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Key Points

  • The 5S process organizes work areas to reduce the risk of accidents and improve employee morale.
  • All staff must be willing to cooperate, from top executives to line employees.
  • Periodic meetings, continuous training, and a rewards system help to enforce the new maintenance procedures.

A workplace that is clean, organized, efficient, and safe, functions at utmost efficiency. This is an integral part of the lean methodology, and the philosophy behind 5S. Based on five simple concepts—Sort, Set-in-Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain—the goal of 5S is to improve work quality, efficiency, and safety by reducing waste and non.value.added activities. Typically, companies using this system have been able to increase capacity by 15%-25% without further capital investment.

The 5S concepts eliminate excess inventory, non-essential items, and unused equipment that restrict the process flow, making it easier to find needed tools and parts:

1. Seiri (Sorting)—eliminates non-essential items from the workplace. Red tagging is a method that is often used. Employees place red tags on all items that are not essential in completing their jobs. Red-tag items are placed in a storage locker within the work area for evaluation. Later, these items are moved to an organized storage locker outside the work area, or eliminated altogether. Sorting eliminates broken parts, and outdated tools and equipment.

2. Seiton (Set-in-Order)—develops effective and efficient storage methods by evaluating the need for an item. Sample questions include:

  • Is this item needed to complete the job?
  • Where should this item be located?
  • How many of this item are needed?

Effective strategies for set-in-order include painting floors, outlining work areas, using modular shelving or cabinets for essential items, and tagging items to identify proper storage areas.

3. Seiso (Shine)—after non-essential items have been eliminated, and the work area has been properly organized, the area must be cleaned thoroughly. In order to sustain these improvements, daily follow-up cleaning is required. Workers take pride in a clean workplace and increased employee morale will result. Employers will benefit from a safer and more efficient workplace that will save money, increase efficiency, and improve the bottom line.

4. Seiketsu (Standardize)—after implementing the first three steps, concentrate on standardizing these practices. Daily cleaning and routine inspections of the work area are two necessary components of standardization. The 5S philosophy should become an everyday procedure.

5. Sitsuke (Sustain)—maintaining the new procedures after they are in place may be the most difficult of the 5Ss to achieve. After the initial enthusiasm for the new procedures has waned, there is a tendency to return to the old, familiar ways. As a result, the shop floor can quickly become cluttered and unorganized once again. Managers and employees must maintain focus in order to sustain the improvements. Periodic meetings, continuous training, and a system of goal setting and rewards will help the initiative.

The advantages of using the 5S philosophy include the following:

  • Clean, visually appealing work areas improve employee morale.
  • Organized work areas reduce the risk of accidents.
  • Improved organization results in better inventory management.
  • Common goals improve self-discipline among employees and managers.

The disadvantages of using the 5S philosophy include the following:

  • In order for the 5S concepts to succeed, all staff must be willing to cooperate, from top executives to line employees.
  • Sustaining the initial improvements requires a tremendous amount of self-discipline among employees.
  • The initial cleaning and organizing requires that time and effort be spent away from production processes.
  • Initially, the training, man-hours, and equipment purchases that are required will incur additional costs.

This article appeared in the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center – Forward Focus newsletter, and is used with permission.