Lean Tools: 5S

Workplace Organization Using the 5S System

  1. Sort—Remove unneeded items
  2. Set in Order—Identify “homes” for everything
  3. Shine—Clean enough for inspection
  4. Standardize—Create SOPs and instructions
  5. Sustain—Support and reward

The 5S System is a workplace organization method that greatly improves the efficiency and management of an operational area while improving morale and saving time. We’ll be going through the five parts of the system in this post and the one right after it.

5S is often the first step in applying Lean techniques. It helps to get all of the “junk” out of the work area and then set procedures to keep it that way. So let’s get to 5S:

“Sort” means to go through a work area and remove all of the unneeded items. Workers and managers, left to their natural devices, have a habit of leaving items around which are no longer needed to perform the task. This results in unneeded clutter or obstacles in a work area. Removing these unneeded items and cleaning up the work area improves morale and safety.

An organization can have a “Red Tag” event that helps everyone buy into the idea that things are going to change in their work areas. Everyone gets involved in sorting through his or her area and identifying things to be removed permanently, removed to a better holding area, or things that need to stay (and must have an identified “home,” but more on that later). Be careful not to remove items that people are emotionally attached to without their agreement, or until management has given direction to do so.

Clearly mark the Red Tag Holding Area and monitor it closely. After 30 days, any remaining items should be recycled, sold, or discarded. I bet you won’t miss anything you get rid of at that point.

Look for items that are dusty or hidden behind or above other things. These items might include out-of-date materials, old instructions, broken or unused tools or tooling, unused computer or support equipment, old drawings, drawers that hide “junk,” and miscellaneous extras and equipment.

Improve by examining the facility from one end to the other to identify unneeded items and “junk.” Place the unnecessary items into a designated “Holding Area.” Items not identified as being needed and given a new “home” are discarded after 30 days in the holding area. Returned needed items to the stock room, tool room, or wherever they are really needed. This activity should include all administrative offices and support centers.

“Set in Order” means to establish and mark a “home” for all of the needed items in a workplace. If there is a multi-shift operation, workers from the different shifts will leave tools, technical manuals, and parts laying in different places after they use them. To improve processes and reduce cycle times, it is imperative to keep the needed items in designated places. “A place for everything and everything in its place” is the key to minimizing needless hunting for needed items, and therefore minimizing wasted time.

One of the areas most improved by the 5S system is the supply or material stock areas. From office supplies to chemicals to hand tools to safety equipment to cleaning materials, all resources should have designated homes. When you look at storage space for anything, you should be able to tell what item and how much of it belongs there.

Use shadow boards to identify misplaced or lost tools and small items. Paint markings on the floor where larger items are to be kept. Workers and management alike will have an easier time keeping track of everything and the stress of chasing after misplaced or lost items will be greatly reduced.

Look for clearly marked and designated homes for all items (or rather, places where you can establish those homes). Nothing should just be “lying around.” Raw materials, work in progress, and finished goods should all have designated homes.

Improve by designating homes for everything left from Sort (that is, everything not removed by the previous step in the process). Get the workers and managers involved in cleaning their own areas. Assign them the task of developing a standard policy for the marking of similar items like tools and support equipment. Set a standard for stripe size and color, labels and fonts, and specified colors for the homes of quality, safety, and production items.

Often it is best to start with one area within the facility. Completely mark the area for all items to remain there. Use this area as an example for the rest of the facility. Don’t forget maintenance, support, and administrative areas. If there are multiple shifts or crews using the same areas, get representation from all groups to help in the activity of designating new homes for everything. Development of good Visual Controls can greatly enhance your 5S program. Everyone needs to work together and management’s support and involvement needs to be visible.

“Shine” means to clean equipment and work areas well enough for an inspection. The best way to identify leaking hoses, loose connectors, scratched surfaces, or damaged equipment is to clean them thoroughly. This cleaning process at the beginning and/or end of a shift provides immediate identification of potential problems that may interrupt services or even shut down whole facilities. Calibration markings, machine settings, and lubrication points should be kept clean and their markings or labels easy to read. Work machinery and designated homes that are worn off should be repainted. Safety, quality, and production signs should be clean and readable. Indications of early deterioration of equipment, like leaking seals, noisy motors, or excessive vibration, should be reported for repair as soon as possible. Checklists should be established to cover all the cleaning and inspection items. This will help everyone involved to understand and comply with the new requirements.

Look for old oil leaks that have spread to the floor or have covered up the exact leaking point. Identify areas that have not been cleaned for a long while because of the difficult location or lack of requirement. Take note of slippery floors, torn safety curtains, cracked hoses, and greasy fingerprints on doors or covers of equipment.

Improve by getting operators, maintenance personnel, and managers to develop checklists that all can support. Everyone needs to understand why changes of habit are needed. Make the checklist easy to read and easy to use. The person doing the cleaning and his or her manager or team should both sign off the checklist after completion. Designated times for the cleaning and inspection should be established for each shift or crew. Management needs to ensure this cleaning and inspection becomes part of the daily routine and does not require overtime or is designated to be done in addition to their normal job. The checklist can have the details of items to be done and a photo with exact locations identified on one side and the sign-off roster with dates, times, signatures, and a list of defects found on the other side. These checklists should remain with the equipment to be reviewed periodically for accuracy and correction of defects identified. Some organizations fill in the unneeded portions with grey and require check marks in the blank squares only when defects or problems are found. This provides an easy-to-read checklist and highlights problems more clearly. These checklists should help to speed up the improvement of undesirable workplace and equipment cleaning habits.

“Standardize” means to develop a checklist that everyone can understand and use. Develop expected standards for equipment and workplace cleanliness and let everyone know how important this cleanliness is to the success of the organization. Workers should use the checklist and take ownership by signing it. Management should review the checklist for compliance.

Standardization requires management to get involved and lead the movement to make 5S work within your organization. Training needs to be provided for everyone to understand the new standards and requirements. Compliance to the 5S requirements should become part of the appraisal review process to emphasize its importance. From the board room to the janitor’s closet, 5S needs to become a cultural norm to be really successful.

In order to “Sustain” 5S, management and workers will have to work together to support and reward those who comply with these standard directives. Everyone should be able to see how 5S benefits them and makes the workplace safer. Sustaining 5S for the long haul requires that middle managers and team leaders constantly monitor the worker’s compliance. They must identify machines and work areas that are becoming worn and need repainting. Then management must schedule and complete the repainting to show everyone that this is not a one-time exercise and that 5S is an ongoing program.

Periodically updating locker rooms and dining areas and applying 5S checklist to these areas will gain the attention of the workers and show them that all areas, including non-production areas, can be improved for everyone’s benefit.

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