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Competitive Manufacturing / Lean Manufacturing Solutions - 5S

Supplier: QMI Solutions

The first 5 steps to achieving all-time highs in productivity, quality, safety, and employee satisfaction


Competitive Manufacturing / Lean Manufacturing Solutions - 5S

The first 5 steps to achieving all-time highs in productivity, quality, safety, and employee satisfaction

If there were a simple, inexpensive system available for your factory floor to reduce waste, improve productivity, quality and safety, help you retain good employees, and contribute considerably to the bottom line year after year, you’d want to use it, wouldn’t you?

Such a system does exist and it is known as 5S Housekeeping. It is a structured, systematised approach to housekeeping and a cornerstone of any world class manufacturing operation.

Most manufacturing professionals can walk into a facility and in a matter of minutes make a reasonable judgment about the degree of efficiency with which it can produce quality products. This judgment is derived primarily from observation of the cleanliness or the clutter of the plant.

After all, if a company cannot successfully conduct housekeeping activities its customers might reasonably assume that it would struggle to deliver even mildly complex products on time.

Additionally, a 5S program is a great way to get a continuous improvement effort off to a flying start.

As the name suggests there are five steps to the 5S system. They corresponded originally to five Japanese words starting with ‘s’ but now are most commonly known as: sort, set in order, shine, standardise and sustain.

1. Sort

The first step in the 5S program is to get rid of excess materials and equipment lying around your factory gathering dust and just taking up space. This is achieved by an exercise called “red-tagging”.

Take some brightly coloured tags and tag everything not necessary for getting the job done. For doubtful items create a “holding area” and put them there after they have been tagged. Any items that have not been used after a certain time (e.g. six months) can then be discarded.

After tagging is completed, analyse the findings. Ask yourself questions such as:

  •  “Why is this tag here and what can be done to prevent it from reappearing?”
  •  “Why did we order so much more than we needed?”

Document all items tagged as well as the corrective and preventive actions taken. Following this analysis, items with no value or future need should be discarded. Decide the maximum number of any type of item to be retained.

2. Set in Order

The second step is to ensure that all materials, tools and equipment have a designated location and that all such locations are easy to find. This can be achieved through “visual workplace” principles and simple systems. Having removed the clutter through your “sort” efforts you can straighten up the facility by:

  •  making some layout changes, such as creating work cells;
  •  clearly marking shelves and bins for inventory and tool locations;
  •  creating tool boards;
  •  painting aisles and zones for work or storage on the floor;
  •  keeping everything in its designated location (this can also assist with quantity control by not generating more than a receiving area can handle.

3. Shine

This third step is sometimes referred to as “sweep” or “scrub”. It emphasises the removal of dirt, grime and dust from the factory, and its purpose includes improving morale and ensuring that when someone needs to use an item it is in good condition and ready for use. This goes beyond removal of swarf or a quick brushing-off of a machine. It includes activities such as:

  •  painting machines after cleaning;
  •  removing cobwebs from the ceilings;
  •  painting walls, ceilings and floors in bright colours.

A 5S schedule posted in the factory shows who is responsible for cleaning which areas on which days and at what time/s of the day.

4. Standardise

Step four is to establish standards to be regularly applied to the workplace that will help maintain the first three steps (3S). If you apply the first three steps as a one-off or even as an annual event, the benefits are likely to be minimal at best; you need to implement a program to ensure its ongoing success.

  •  Some components of “standardise” include:
  •  developing a 3S schedule;
  •  assigning responsibilities;
  •  formulating work-in-progress/inventory rules;
  •  establishing cleaning procedures;
  •  developing maintenance schedules;
  •  colour coding containers, shelves, labels etc.

Key parts of this step are assigning 3S responsibilities, integrating 3S duties into regular work duties, checking on 3S maintenance and prevention.

5. Sustain

The fifth step is to make a habit of maintaining the momentum of the previous four steps to assure sustainability of the system. This step involves people and cultural issues: it is critical for 5S success to:

  • build an awareness of how important 5S is
  • allow enough time for 5S activities
  • have management support staff efforts in terms of acknowledgment, leadership and  resources
  • reward and recognise efforts of staff
  • develop a sense of satisfaction and excitement amongst staff by discussing the benefits, such as improved morale and safety and recognition that it’s now a better place to work.

Sustainable implementation of 5S requires the support of top management; the system needs to become habitual - ingrained into the culture of the organisation.

For full details refer to 5S for Operators: 5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace, by Hirano, available at:

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