning of the entire workstation or space. It involves cleaning, dusting, polishing, sweeping, vacuuming and everything necessary to attain perfect order. Workplace accidents can potentially destroy efficiency, and a good deep cleaning can help workers avoid them.

How to Do It:

Clear expectations are essential in this phase of 5S methodology. Workers are more likely to comply when they know what is expected with regard to cleanliness of their workspace. Posting imagery nearby that shows the fully cleaned state of a workspace can be a guide, as can an information board indicating step-by-step cleaning instructions.

Cleaning should always be carried out routinely, on a schedule, not in response to a workspace that has grown too cluttered to navigate efficiently.

The Fourth “S” — Standardize

The Standardize step of 5S methodology is all about auditing and regularly checking in on 5S efforts. It’s the bridge between the Shine step and the final step of Sustain.

Standardizing the approach to 5S ensures that organizational efforts are sustained in the long run. Failing to standardize procedures can lead to sloppy work and a loss of efficiency.

How to Do It:

You’ll want to implement a clear system that everyone understands. To this end, audit sheets and checklists are usually most effective, as they can be used by whoever is checking an area on a given day. Here are some sample questions you may wish to include on the checklist:

  • “Are all tools in their correct place on the shadow boards or other tool organizers?”
  • “Have power tools been unplugged and their cords properly stored?”
  • “Are the necessary supplies in place for the next worker who will begin a shift at that station?”

 

The Fifth “S” — Sustain

The Sustain step focuses on taking all of the previous steps of 5S and transforming them into ongoing habits to ensure continuous improvement. Bear in mind that habits do not develop right away. When workers are required to do something new in the workspace, it will take them some time for them to actually incorporate the new procedure into their routine.

How to Do It:

First, every new 5S process should be demonstrated correctly by a trained and knowledgeable professional. Supervisors should provide their staff with the individual attention needed for workers to understand what is expected.

Then, workers should be monitored to ensure that the daily 5S habits are being developed, and mistakes should be corrected.

Finally, the audits and checklists should be used to ensure the processes are running smoothly and as expected. Tracking measures should be put into place so that any undesired results can be addressed immediately.

Another “S”?

Some in the manufacturing community have contended that there should be a sixth “S” for Safety. They believe that safety is important enough to warrant its own category in this organizational methodology.

But many others believe that safety is a key component in all of the other 5 S’s and, therefore, to create a separate category would be redundant.

Safety is an integral part of the Sort, Set in Order and Shine phases of any 5S project. The other two steps, Standardize and Sustain, focus on the methods used to ensure that safety is maintained.

Video Recap

We’ve presented a lot of information. As a brief recap, the following video clip summarizes the 5S process:

 


Sources:

Creative Safety Supply LLC

EHS Today

Kaisen Institute