When we enter a work space of one of our customers we encounter a wide variety of environments. We have seen just about every different kind of process of maintaining and standardizing work spaces. Some better than others and, frankly, some pretty atrocious. One of the founding principles of any Quality program is implementing and utilizing the 5S process for workplace organization.


5S OVERVIEW

The 5S System is one of a number of tools designed to help improve workplace efficiency through facility organization. Its early beginnings can be traced to management methods developed and applied during the American Industrial Revolution. Many early methods were later improved upon in Japan during post-WWII reconstruction. Each now plays a role in helping managers and workers throughout the world systematically achieve greater organization, standardization, and efficiency.

Japanese Innovation

Since Japanese factories first began implementing an early form of 5S decades ago, they experienced unprecedented levels of efficiency, safety, and growth. 5S is even credited with helping Japanese factories eclipse American industrial output and product quality. By the mid-1980s, managers at America’s largest factories were taking serious notice of Japan’s success and began rapidly applying similar systems and methods. One of these systems is known globally today as 5S. Once U.S. factories began implementing 5S, managers saw many of the same dramatic gains in efficiency and reductions in cost.

The term 5S originates from five Japanese words that start with the letter S. They are Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu and Shitsuke. Literally translated, Seiri means tidiness, Seiton means orderliness, Seiso means cleanliness, Seiketsu means standardization, and Shitsuke means discipline. To simplify the system further, five English terms starting with the letter S were substituted to describe each element.

They are Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. Not all facilities use these exact words in their own implementation and may substitute terms better suited for their own specific applications.

American Roots

The 5S System is designed for flexibility and integration with many other popular workplace efficiency systems and programs. This is because so many share similar goals and may actually originate from the same American or Japanese system. One of the most widely used is Lean Manufacturing. A derivative of Japan’s Just-In-Time Production (JIT), Lean is popularly used around the world today to improve overall industrial workflow efficiencies.

Just as Lean has taken many ideas from popular Japanese systems, JIT and others like it have their roots in early- to mid-20th century American industrial inventions. Ford Motor Company’s assembly line and business-applied statistics both played leading roles in Japan’s post-WWII industrial revolution.

Implementation

Industrial facilities throughout the world are transforming to Lean and other popular efficiency-improving techniques by implementing 5S first. Managers are finding they can use 5S to identify and correct workplace inefficiencies before taking on the more complex and universally-applied Lean systems. Some 5S steps may even duplicate those used in Lean. However, 5S can lay a solid foundation so Lean yields better results.

A Cycle of Efficiency

5S is comprised of five easy-to-remember steps, as described in the flowchart below.

Each step plays an integral role in helping facilities successfully implement and sustain the system. Once each step has been implemented, 5S should function indefinitely. In order to achieve this level of sustainability, managers and workers must fully embrace the system. They do so by integrating 5S methods and techniques into their daily work routines.

Keep in mind, reaching the system’s final step only concludes the initial implementation phase. 5S should continue to recycle through previous steps, as appropriate to insure a facility remains organized for maximum efficiency. Before moving forward on any facility reorganization, seek the consent and commitment of all potentially affected managers (maintenance, safety, production, etc). Staff involvement greatly helps facilitate the transition to 5S and may even provide new and more effective ideas for implementation.

Each step plays an integral role in helping facilities successfully implement and sustain the system. Once each step has been implemented, 5S should function indefinitely. In order to achieve this level of sustainability, managers and workers must fully embrace the system. They do so by integrating 5S methods and techniques into their daily work routines.

Keep in mind, reaching the system’s final step only concludes the initial implementation phase. 5S should continue to recycle through previous steps, as appropriate to insure a facility remains organized for maximum efficiency. 

Before moving forward on any facility reorganization, seek the consent and commitment of all potentially affected managers (maintenance, safety, production, etc). Staff involvement greatly helps facilitate the transition to 5S and may even provide new and more effective ideas for implementation.

