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The Ultimate Guide to 5S

In this guide, we'll walk through the five key steps (5S practices) for maintaining an efficient workspace in order to improve the quality of products.

Chapter One: What is 5S?

5S Defined

5S is one of the cornerstone practices of lean manufacturing. It is a systematic framework for workspace organization based on the idea that a better work environment results in better operations, which in turn leads to better products.

5S provides five key steps for maintaining an efficient workspace in order to improve the quality of products:

  1. Sort
  2. Set in order
  3. Shine
  4. Standardize
  5. Sustain.

More than ensuring that a workspace is neat and aesthetically orderly, 5S focuses on keeping everything in its place to maintain consistency in the work environment. Eliminating inconsistencies reduces disruptions to production processes, in turn resulting in reduced waste and a more predictable (and higher) quality of output.

5S to Reduce Waste

A cornerstone of lean methodology, 5S operates on the principle that reducing waste in production processes can add value to the products. The Toyota Production System (TPS) defines the 8 forms of waste in lean as:

  • Defects: When a product is not fit for use it must be scrapped or reworked, adding cost to the production process without adding value.
  • Waiting time: Unevenness in the work environment can lead to people waiting on material or equipment, or machines idling, and can result in overproduction or excess inventory.
  • Extra motion: Unnecessary movement can place strain on personnel and not add additional value to the customer.
  • Excess inventory: Excess inventory can cause inefficiencies and cause delays in the detection of problems. Problems can accumulate, and with more inventory, problems take longer to solve.
  • Overproduction: Producing too much before it is required obstructs a smooth flow of work, raises the costs of production and storage, hides defects inside work-in-progress, and increases lead time.
  • Extra processing: Excess activity as a result of poor tool or product design.
  • Unnecessary transportation: Moving items that are not necessary for the process.
  • Unutilized talents: Under-utilizing skills or assigning tasks to employees with insufficient training. 5S provides a methodology that reduces these wastes by maintaining a systematically organized workspace in which problems immediately become apparent and are easily detected and fixed.
The 8 Wastes of Lean Manufacturing

Chapter Two: What are the origins of 5S?

Toyota Production System

5S originated from the Toyota Production System (TPS) in Japan in the mid-20th century, which emerged in order to reduce waste and inefficiencies in manufacturing. The TPS was originally a closely guarded secret, but a massive economic boom in the 1980s sparked intense foreign interest in Toyota’s practices. Internationally, TPS developed into what is now known as the Lean manufacturing system, which aims to increase the value provided to customers by finding and reducing waste–with 5S as a foundational element. In Japanese, the original 5S’s are: seiri (sort), seiton (set in order), seiso (shine), seiketsu (standardize), and shitsuke (sustain).

Early Concepts

Prior to the emergence of 5S in the western part of the world, its underlying concepts were being practiced as part of a broader construct known as “visual control” or “visual workplace.” The ideas behind 5S have dated back to even the 16th century, when shipbuilders in Venice used a similar methodology to streamline their production process.

Chapter Three: What are the benefits of 5S?

A key benefit of implementing 5S is that a more efficient workspace can lead to a higher and more consistent quality of output, as eliminating inefficiencies ensures that operations run as planned.

5S works because it stresses that everything is kept in its place, making any outliers immediately obvious and signaling problems that need to be solved. In the long term, manufacturers who implement 5S can also expect to see the following benefits:

  • Reduced space used for storage
  • Improved maintenance
  • Improved safety
  • Higher employee commitment

Manufacturers can save money by eliminating non-value-added work, and see increases in profits as a result of higher productivity. Perhaps most importantly, a robust 5S program can foster an environment of continuous improvement.
Benefits of 5S in the workplace include reduced space needed for storage, improved maintenance, improved safety, and higher employee commitment.

Chapter Four: How do you perform a 5S audit?

5S Steps

To perform a 5S audit, you should follow the steps below:

1. Sort

Sort through all tools, equipment, furniture, etc. in an area and determine what should be kept and what should be removed. If you are uncertain about an item, attach a red tag to the item and set all red-tagged items aside. If a red-tagged item has not been used after a month (or another time period), it should be removed.

2. Set in order

Sort through remaining items and determine how they will be organized. Here are some questions to keep in mind:

  • Who uses the items, and where?
  • When are the items used?
  • How frequently are the items used?
  • Should the items be grouped with other similar items?
  • Where is it logical to place the items to cut down on unnecessary motion?
  • Will more storage containers be necessary to organize the items?
  • What arrangement will cause the least amount of waste? (recall the 8 wastes in Lean manufacturing described earlier)

3. Shine

Proactively clean work areas and perform maintenance on equipment on a regular basis. Planning ahead of time for maintenance can prevent downtime and keep things running smoothly.

4. Standardize

Create a standardized operating procedure for 5S tasks. Posting instructions, assigning tasks, and creating schedules can help create a standard routine for employees to follow and help these practices become habits.

5. Sustain

Keep your 5S system running smoothly by maintaining the procedures you’ve developed and updating them if necessary. Ensure that everyone in your organization is involved, from people on the shop floor to office workers and management. Lastly, train new employees on 5S best practices, and make sure employees who switch departments are trained on their new area’s procedures.

Chapter Five: What is the 6th S?

Some companies follow a 6S system, with “safety” as the sixth S. This step involves arranging workspaces to eliminate safety risks, such as by making workstations more ergonomic or clearly labeling areas that are potentially hazardous. However, some companies argue that safety is an outcome of the other 5S’s rather than a step on its own. In either case, safety should be an important focus in the organization of any workspace.

Chapter Six: What do I need to implement 5S?

How much does 5S cost?

While implementing 5S involves an up-front investment of time to plan and train, it generally does not cost much money, as the only purchases required are relatively inexpensive items such as floor markings, tape, and signs.

What tools do I need for 5S?

The following tools are often used for visual communication in 5S. Visual tools can not only make a workspace cleaner and easier to navigate, but also ensure that everything stays in its place:

  • Shadow boards: trace the outline of each tool onto a pegboard where it hangs. This highlights where a tool should be replaced after being used and makes it obvious when a tool is missing.
  • Floor markings: use tape to outline work areas, mark the positions where equipment should be located, and denote hazardous areas.
  • Signs and labels: indicate the contents of contents and containers and highlight potential hazards.

Read more about visual management tools for 5S.

Chapter Seven: How can I ensure a successful long-term 5S program?

5S Education

Sustaining 5S is a long-term, ongoing effort that requires a high level of commitment throughout a company. It is critical to gain employee buy-in for a successful 5S program; in order for a 5S effort to last, it must become ingrained in a company’s culture. To achieve this, you can educate employees on the history and benefits of 5S and involve them in the planning process–it is important that the voices of the people using the program be heard, and that employees take ownership of 5S practices. Make sure that everyone participates, including company leaders, who set the tone for the rest of the company.

5S Program

Using the right tools to implement your 5S program can help sustain it long-term. 5S has been a tried-and-true methodology for workspace organizations for decades, and there are more technologies available now than ever before to make implementing a 5S program simpler and more effective. Traditional paper-based processes are not ideal, because they are easy to ignore and hard to track.

A no-code app platform such as Tulip, however, can help manufacturers standardize and implement 5S procedures across their factories, easily make adjustments to keep them up to date, and automatically collect data. Digitizing 5s processes allows manufacturers to promote accountability among their employees and monitor progress over time.

Implementing a 5S program in your workplace is a worthwhile endeavor that can go a long way toward a more productive and efficient factory. Investing time and effort now can set the foundation for a culture of continuous improvement in the long run.

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