Putting the 5S philosophy to work

Lean manufacturing techniques and a clean, well-organized facility can reduce waste, improve efficiencies and boost profits

Putting the 5S philosophy to work

A decades-old lean manufacturing technique that helps reduce waste, increase productivity and product quality, improve worker safety, and create a climate of continuous improvement could give you a significant advantage over your competitors today.

We’re talking about the 5S philosophy concept of workplace organization and visual management—a “clean manufacturing” method, as it were. It starts by clearing out that clutter in the back corner of your factory and that mess on your desk. But it goes far beyond a thorough “spring cleaning” of your workspace.

“The goal of a 5S program is to get products closer to operations and workers, organized and labeled to eliminate wasted time and materials. The 5S philosophy is ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ and helps to eliminate wasted time, wasted space and wasted inventory. Implementing 5S raises product quality and improves work productivity, resulting in lower costs and higher efficiencies,” writes Brian C. Neuwirth in a May 2017 article for IMPO magazine. Neuwirth is vice president of marketing and sales at Lakewood, New Jersey-based UNEX Manufacturing, a supplier of order picking solutions.

Bedding companies, by and large, operate rather efficiently and were early adopters of just-in-time manufacturing practices that reduce production waste and streamlining processes. But every facility has at least a few areas that need immediate attention—you probably know where they are without giving it much thought. And every company can benefit from taking a fresh, systematic look at the overall workplace to see where improvements can be made.

Five steps

The 5S philosophy, sometimes written as 5s or Five S, originated in Japan as part of lean manufacturing techniques implemented at automaker Toyota following World War II. It then spread, along with other lean manufacturing practices, to companies around the globe, picking up speed in the 1990s. Over time, 5S has become part of a constellation of efficiency and waste-reduction systems that facilitate just-in-time manufacturing, including Kaizen, Kanban and Six Sigma. With its emphasis on keeping a workplace organized and orderly, it’s sometime called a clean manufacturing technique, but don’t dismiss it as simply cleaning up.

“It is not just about housekeeping, but concentrating on maintaining the standards to manage the organization—all achieved by upholding and showing respect for the gemba (workplace) every day,” explains the Kaizen Institute Consulting Group, a global consultancy based in Zug, Switzerland. Or, to put it another way, “It is a systematic and methodical approach allowing teams to organize their workplace in the safest and most efficient manner.”

The 5S philosophy refers specifically to five organizational steps that are to be done in order (Japanese terms are in parentheses):

1. Sort (Seiri)

The method starts by sorting through items in a certain area, separating what is needed from what is not. Neuwirth suggests beginning by “removing all items from your work area.” Then, he says, “inspect the equipment and identify those items that are critical to the success of the function performed at the workstation.”

The 5S philosophy typically recommends tagging questionable or unnecessary items with red tags and setting them aside for a time to make sure they’re not needed. (For more on 5S tools, see story on page 38.) At the end of that period, anything that’s not needed should be—depending on what’s most appropriate—thrown away, recycled, stored or moved to another location where it is regularly used. “This saves time, space and labor costs, while enhancing productivity,” Neuwirth says.

2. Straighten, Set in Order or Stabilize (Seiton)

In this step, you organize necessary items so that they are ready for use and easily accessible.

“An important objective of seiton is to reduce the nonvalue-adding activity of searching for items, tools, and documents,” explains Torbjørn Netland in a September 2015 article in LMJ magazine headlined, “5S: We Are Doing It Wrong.” Netland is a professor and chair of production and operations management in the Department of Management, Technology and Economics at ETH Zurich, a university in Zurich, Switzerland.

A key to this step is creating well-marked storage places for every item so that anyone can locate it, use it and return it to its home. The step also emphasizes ergonomics—items should be placed so people don’t need to bend deeply, reach too high or take lots of steps to access them. In addition, this straightening step entails “visual control,” meaning that you’ll use diagrams, color-coding, floor markings, photographs and similar tools to convey information quickly and clearly.

As Creative Safety Supply, a Beaverton, Oregon-based provider of 5S-related products and other items for visual safety and efficiency, explains, “Visual markings in a storage area can help workers return materials to their proper locations, floor markings can create boundaries around work cells, and signs on the floor can point out the proper locations for trash and recycling bins. Using visual tools like these allows a business to communicate information to workers without needing to actually say anything.”

Netland suggests undertaking the entire process outlined in Steps 1 and 2 every six months. Some companies might even benefit from doing Steps 1 and 2 monthly.

3. Shine (Seiso)

Step 3 requires that you clean workspaces daily and service equipment on a regular schedule to maintain efficiencies, reduce downtime and prevent injuries. It includes everything from regular housekeeping tasks like sweeping and dusting to performing more extensive maintenance of complex machinery.

“A clean workspace is a productive workspace, and seiso literally means ‘to clean’ or ‘shine,’ ” Neuwirth says. “Clean the floors, the walls and the equipment and ensure all items are restored to their designated place. … This should be a part of your daily tasks and should not be postponed until idle time is available.”

Netland adds: “Note that seiso is not just about brushing and washing, it aims to keep machines, equipment and facilities in a functional, visual and well-maintained state. Because ‘dust attracts dust’ and ‘litter stimulates littering,’ the absence of seiso quickly results in an impaired factory.”

This step also involves other activities that help create the “visual factory,” Netland says, including “installing sky lights, painting the factory walls in light colors and replacing nontransparent covers with transparent ones.”

