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This is the first in an ongoing series about Lean Manufacturing and the elements of 5S to provide a framework of efficiency and continuous improvement in order to make your work more efficient, thus creating better systems and impacting both worker happiness, communication, and ultimately your bottom line.

What are LEAN Initiatives?

First, LEAN initiatives mean the elimination of all waste in any Manufacturing, Warehouse, Distribution Center, Fulfillment Center, and Third-Party Logistics (3PL) Provider. Don’t forget that this LEAN initiative can work in THE OFFICE as well! After top management commitment, it is up to the people to create a LEAN environment, after effective education and training, and the use of common sense.

Years ago in the early manufacturing days, when Henry Ford was building automobiles, you could see tools hanging on a board outlined by the tool shape, so when you took the tool off the board and used it, you brought it back to the same identical spot.  It was not called a LEAN initiative, 5S, or even “shadow boarding” back then. It was called a good, old common sense approach to tool management.

Secondly, before you implement 5S you have to get rid of all stash and clean up all areas of any debris. Put like tools and equipment in the same area. Search to see that no tools are hidden, and everything is within reach. You have to organize areas and use the KISS method: Keep it simple and stupid so anyone can find and use tools readily and know immediately where to return them for re-use.

Remember that 5S is only the start to implementing all LEAN initiatives, by using basic organizational skills first. 5S is only one of many LEAN programs.

What is 5S Anyway?

Third, so what is 5S anyway? It basically means having visual order. The elements of 5S are: SORT, SET IN ORDER, SHINE, STANDARDIZE and SUSTAIN. Common sense, yes, practical, yes! Next, you have to sort everything out, set it in order, clean it all up, so it shines, make sure everything is standardized, and the hardest part of 5S is to sustain and control the 5S organizational system, with negative and positive reinforcement, so it stays in place permanently. Writing 5S Standard Operating Procedures (S.O.P.s) is good to ensure that new employees are educated in 5S before they begin work. It is easy to fall back to the old, unorganized method of doing things. With the basics of LEAN initiatives comes discipline. Discipline is needed to maintain this formal system. It is a basic paradigm shift in organizational thinking.

To summarize, 5S is a system to reduce waste and optimize productivity through maintaining an orderly workplace/office and using visual cues to achieve more consistent operational results. Implementation of this method “cleans up” and organizes the workplace basically in its existing configuration, and it is typically the first lean method that organizations implement.

The 5S pillars, Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain, provide a methodology for organizing, cleaning, developing, and sustaining a productive work environment. In the daily work of a company, routines that maintain organization and orderliness are essential to a smooth and efficient flow of activities. This lean method encourages workers to improve their working conditions and helps them to learn to reduce waste, unplanned downtime, and in-process inventory.

A typical 5S implementation would result in significant reductions in the square footage of space needed for existing operations. It also would result in the organization of tools and materials into an easy-to-reach area increasing throughput and velocity.

Labeled and color-coded storage locations, as well as “kits” that contain just what is needed to perform a task. 5S provides the foundation on which other lean methods, such as Continuous Improvement (Kaizen), Kanban (pull systems), Total Preventive Maintenance (TPM), cellular manufacturing, just-in-time production, and lean six sigma can be introduced.

The Benefits of 5S

Improve safety, decrease downtime, raise employee morale, identify problems more quickly, develop control through visibility, establish convenient work practice, increase product and process quality, strengthen employees’ pride in their work, promote stronger communication among staff, and empower employees to sustain their work area. 5S can increase morale, create positive impressions on customers, and increase efficiency and organization.

The costs of implementing 5S are up to the company. You can invest in education and training, signs, shadow boxes, taping off areas, or do it yourself with your own people. More investment occurs using your own people in teams to implement 5S.

Some say you won’t get lean until you get visual. The foundation is visual systems. Waste comes from a lack of information. Show visual progress in key places in the facility to promote continual improvement.

Sustain is in the center of the 5S circle (pictured right) because it is so critical to sustain and control 5S through discipline using the formal system.

Next, we’ll continue this series by diving deeper into each of the elements of 5S.