What is 5S?
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.
The term 5S comes from five Japanese words:
In English, these words are often translated to:
- Set in Order
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.