How to start a 5S implementation in a manufacturing workplace

Modern manufacturers need to find ways to appeal to both clients and employees to remain competitive and attract highly skilled workers. The lean methodology of 5S helps manufacturers in their quest as it organizes the workplace, reduces nonvalue adding time, and enhances quality and productivity.

This blog explains what 5S is, how to kick off the implementation process, and what the benefits are.

The continuous improvement (CI) tool of 5S is a great workplace organization technique – and it’s still highly applicable today. It is sometimes referred to as “housekeeping”, but we prefer not to call it by that name as 5S is more all-encompassing than the mere tidying of workspaces. 5S is a systematic methodology which instills discipline, standardization and orderliness in the workplace, principles which are fundamental to world-class competitiveness.


5S in manufacturing

The roots of 5S are in manufacturing, although it is equally applicable and successful in all sectors and it can be implemented in a physical or digital workspace; the latter is known as digital 5S.  The concept originated in Japan for use in the legendary Toyota Production System (TPS), which is often considered as the blueprint for manufacturing success.

When a manufacturer embarks on a CI journey nowadays, 5S is a good starting point. It has a powerful impact on the workplace, is an effective way to get support from the participants, and it establishes a solid foundation on which other best practices such as visual management, teamwork and focused improvement can prosper.


What does 5S stand for?

5S consists of five Japanese words to organize a workplace:

  1. Seiri (Sort): Discard unnecessary items
  2. Seiton (Set in order): A place for everything and everything in its place
  3. Seiso (Shine): Deep clean the workplace
  4. Seiketsu (Standardize): Set standards
  5. Shitsuke (Sustain): Sustain standards through discipline


Download the how-to guide Sustaining 5S for continuous improvement success to find out more about the 5Ss and how to implement them for long-term success.




Start implementing 5S in a pilot area

For 5S in manufacturing to succeed, everyone in the organization should first be made aware of the principles and benefits of 5S – which are discussed later in this blog. They need to understand why 5S is necessary and how it can enhance their daily work.

Next, people want to see 5S in action and whether it really works. Management draws up a 5S implementation plan in which they select pilot areas for the initial implementation phase to take place.

Starting the 5S implementation in a pilot area:

  • helps to concentrate efforts in one area to achieve results, instead of diluting the effort across a wide front
  • allows learning and experimentation in a confined area
  • can provide quick results
  • convinces sceptics
  • achieves employee buy-in
  • showcases what 5S looks like, standardized and sustained

Clear up, set in order and shine exercises are performed in the pilot areas to complete the first steps of 5S. Some standards are set (like dealing with unnecessary items and ongoing cleanliness) and management perform the initial audits.

Storage locations are defined and clearly marked for all needed items. Painted demarcations, signboards, labels, shadow boards and color-coding are used extensively as per visual storage standards.

The 5S activity boards or digital dashboards in the pilot areas are well populated with “before” and “after” photographs as well as displaying schedules and procedures which have formalized the initial 5S standards in the area. This is the beginning of a visual factory.

The 5S pilot area implementation should be completed typically in less than four months –  to ensure a sense of urgency and give the program initial momentum.

Successful 5S initiatives can then be rolled out throughout the organization. At this point, it is important to start building a culture of discipline and continuous improvement to help sustain your 5S efforts. Maintain participants’ support for 5S through regular communication, collaboration, training and coaching sessions, and a reward and recognition program that celebrates 5S successes.


Management leads by example

Although 5S is primarily a workplace activity, management initially needs to drive the process to ensure that standards are maintained until full ownership is achieved. Implementing 5S in manufacturing is typically characterized by these three key elements:

  1. Teamwork: Establishing a cross-functional team (including employees who work in the areas targeted for operational improvement).
  2. Gemba walks: Walking (in-person or virtually) around all areas associated with the manufacturing process under review.
  3. Brainstorming: Brainstorming ways to reduce waste and improve performance through workplace organization.


What are the benefits of 5S?

5S has many benefits that extend far beyond a tidy workspace:
A safer work environment Trips and other injuries are commonplace in a manufacturing environment which hasn’t been cleaned and organized properly. Methodical cleaning and organizing significantly reduces the number of workplace injuries. Reducing unnecessary movement through the workspace also decreases the risk of accidents occurring.
Less waste and improved productivity The practices of sorting (seiri) and setting in order (seiton) ensure a much neater and better organized work area. Once 5s has been implemented, all unnecessary tools or pieces of equipment have been moved away or eliminated from the area altogether. Furthermore, team members have analyzed their work processes and tightened or eliminated any cumbersome or unnecessary steps. This allows for more time to be spent on doing the job, as less time is spent searching for ill-placed equipment or performing unnecessary tasks. The practice of standardizing processes (seiketsu) will see that equipment is put back into its correct place after use so that it’s always easy to find.

By eliminating the various types of waste, you are maximizing productivity and ultimately building a more efficient operation.

Increased quality The practice of standardizing (seiketsu) sees the standardization of work practices and processes. This step ensures that no matter which work teams are on shift, tasks are carried out in the same way and quality is always maintained. This standardization not only pertains to work practices and processes, but includes standardization of how we tackle seiri, seiton and seiso – so all team members are in a continuous cycle of sorting, straightening, shining and generally sustaining the 5S effort.
Better care of equipment and lowered repair costs The practice of sweeping, shining and cleanliness (seiso) means workspaces, tools and equipment are continually being cleaned. Cleaning equipment regularly means that indicators that the equipment is defective (such as oil, fuel or product leakage) are picked up timeously. These visual signs will spark action among staff to alert maintenance teams and ensure immediate corrective action. This, in turn, results in reduced equipment repair costs.
A sense of ownership and pride in the workplace 5S requires each employee to be accountable for keeping their workplace clean and organized. Employees feel a sense of ownership and pride, and become more committed to their daily work as they experience the benefits of 5S firsthand.

A successful 5S implementation provides a firm foundation for manufacturers to continuously refine their processes, improve the quality of their finished goods and boost productivity.

For best practice improvement tools such as 5S to have a long-lasting impact, we recommend that they be implemented as part of a process-driven integrative improvement system.

Download the eBook The definitive guide to integrative improvement for more on this sustainable approach to best practice implementation.

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