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  1. 5S Overview
  2. Why 5S?
  3. The S's
  4. The Power of 5S
  5. 5S Examples

5S Overview

5S is the single most critical component of Lean Manufacturing. If you do nothing else for Lean, do 5S. All the lean disciplines flow from 5S, and without a solid 5S foundation, all the lean activities you implement will slowly wither away.

5S refers to 5 Japanese words that begin with the "S" sound. The English equivalents are "Sort", "Set in order", "Shine", "Standardize", and "Sustain".

5S always starts with cleaning up and painting lines on the floor, and many people therefore think that 5S is "cleaning up", but it is much much more. The most important part of 5S is the "Standardization" that allows for all future improvements.

A complete PowerPoint training presentation for 5S can be found in our Training & Download page.

Why 5S?

(Click on Image to play video)

Have you ever been looking for a spare part to a machine that just went down, and you know that you have it, but you can't find it?

We want a well 5S'd operation for many reasons. The most important reason is that it helps us be more efficient and reduces the total waste. Imagine that you are trying to find the alien hiding in your kid's closet, but you can't because he's got too many stuffed toys. The same thing happens when you are looking for that important spare part that will get your important machine back to work. 5S saves us money.

The S's

  1. Sort Through and Sort Out

    The first step to 5S is to get rid of things that should not be present in the work area. If you're keeping things around because you think they may someday be useful, think again. In a well 5S'd world, only those items which are used on a regular basis should be nearby.

    Things which are used less often should be stored far away, while things that are used frequently should be very close. For example, the screw driver you use every 5 minutes should be stored on a hook on your belt, while the special calibration fixture which you use once a year should be labeled and stored in a distant warehouse.

    Rule of Thumb

    If you haven't used it for 30 days...
    and you don't know when you will use it again...
    Remove it!

    But wait! What if you find out next week you needed the thing you just threw away? This is going to happen: You'll do a major 5S, and throw away a ton of old stuff, and then someone (usually the boss) will irately demand to know why you threw away the item he's signing a purchase requisition for. The short answer is that it's worth it to buy back the 5% of what you threw away to clear out the 95% you don't need. Also, we use a "Red Tag" system to give everybody a chance to see and claim what we feel we don't need.

    Don't let the packrats rule! "When in doubt, throw it out!"

  2. Set In Order

    "A Place for everything, and everything in its place."

    Once you've gotten rid of stuff you don't need, you need to put the stuff you want where you want it. Don't get hung up finding the "perfect" place; the most important thing is to pick a specific place and then use it. (You will almost certainly will find a new, better place sometime in the future.)

    As you select places for items in the workplace, keep in mind the rules about frequently used items being close, and infrequently used items being far away.

  3. Shine (Inspect Through Cleaning)

    Many people mistake 5S for a "housekeeping" program. A well 5S'd plant is clean, but not simply because it's nicer to work in a clean environment. We clean to inspect our equipment. Things like oil leaks, worn bearings, loose fasteners, etc are much easier to find when the equipment is regularly cleaned.

    As someone wipes down a machine, their eye is forced to look at the machine. They therefore have a much better chance of finding something that has just gone wrong.

  4. Standardize

    This is the heart of 5S. A process which is not performed the same way every time is out of control, and more importantly, is not improvable. Standardization requires that things be labeled, work instructions be posted, and that associates working in an area follow all follow the same standard method.

    Its perfectly acceptable to change a process, but the newly changed process has to become the new standard.

  5. Sustain

    The hardest of the S's. Sustain requires constant vigilance. The best way to sustain 5S is to make it a regular part of your jobs. Another excellent way is to create a metric for 5S. This metric needs to be publicly posted for all to see.

The Power of 5S

An example of why 5S is so powerful

I do not know where this picture was taken. (I received it from a trainer several years ago.) This is an excellent example of the power of 5S. The lines and signs in this picture probably took someone about an hour to create and post.

5S Example Photo
Click on this photo for a larger version.

What do you know about this facility? What safety concerns do you see? What production problems are they facing?

