The Five S’s

posted in: Processes 0

There are lots of advantages to having a neat and clean workspace, from efficiency to environmental considerations. The big problem is always how to get there. One technique associated with Lean Manufacturing is called the 5S program; it starts with the obvious challenges of how to get the workplace cleaned up and adds the not-so-obvious elements that maintain the progress. The first three S’s are:

  • Sort: Remove everything from the work area that doesn’t need to be there on a daily basis. Tools that are needed occasionally should be stored nearby and well labeled. Replacements and back-ups should be stored elsewhere, too.
  • Set in Order: Organize and label the remaining tools so that it is easy to find them – and to see when one of them is missing. This is where neat freaks come in handy! Classic examples of this are painted “shadows” on tool boards or foam cut-outs in tool drawers to indicate which tool goes in each spot.
  • Shine: Clean the area each day. It should become part of the daily routine for everyone.

These are the easy ones, the ones that can be implemented in a fit of energy. The real problem for most people is continuing the program so that everything stays neat and clean. It is a matter of discipline and commitment – and finding a way to avoid getting distracted by other improvement programs. The last two S’s address this problem:

  • Standardize: Once you know how you want to organize things, look  for ways to make it simple. Use color coding – and be consistent throughout the plant or office. Use labels consistently. Develop communication between people who share the space, either at the same time or in shifts. Develop a system for keeping things organized.
  • Sustain: Maintain the progress. This is the tough one and it requires a systematic approach. Incorporate the condition of the workplace into goals and objectives – and into evaluation criteria. Use checklists so tasks don’t get overlooked. Develop a system of audits to make sure things are staying neat and to find opportunities for improvement; departments often audit each other. Incorporate the process into the company culture.

The benefits of a successful 5S program include a more pleasant workplace, happier employees, increased efficiency, improved safety, easier training for new employees, and lower costs. It just takes some commitment and persistence to make it happen.