Professional Development: 5S Manufacturing: What Is It?

By David Anderson

Published in the October 2006 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Defined as the principle of waste elimination through workplace organization, 5S manufacturing is derived from the Japanese words seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke. In English, the 5Ss can be defined as sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. Basically, 5S is a method for organizing, cleaning, developing, and sustaining a productive work environment.

Like several other lean manufacturing practices, the concept of 5S was first deployed by Japanese manufacturers within Toyota. Since the 1980s, these practices have been adopted by many major U.S. manufacturers. For many companies, 5S is a key building block in a journey towards operational excellence and world-class manufacturing.

Because its implementation is team oriented, 5S involves everyone in the manufacturing process. This includes production, maintenance, engineering, quality control, supply chain, and warehousing. In each area, there is increased safety and improved quality. In short, 5S eliminates waste by reducing errors, defects, and injuries, resulting in lower operating costs and higher workforce motivation.

And since it is heavily employee driven, it is important for all staff members to receive training and get—or give—responses to suggestions. Employees will be quicker to offer ideas for additional improvement if they know their input has a direct impact.

In addition to these benefits, 5S may help companies make improvements in product yields. It could also lower the number of recordable injuries, in part due to the clean and organized workspace brought about through 5S with employees who are better trained to spot hazards before those threats create injuries.

However, 5S manufacturing should not be the only effort a company makes at reviewing its ability to increase productivity and safety or eliminate waste. This effort requires leadership commitment not only in the plant, but at the highest levels for three simple reasons: people and budget (in order to execute the improvement) and time (to execute the systematic steps and activities of 5S).

Ideally, 5S is rolled out in pilot areas that can be studied to improve processes as it ripples out to the entire facility. The audits, which are completed between steps, should be conducted by cross functional teams; sustained audits need to be in place for each zone and department. Here is a more detailed breakdown of the five steps.

1. Sort (Step One). Separate the important from the unimportant and, eliminate the latter. It helps to have defined zones where 5S will be applied—with a team given responsibility for each zone—as well as clear timing for the sorting and the first audit. Next, the zone team should separate the necessary from the unnecessary by developing a list of each. Finally, eliminate all unnecessary objects in the initial cleaning.

First (1S) Audit Checklist

Review surrounding area
  • No unnecessary objects on the floor, in corners, or behind or in cupboards
  • Waste bins are available
  • No unused machines
  • Inventory of all necessary tools has been drawn up
  • Correct tools are available
Additives, spare parts, and conversion parts
  • Inventory is available
  • Correct materials/pieces are available
Manuals, drawings, and instructions
  • Inventory is available
  • Correct documents are where they should be

2. Set in Order (Step Two). This principle takes the necessary objects and renders them more useful. In practice, the team puts together a plan for the desired state of the zone and then executes the action plan to put the zone into its optimum condition.

Second (2S) Audit Checklist

Surrounding area
  • Zones and passages are set and marked
  • Supply and exit points of the machine are marked
  • All have a fixed place and are divided in logical classes (routine, conversion, and measurement tools)
Additives and spare parts
  • All necessary materials are available in sufficient quantities and are organized (heavy underneath, safely stacked, not too high)
Bulletin boards/communications
  • Defined and clear

3. Shine and Inspect (Step Three). Cleaning is the best way to inspect. A thorough cleaning of the entire facility—machines, floors, and surrounding areas—will expose sources of contamination and potential problems. Further, the cleaning exercise will help develop standards and norms for cleanliness, which should be directly tied to quality control and safety.

Third (3S) Audit Checklist

The workspace and surrounding area
  • Workspace: clean at the end of the shift
  • Passages are free and clear of clutter and obstruction
  • Floor is cleaned regularly
  • Shelves and racks are in good condition (doors can be—and are—closed)
Machines and tools
  • Gliding or rotating parts: no accumulation of dirt, not too much/too little lubrication
  • End switches and photocells: no dust, free of damage
  • Parts, nuts, and bolts: not loose, not missing
  • Protections and guards: in good condition
  • Alarms and signals: no false alarms, broken lamps, unreadable indications

4. Standardize (Step Four). The goal of this step is to eliminate contamination and variation or to control it by determining standard operating procedures and cleaning times. The key to this step in most facilities is to develop a housekeeping/preventive maintenance plan. The plan should include rules and timing and should be shared and updated by all shifts working in the zone; standardization is the key.

4S Audit Checklist

Surrounding area and machines: sources of contamination
  • Identified (leaks, overflows, waste during handling)
  • Removed or are enclosed (avoid spreading, intrusion of dust)
Housekeeping rules are drawn up
  • Cleaning lists (who, what, when, frequency, how)
  • Triggers for cleaning
Preventive maintenance plan is drawn up
  • Documentation is up to date and organized
  • Follow-up forms are available
Standard procedures/instructions are available
  • Stock level and resupply
  • Separation of “to repair” and “repaired”

5. Sustain (Step Five). In many ways, this step is the most important and can be the most challenging for management and employees, since it is where the team documents the new procedures—developing and formalizing standard operating procedures, safety rules, housekeeping and maintenance calendars, and so on. Additionally, the team develops mechanisms for reporting unsafe situations and establishes a timeframe for response from the designated department. This step also creates systems for collecting ideas for ongoing improvements, provides for visible responses to those ideas, and establishes a tracking system so the facility can evaluate its “hit rate” for recognizing and reacting to suggestions for operational improvement.

5S Audit Checklist

Responsible person per zone
  • Clear designation of a person who understands his or her role in 5S
Standard procedures/instructions
  • Followed by the employees in the zone with periodic auditing
Safety measures
  • Available to all employees and visitors to the zone
  • Observed by all who work and interact in the zone
Environmental instructions
  • Known to all who work in the zone
  • Observed by all
Improvement proposals
  • Visible means of collecting ideas
  • Visible summary of actions and decisions made on the ideas

5S is not a project with a finish date, but rather is an ongoing cycle that improves every aspect of manufacturing. It is actually a journey that never ends for companies dedicated to linking operational improvements to customer benefits.

Even companies like Toyota that have practiced 5S for decades seek to improve on their operations. When 5S is successfully integrated, managers and employees have a foundation upon which to launch other improvement efforts.

Anderson is vice president of operations for Bekaert Specialized Films, LLC of San Diego, CA.