5S (workplace organisation)

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  • 5S is a lean method for implementing order in the workplace.
  • The main purpose of 5S is to improve efficiency by eliminating the waste of motion looking for tools, materials or information.
  • Other benefits include improved safety and morale due to improvements in the work environment.

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5S is based on 5 Japanese words starting with “S”. There are a number of English translations, but my preferred are:

  • Sort out what is needed in the work area. This removes clutter from the work area and makes it easier to access the tools, material and information needed.
  • The work team in the area reviews all items and removes those items that are not needed.
  • Items that are used infrequently may be moved to a storage area outside the immediate work area.
  • A “red tag” process is often used. This involves placing a red tag on items to be removed from the area then putting the red tagged items in a designated red tag area. The purpose of the red tag area is to allow people to review items in the area and decide on whether they are to be stored, used in another area, sold or thrown away. It is a good idea to hold items in this area for a period of time so the risk of disposing of items that are needed in the area is reduced.

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  • “A place for everything, and everything in its place” is the aim of this step.
  • The key consideration is how to present the tools, materials and information to operators so that motion is minimised. The items used most frequently are positioned close to where the work is performed.
  • Create storage locations so It is easy for operators to return tools and materials to their correct positions when not in use.
  • Use shadow boards and visible storage locations to make it obvious when items are missing. This enables action to be taken before major delays are caused.
  • Designated areas are clearly labelled. Examples include taping on floors and work areas, pictures and part labels.

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  • “Shine” is the cleaning step.
  • The initial shine gives the area a deep clean. This prepares surfaces for labelling and painting.
  • Painting of floors, equipment and fixtures makes a visible difference and sets a higher standard.
  • An ongoing cleaning schedule is put in place. Time is allocated to operators at the end of the shift and once per week for a deeper clean.

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  • Set a standard for the area to be maintained on a regular basis (ie end of shift and weekly for the deep clean).
  • Photos are a quick visual reference for these standards and are displayed in the work area.
  • The standard set depends on the environment. For example, some production environments are dusty and it would be impracticable to maintain a clean facility. In such cases, focus on keeping clean the key equipment, work areas and visual aids.
  • Standardising colour coding and storage devices across a facility makes it easier for operators to work in different areas.

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  • This is the most difficult of the 5S’s and a management system is needed to sustain it. This may include:
    • A cleaning schedule to share the workload
    • Checklists to be completed at end of shift and on weekly deep cleans
    • Audits by managers
    • Visual displays in the area indicating adherence to the 5S standard.

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  • 5S has 3 important factors that make it one of foundations of Lean:
    • involvement / ownership by the people who work in the area
    • a focus on the production process and eliminating waste through workplace organisation
    • discipline needed to maintain standards
  • Implementing 5S is an opportunity to get the workforce involved in continuous improvement. The most successful 5S programs I have been involved with have been driven by the people who work in the area. With some initial training and resources to support them, they set the standards.
  • 5S is equally relevant in office and production environments. The workplace organisation resulting from 5S reduces wasted time searching for information or materials.
  • As with all continuous improvement efforts, the 5S process is rerun on a regular basis to “raise the bar”.
  • 5S is part of a broader objective to create a visual workplace.

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