What the 5S methodology can mean to you

I’ve heard about the 5 S's for manufacturing, but really don’t have a handle on it yet. Can you explain the benefits of the 5 S's to companies that have implemented it?

Answered by Jim Redmile, media specialist, Accuform Signs, Brooksville, FL.

The philosophy of continuous improvement is more than a trend in today’s business environment, and the solution is the visual workplace – for improving quality, organization, efficiency, housekeeping and safety. The 5S methodology is the foundation for making companywide improvements in both the production facility and the front office, so that the “just-in-time” production strategy (inventory management) can be implemented.

The 5 S's are based on the Japanese words “seiri,” “seiton,” “seiso,” “seiketsu” and “shitsuke,” and, when transliterated, mean organization (sorting), orderliness (setting in order), cleanliness (shining and sweeping), standardizing (standardized cleanup) and discipline (sustaining the process). These 5 S's are the basic formula for achieving “product diversification with zero changeovers, higher quality with zero defects, lower costs with zero waste, reliable deliveries with zero breakdowns and improved safety with zero injuries.”

The main component of the first “S,” or sorting phase, is ridding a bloated production facility of any unwanted, unneeded, or unused tools or materials. This happens by implementing the “red tag” strategy – applying a red tag to anything considered unnecessary in a production cycle, placing it in a holding area to see if it was needed, and then ultimately discarding anything not needed.
Setting in order
A lot like a home garage pegboard, or a surgeon’s tray of instruments, the second “S” gives each tool a permanent place to reside so that whether the employee is new or temporary, illiterate or bilingual, or just happens to need something right away, he or she knows exactly where to find it and put it when finished.

Shining and sweeping
When the work area is clean and maintained, maintenance and repairs can happen instantaneously because they come to a worker’s attention immediately. In a dirty environment, machines that could easily be fixed may break down because an oil drip was not noticed until it was too late.

Standardized cleanup
Once everything is in place and the work environment is clean, don’t stop there. Determine daily (even shift) targets, assignments, methods, tools – then keep going. Once your daily cleaning duties are accomplished, your time can be better spent elsewhere.

Sustain the process
Simply put, make a habit of properly maintaining the correct procedures. Without discipline, excess materials are purchased because they are not in the proper place, workers waste time searching for misplaced tools, the facility will get dirty again and cause machines to break down, and incidents will become more prevalent.

With proper planning and execution, any plant or production facility can implement the 5 S’s for a visual workplace. It requires buy-in from the CEO to the newest employee, but over time, it will benefit the organization as a whole, keeping workers safe and increasing the bottom line.

Editor's Note: These articles represent the independent views of the authors and should not be construed as National Safety Council endorsements.

This article originally was published in the February 2011 issue of Safety+Health magazine.

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