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Remove: These are unneeded items that are simply taking up valuable space, such as broken or outdated tools, or components that have passed their expiration date.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.
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.
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.
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.
We’ve presented a lot of information. As a brief recap, the following video clip summarizes the 5S process: