Why 5S?

In the manufacturing industry, we talk a lot about 5S. So, what is 5S exactly? A 5S program creates a clean, organized and disciplined work environment. The 5S system is a foundation of lean manufacturing and should come first as a basis for other improvements. It will identify problems and abnormalities in your work area and is a great way to eliminate waste. 5S must be taught then used repeatedly to become part of everyone’s daily routine.

The 5S process includes the following steps:

  • Sort: The process of removing all the items that are not needed for current production from the workspace.
    • When in doubt, move it out.
  • Set In Order: Identify a place for all necessary items.
    • A place for everything and everything in its place.
  • Shine: Clean the work area.
    • A clean workplace is a safe, efficient and more productive workplace.
  • Standardize: Creating procedures to maintain the first 3 S’s.
    • An agreed upon set of tasks/tools that we are continually improving.
  • Sustain: Auditing the improvements so we never go back.
    • Excellence is not an act, but a habit.

Many companies fail when implementing a 5S program because they put all their efforts into completing the first three steps and don’t go all-in on the entire process. Steps 1-3 can result in making the work area look great after sorting and placing only what is necessary back in the area, so it can be easy to think you are done and no more effort is needed. If you want the improvements to be permanent, however, the last two steps are the most important part of a 5S program. If you do not standardize the new system and then audit to make sure you sustain the improvements, you will quickly find the work area slipping back to its original state.

Here are some indications of a work area needing a 5S process or of it slipping after you have completed your 5S effort:

  • Trip hazards and other hidden safety hazards
  • Excess inventory
  • Excess tools, parts or equipment
  • Longer lead times
  • Space constraints
  • Lower productivity
  • Dirt and dust on surfaces in work area
  • Horizontal surfaces covered with clutter
  • Workers wasting time looking for things
  • Floor covered with unused items
  • Hard to see the flow of value-added work through the clutter
  • Unhappy or unmotivated workforce

At Excellerate, we take 5S very seriously, and have put a lot of effort into keeping our work areas clean and organized. Most of our work teams have gone through 5S training, and our team members are an integral part of its success. When 5S is properly implemented, it creates a visual factory that allows for quick determination of the workplace status. At a glance, it’s evident when things are out of order, production has fallen behind or stalled or if inventories are not where they should be. We have some unique challenges in that our workspaces can frequently change – in size, in what work is being done, in what materials and tools are needed and in the number of people working in the area. Our leaders must frequently assess situations and plan for these changes. 5S has become part of pre-production and layout discussions so we can have maximum success when it is time to execute the plan.

Most people have heard of 5S and have maybe even been a part of a 5S program. Some programs are very disciplined and audited to sustain the standards, while others are less rigid and are done whenever the feeling of having too much clutter creeps in. True 5S takes daily discipline to maintain, but there is value in both kinds of efforts. Any effort to remove clutter and make a work area better is an improvement, even if it means you are only doing it a few times per year. However, a daily structured approach to a 5S program will allow you to maximize the full benefits of 5S, as well as create an environment that your employees will want to work in. Benefits include improved safety, productivity and quality, and reduced waste. Morale often improves, along with customer impression, and a better general sense of order.

What is your organization doing to implement and sustain 5S? Please reach out if Excellerate can be a resource to you.