Here is what I and others have seen in this photo. If the lines and signs were not present, we would not have known any of this:

Notice the power of 5S! We know nothing about this factory. We don't know what they make, or have any knowledge of any of their problems. But we can ask good questions and may be able to help improve their safety and performance. All this is due to someone spending an hour on 5S! Wow!

5S Examples

1st S - Sort
BadGood: Sorted for Disposal

We need to remove anything from the work area that is not needed in that area. The stuff in the right hand picture has been sorted and placed onto a pallet, so that it can be thrown away. (This would be very bad Sort if we left the pallet right there and did not throw it away.)

1st S - Sort
Ideal SortRed Tag Area

I worked in the factory on the left. The company was actively looking for acquisitions. We cleared out about 15,000 square feet, and posted a big sign over the area that said "Hold for Future Business". The corporate headquarters was in this building, and every day, our corporate staff would walk past this open space and see the sign. Sure enough, about 2 months later we purchased a local company, closed a leased building, and moved about 30 jobs into this factory. Putting up a new building is very expensive; it is much more cost effective to use the space we already have. All we have to do is open up some space by getting rid of the junk we no longer use.


2nd S - Set In Order

Which drawer supports better efficiency for a quick setup of this screw machine?

2nd S - Set In Order

Setting in order means establishing a "place for everything, and everything in its place." The photo on the left was my maintenance supervisor who thought the parking rules didn't apply to him (although he was a great guy and a darn good supervisor). Don't let anyone violate this rule!

2nd S - Set In Order

Often, the people who insist that others be organized, somehow don't feel that they need to be organized. How can you demand that operators keep their tools organized, when you can't keep your desk organized. "Do as I say, not as I do" doesn't work on your teenage kids, why do you think it will be effective at work?


3rd S - Shine

5S is NOT cleaning up! However, we usually clean up when we 5S an area.

The real value of shine is inspecting so that we can find problems before they become serious. We look for things like oil leaks, worn electrical cords and air hoses, and dirty filters. Too much dirt prevents us from seeing these problems. Also, the simple act of cleaning forces us to look at the entire machine, and allows us to see things we otherwise would miss.

The picture on the right may look like poor "Shine", but it is actually very good. We've noticed that the pump is leaking, and have taken steps to contain the leak. If the leak gets worse, we will know it because the absorbent pad will become saturated. We hope someone has written a Maintenance Work order to fix the leak, but at a minimum, we know that someone in the area is aware of what is happening.

3rd S - Shine

Can you tell what is missing in the picture on the left? Even with the person pointing at the problem, it is very difficult to see. The picture on the right shows the bolt which has now been replaced on this drive coupling. The grease and dirt made that missing bolt almost invisible, while a clean ("Shined") coupling makes it obvious.


4th S - Standardize

Standardization is actually the entire point of 5S.

We use lines, signs, and labels to establish Standardization. They let us instantly know whether we are putting things where they belong, and can also tell us if our process is out of control. In the example above, we clearly have too many pallets. Did we order too many? Did the line break down and stop using them? The standardization implemented with 5S allows us to better control our destiny.

4th S - Standardize
Good Shadow Board, but Missing ToolsGood Shadow Board, with Missing Ladder

Shadow boards are a simple way to see if we have all the tools we need in a workplace. Also, if a someone should borrow a tool, we will know someone has taken it, and more importantly, the borrower will know where to return it to.

4th S - Standardize

We prefer to have fancy, printed labels for everything, but even a hand-written label will do. We also like to have outlines for every tool we might use. But don't let "best" be the enemy of "better". (in other words, don't wait for perfection.) Take every improvement you can get, as soon as you can get it.

4th S - Standardize
GoodVery Good

Whenever possible, we like to incorprate operating instructions into our 5S. This means that operating pressures are marked on pressure gages, and actual work instructions automatically become visible at the correct time.

In the photo on the right, the instruction to order a new roll of film is automatically exposed when the last roll is used up.


5th S - Sustain

This is the hardest S of all.

There is only one way to sustain 5S, and that is to measure it on a regular basis. In the photo on the right, we see a small laboratory that has done a fantastic job of sustaining 5S over years because the department manager regularly evaluates the areas 5S, and posts the results on the lab door.