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Effective 5S



June 30, 2003

5S or the 5 pillars of the visual workplace is a systematic process of workplace organization. When I ask manufacturing people about the 5S’s, most of them say they don’t think the 5S’s are relevant. “That’s just a system of keeping things organized and clean, right? Oh yeah, and they have this crazy idea that toolboxes are bad.” Or sometimes I hear: “Why make a big program out of cleaning up?” The 5S’s are not simply eliminating toolboxes and cleaning up. While the concepts are easy to understand, most companies have not implemented them. Implementation of the 5S’s has many benefits: higher quality, lower costs, reliable deliveries, and improved safety…to name a few. These benefits are clearly relevant to any manufacturer, and they are not had simply by eliminating toolboxes and cleaning up.

The intent of 5S is to have only what you need available in the workplace, a designated place for everything, a standard way of doing things, and the discipline to maintain it. Created in Japan, the 5S’s are: seiri, seiton , seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke. Translated to English, we have:

  • Sort - remove all items from the workplace that are NOT needed for current production.
  • Set in Order - arranging needed items so that they are easy to find and put away. Items used often are placed closer to employee.
  • Shine - making sure everything is clean, functioning, and ready to go.
  • Standardize - the method you use to maintain the first 3S's.
  • Sustain - making a habit of properly maintaining correct procedures.

For the organization, this creates fewer defects, less waste, fewer delays, fewer injuries, and fewer breakdowns. These advantages translate to lower cost and higher quality.

For the operator, the 5S’s create a superior working environment. They give the operator an opportunity to provide creative input regarding how the workplace should be organized and laid out and how standard work should be done. Operators will be able to find things easily, every time. The workplace will be cleaner and safer. Jobs will be simpler and more satisfying with many obstacles and frustrations removed.

The first “S” (Sort) requires you to distinguish between what is needed and what is not needed. Then, it requires you to discard what is not needed. This is known as “Red-tagging.” A team goes through all items (tools, equipment, material, etc.) and asks the question: “Do I need this to do my job on a regular basis?” Items that are used very infrequently or not used should be red-tagged. After determining what is actually needed, update all documentation to reflect the needed parts.

The second “S” (Set in Order) requires you to organize things so that they are easy to use and label them so that anyone can find, use, and return them to the correct place easily. Visual controls should be used where practicable in this activity; a visual control is any communication device used in the work environment that tells you at a glance how work should be done. The requirements for setting in order include:

  • Equipment and tool organization - Simple, organized storage with visual confirmation (you know exactly where it goes and if it is missing/empty with just a glance).
  • Tools and equipment used most frequently are closest to employee.
  •  Workstations have a place for each tool with no toolboxes or drawers that interfere with visibility and require unneeded motion to open and close.
  • Taping - tape floor to indicate areas of: operations, parts, walkways, discrepant material and hazards.
  • Work instructions - current and at workstation.
  • Signboard strategy:
    • Indicate cell, product lines, and workstations.
    • Indicate production goals and status
    • Area information boards with key status indicators (inventory, training, calibration etc).
  •  Ergonomics - Follow ergonomic guidelines in work / tool design

The third “S” (Shine) involves bringing the workspace back to proper order by the end of each day. It requires periodic (at least once daily) cleanup, responsible person(s) identified for cleanup, establishment of cleanup/restocking methods (tools, checklists etc), and periodic supervisor inspection.

The fourth “S” (Standardize) is the method by which you maintain the first three S’s. Organization, Orderliness, and Cleanliness are maintained and made habitual by instituting 3S Duties into regular work routines. The methods need to be standardized and required company-wide.

The fifth “S” (Sustain) allows the organization to sustain its 5S program. This requires an executive 5S champion to ensure that 5S becomes part of the culture, periodic walk-through inspections/audits with posted results, and 5S performance measurement of workgroups. Implementation of this final S is where most companies fall back into their old ways of doing things. Very often, 5S is thought of as an activity rather than an element of company culture; companies implement 5S for several months only to find themselves back to their previous state. To make 5S work, it is critical that performance be measured and that top management be committed.

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About the Author

Darren Dolcemascolo is an internationally recognized lecturer, author, and consultant. As Sr. Partner and co-founder of EMS Consulting Group, he specializes in productivity and quality improvement through lean manufacturing. Mr. Dolcemascolo has written the book Improving the Extended Value Stream: Lean for the Entire Supply Chain, published by Productivity Press in 2006. He has also been published in several manufacturing publications and has spoken at such venues as the Lean Management Solutions Conference, Outsourcing World Summit, Biophex, APICS, and ASQ. He has a BS in Industrial Engineering from Columbia University and an MBA with Graduate Honors from San Diego State University.


EMS Consulting Group helps companies implement lean strategies through lean training and lean consulting services. To learn more, read our lean manufacturing case studies or lean manufacturing articles.