Team Building

Implementation of 5S begins with the creation of an internal committee of 5S team leaders. This group is assigned to actively manage and support the system from Sort through Sustain. Depending on a facility’s size, a team may be as small as a single individual or include a broad cross section of managers and workers with diverse facility roles. Individuals with strong leadership skills should be considered as top candidates for this team.

Once the team has been organized, they can move forward by developing a formal 5S plan. All facility employees are encouraged to actively participate in 5S. This requires proper training and education so employees understand how implementation will improve the workplace. Eventually, each employee’s role in 5S will be well-defined so it seamlessly integrates with normal work routines.

Benefits

For facility managers, one of the main benefits of implementing 5S is the resulting metrics team leaders will collect and utilize. Data collection is an integral part of 5S and can be used to track and correct many workplace inefficiencies. Management can use this data to make appropriate changes so goals are achieved and all-around facility efficiency is improved. Of course, collecting good data requires good record keeping. Each work area should be documented with “before-and-after” photographs. Individual duty task-times, among other record keeping, should be recorded to ensure accuracy.

Keep Detailed Records

Data collection should focus on routine work area duties. As collection progresses, inefficiencies will become more apparent so corrections in work routines are accurately made. 5S team leaders will use this documentation to promote 5S and even advocate increased application once implementation is complete. Make sure to share before-and-after data and photographs with workers so they see the fruits of their labor.

Over the life of 5S, both short-term and long-term goals can be achieved. Along the way, many unforeseen benefits are likely to appear. Some may not be immediately apparent, but over a period of months or even years they become evident. For example, workplace injuries are often reduced over time. This, in turn, may positively influence other elements of a facility. Safer work routines may lower health care costs. This, in-turn, will increase production by reducing sick-leave. The list of long-term benefits can be quite extensive, but also unique to individual facilities.

Unforeseen Benefits

A national truck trailer manufacturer credits 5S for reducing workplace accidents and related sick leave. The manufacturer said that 5S helped reduce the OSHA recordable incident rate by 44 percent—bringing it well below the industry average. The drop also resulted in a 50 percent reduction in the manufacturer’s days-away-from-work.

Statistics like these may seem unachievable at your facility. But, facilities around the world are experiencing dramatic results from a properly implemented and sustained 5S system.

Visual Communication

Visual communication is one of the most effective ways to improve a facility’s organization and efficiency. In 5S,

it’s used to bring organization to the system and help guide workers through the various steps. Everything from procedural labels to wayfinding arrows can be displayed at strategic facility locations to help workers independently follow the 5S system.

Effective Signage

Facilities use visual communication (signs, labels, and other devices) to give workers clear and accurate identification of locations, procedures, hazards, inventories, equipment, and tools. Ultimately, this results in greater efficiency and lower costs.

Visual communication is the key to 5S success and plays a leading role in helping turn a traditional manufacturing system into a Lean one. This technique will be introduced in the second step of the system, or Set in Order.

Labels and signs are known to be especially effective efficiency tools and are ideal for helping to correct many common process issues. Inefficiencies in the workplace appear to be a significant problem. A 2008 survey by Microsoft® found workers waste an average of more than two hours per-day.

Why is this phenomenon occurring and what can be done to change it? Often, reasons can be traced back to a lack of proper visual communication. In many facilities, workers are unable to complete simple tasks because necessary information is unavailable. When this occurs, work completion is unpredictable and production suffers. 

In most cases, workers have varying levels of knowledge about a facility and rely on written directions to complete tasks. Visually communicating the contents of inventory and tool storage is especially beneficial in reducing delays in work.

Consistent Visual Style

Developing a workplace where inventories, materials, tools, and equipment are all clearly and consistently identified effectively reduces wasted time. The impact of proper visual communication can often be far-reaching and is known to boost productivity, quality levels, customer satisfaction, while reducing workplace injuries.