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5S - Explained

Lean Manufacturing Tools and Techniques


5S is a practical method of dramatically improving the work environment. It is based on good housekeeping, establishing an orderly workplace and continuing to improve in the long term. 

5S is a particularly effective lean manufacturing tool, as it can engage and involve all employees who visually see the improvements to where they work. 5S is named after 5 Japanese words which broadly translated, describe 5 steps necessary to deliver improvements. These will be covered in more detail shortly. A good idea is to initially pilot 5S in a team or working area.

5S delivers reductions in many of the 7 wastes. An underpinning principle of 5S is an untidy, unclean and disorderly workplace is not productive. It discourages attention to detail and makes problems and defects difficult to spot, therefore impacting quality. From a human nature point of view, everybody prefers to work in a clean and tidy environment, rather than one full of clutter and mess.

5S: Application in a machine shop environment (PME Shop 1)

Sort (Seiri)

The first of the 5S’s is about sorting and organising the work area. A cross functional team, perhaps including production and maintenance employees, should be involved. Try getting people to look at each others’ areas, as a fresh pair of eyes are likely to be more perceptive.

A key part of ‘Sort’ is to identify how frequently things are used. If the items are never used and are simply cluttering up the place, throw them out. There will be objects used very frequently, maybe on a daily basis. Other things will be used perhaps once a week or maybe once a month. Use the frequency of use to decide what to do with tools, equipment or materials. Rule of thumb suggests if used daily, organise the items at the workstation so they can be quickly and effortlessly accessed. If weekly, the items should be fairly easily accessible, but perhaps in cupboards not far from where they are used. Monthly items can be put in stores and retrieved when required.

If you don’t use or need something, throw it away or sell it. Why not put it on eBay if it’s still worth something! If it’s repairable get it fixed.

A popular technique with ‘sort’ is red tagging. Here a red tag (or red tape) is tied around kit and equipment in the work area if it is rarely or never used. Once this is done, make a decision to either place the item in stores and retrieve it when required, if it is infrequently used. If it is never used, damaged or broken, then get rid of it or repair it. Get in the habit of forcing yourself to take a decision on everything. Don’t defer, instead declutter!

The result of ‘Sort’ should be an area much freer of clutter with a far better understanding of how frequently any equipment or parts are used.

The team should be asking themselves a range of questions and making observations during the ‘sort’ process.

  • Check the condition of guarding and other safety features.
  • What are the ergonomics of the workstation like? Can the operator reach, see and access what they need to? Consider the ‘Waste of Unnecessary Motions’.
  • Are all required tools and equipment easily available and arranged in a way that assists production? Consider the ‘Waste of Inappropriate Processing’.

Simplify/Set in Order (Seiton)

This is all about creating an orderly working environment. A popular phrase is ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ The idea here is in the workplace all equipment and tools should have a home - a set location. This may include shadow boards, marked locations on floors for inventory bins, accessible tool trolleys, pallets etc. ‘…Every thing in its place’ suggests all these items should be kept in their designated positions, once they have been used. As such, return tools to shadow boards or trolleys rather than leaving them around. Use visual cues like colour coding and labels to make it simple for operators. Lead by example in your own workspace. Then you’ll be in a position to constantly remind employees until this becomes habit and eventually a way of life.

‘Simplify’ leaves you with a less cluttered, more orderly workstation. When considered with ‘sort’, there is an awareness of how frequently items are used. Therefore, if you use it daily, locate it at your work station. If used monthly, retrieve the item from stores.

Personal tool boxes are discouraged, as the idea is the workstation is equipped with the specific tools for the job around you. This is where they should be permanently located, rather than in an individual's tool box.

Simplify may involve reorganising the workstation into a production cell. Here small machines, tools and equipment are typically arranged in a u-formation. Each piece of kit undertakes a specific operation and the work piece or assembly moves from one work location to the next in a smooth even flow.

Shadow boards and flexible layout workstations can be purchased cheaply and with a little thought, configured to meet your specific production requirements. It’s definitely worth the investment.

Be aware of the ‘Waste of Unnecessary Motions’ and the ‘Waste of Unnecessary Transporting’ when adopting a work environment with ‘simplify’ in mind.

Sweep/Shiny (Seiso)

This ‘S’ is all about cleaning the work environment. This should be repeated frequently. Whether it’s daily, weekly, after each shift or each operation, an appropriate routine should be established and strictly adhered too. Employees should be constantly aware and looking out for debris, swarf, packaging and other physical waste. More thorough cleaning should also take place to removing grime and dirt. The aim should be a shiny, bright and clean environment. Encourage employees to take pride in their workstations. Walk around and actively look for potential improvements.

To show the dramatic impact deep cleaning can have on a work place, take before and after pictures (mobile phone cameras will do). Consider laminating and displaying images of the work area when it has just been cleaned, so employees know and understand the standard of cleanliness they should aim to maintain.

Deep, thorough cleaning is ideal for the start of the operation or production run and perhaps during planned maintenance. However, frequent relatively quick cleaning, built into routines, should be the norm. Aim to minimise downtime whilst cleaning. Use any natural delays in the production process to clean. Stay on top of cleaning and it should be a short trouble free activity. Of course the opposite is true, just like housework at home!

Cleaning activities are also a good opportunity to check for problems and solve them at an early stage, before they become problematic. Are any maintenance or servicing tasks required?

Finally with ‘sweep’, all employees prefer to work in a clean, tidy environment. By making employees personally responsible for the cleanliness of their work station, they are more likely to ensure it is kept presentable.

A clean environment encourages a careful approach with plenty of attention to detail. A unclean cluttered environment may hide defects and encourages a slovenly approach. Poor quality could be the consequence.

Finally, consider the idea of your shop floor as a showroom, where a pristine work environment is used to host and impress visitors and customers. As part of this think about mounting display boards for the key sections or teams in your process. These can feature flow diagrams with the process, performance statistics, photographic or CAD images, procedures, instructions etc. Each notice board should ideally give a feel for what happens in a particular workstation or area.

At the start of your ‘factory tour’ a large noticeboard can highlight the overall plant layout and process, as a prelude to what will be on the tour. Then use the workstation notice boards around your plant to follow the ‘flow’ as value is added at each stage. Point out the components and assemblies coming together, in sync with the information and raw materials crucial to supporting the process. Why not get employees to say a few words enroute? Importantly, customise this to really make it your own, and therefore to show off your business and the great working environment you have created.

Standardise (Seiketsu)

Here the aim is to capture the high standards of cleanliness and order that have been achieved, so they are repeatable and the gains are not lost. Standards may take the form of instruction sheets, diagrams or images highlighting what is expected.

5S housekeeping audits can periodically be carried out to ensure employees are adhering to the agreed standards. Consider linking these standards and audits into your Total Productive Maintenance programme or any other periodic servicing activities. That said, cleaning tasks should be taking place more frequently.

A checklist for your housekeeping routine is a practical helpful standardisation method. Working to this type of routine will also drive employee behaviour until it becomes second nature. Employees should draft the standards and update them, as they should know the best way to complete a task. Technical administrative support can be provided to help them.

Are shadow boards, tool trays and trolleys, racking, storage cupboards and other locations clearly labelled? Are instructions and check sheets laminated next to workstations? These are all examples of clear standardisation and instructions.

Standards may draw attention and help highlight where there is a risk of defects and poor quality. They should bring to light what potentially could go wrong, in contrast to the actual correct result you are aiming for. Setting a regular schedule to ensure employees undertake the 5S’s is a method of standardisation. In addition, it will help to embed the culture required to sustain the gains.

Self Discipline/Sustain (Shitsuke)

All employees need to maintain the self discipline necessary to adhere to the new standards set and to sustain what has been achieved. Staying power also ensures this is followed up with continual improvement. A collective commitment from management and the workforce is required so standards do not slip and the work environment does not revert back to old ways. In fact continual improvement should be the aim, with staff constantly seeking out new ways to improve, whilst undertaking their routine work and other 5S activities.

Group encouragement is important, as is self-motivation. Competition between teams (with awards?) can assist here. Team meetings should feature 5S-based agenda items. Self-discipline is about reviewing and refining.

5s a basic introduction from sarahthurlow

QMI Solutions - 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 judgement about the degree of efficiency with which it can produce quality products. This judgement is derived primarily from observation of the cleanliness or the clutter of the plant.

5S Supply - 5S Factory Makeover Preview

5S Implementation by Daniel Kovacs. 5S can be fun, team building

How to Get Your 5S Initiative Up and Running (courtesy of Industry Week)

  • What’s the best way to tell operations they need to do 5S and get them excited about it?
  • How long should a 5S take?
  • How can companies best support their operations’ 5S efforts?
  • Are there any helpful hints for getting operations started, or helping them get their work done more easily?
  • If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently?
  • More...

Next...How to Apply and Get the Best From 5S: Practical Tips

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