4. Standardize (Seiketsu)

This step involves creating procedures—using schedules, lists, charts and other methods—to regularly repeat the first three steps and keep processes running smoothly.

“Make the previous three Ss part of your standard procedures each day. Implement them with the help of signs, banners, shadow boards, tool holders, etc.,” Neuwirth says. “Make sure all workers understand their responsibilities and are empowered to perform all of the tasks.”

Netland says this step also requires implementing permanent solutions to problems. “Examples of preventive seiketsu actions are installing ventilators, air filters, door mats, surface treatment of concrete floors, and so on,” he says. “The best preventive actions are those that eliminate the cause of unnecessary items, disorder and dirt altogether. For example, areas where dust enters the factory can be sealed permanently.”

Regular audits help to ensure managers and employees maintain clean manufacturing discipline. As Juan Felipe Pons, a building engineer and lean construction trainer/consultant says in a March 2016 Lean Construction blog, “Measure, audit and act. Then measure, audit and act again and again.” He also offers a quick method for seeing if your process thus far has been a success: “The 30-seconds test is an easy way to make sure you have done a good job,” Felipe Pons says. “You should find any item, tool, information, document or person in less than 30 seconds.”

To help with your 5S audits, Oskar Olofsson, a consultant specializing in lean and world-class manufacturing and founder of WCM Consulting AB in Vaxholm, Sweden, offers a sample audit on his website at http://world-class-manufacturing.com/5S/audit.html.

5. Sustain (Shitsuke)

In the final step, you commit to maintaining the standard you’ve set and to the process of continuous improvement. But Netland cautions against misunderstanding the meaning of “sustain” in this last step. “Shitsuke,” he says, is a “fundamental culture-building process that makes sure people see the purpose of and are motivated to act on the rules (of the other Ss). It fosters self-motivated discipline in the members of the organization. Shitsuke should manifest itself in deeds and habits, such as washing hands, using safety equipment and proper working clothes, respecting the work time, prioritizing the team over self, following standard operating procedures, and contributing with creativity to improve the standard.”

Embracing clean manufacturing

For clean manufacturing in general and the 5S philosophy in specific to be successful, “managers need to lead by example to develop the right culture,” Netland says. “There is no quick fix in creating discipline towards a 5S culture. On a day-to-day basis, managers must be visible, enthusiastic and supportive. Teams should be empowered with budgets and time set aside for 5S activities. Everyone in the organization should be trained and developed. An effective way to do this is the ‘train the trainer’ system, where the responsibility of 5S gets disseminated in the organization. Building a good 5S organization takes years.”

A key benefit of the 5S system is that it’s not overly complicated, but, Felipe Pons warns, “although it is conceptually simple and does not require complex training or experts with sophisticated knowledge, it is essential to implement (5S) through a rigorous and disciplined fashion.”

In fact, Felipe Pons says, it is because of its simplicity that this process is sometimes not valued as much as other efficiency systems. “However,” he says, “it contributes to the reduction and elimination of the eight wastes (overproduction, inventory, transportation, motion, waiting, defects, over-processing and nonutilized creativity); it increases people’s involvement, teamwork, morale, health and safety; it reduces costs, variability and uncertainty; and it helps in setting the basis to implement lean (manufacturing) in any company or project.”

It’s also applicable to a wide range of work environments—ideal for manufacturing plants, but also useful in streamlining offices and distribution centers, too.

As Olofsson says, “If an area can become messy, cluttered, disorganized, hazardous or dirty, the 5Ss can improve it.” 

Benefits of implementing the 5S method

  • Improved worker safety
  • Lower product defect rates
  • Reduced production costs
  • More flexibility and agility in production
  • Better employee morale
  • More efficient utilization of assets
  • Improved corporate image among suppliers and customers

Source: “Quality Essentials: A Reference Guide from A to Z” by Jack B. ReVelle, ASQ Quality Press

Quick tips for 5S philosophy success

  • Create a team to lead implementation of the five steps
  • Set aside time to develop an implementation program and create an implementation schedule
  • Provide resources (financial, staffing, etc.) to complete the five steps
  • Train your employees
  • Encourage employee participation and input. Listen to their ideas and allocate resources to put their suggestions into practice
  • Create a compliance and innovation reward system for employees and managers

Source: Juan Felipe Pons, Lean Construction blog, March 2016

Stocking your clean manufacturing toolbox

The BedTimes team has something of an obsession with cool organizing tools and nifty office supplies so we were excited to learn that the 5S method of organizing your workplace for clean manufacturing requires a number of materials. But don’t worry, most are inexpensive and readily available.

red tags

Creative Safety Supply, a Beaverton, Oregon-based provider of 5S-related products and other items for visual safety and efficiency, offers a shopping list of supplies you’ll likely need as you start and follow through with the 5S philosophy.

  • Red tags: The first of the five steps—sort—encourages you to use red tags to designate items that aren’t needed in a particular area. (Interestingly, everything written about 5S specifies red tags, though BedTimes assumes you could use any brightly colored tag.) As you separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, the chaff gets a red tag and is set aside for a time to make sure you really don’t need it. Later you’ll relocate or dispose of the tagged items.
  • Shadow boards: “Shadow boards feature an outline of where tools belong and allow employees to quickly identify which tools are missing. Shadow boards help with both tool organization and tool accountability,” according to Creative Safety Supply.
  • Floor markings: These markings include tapes but also signage. “Floor markings can be used for a variety of different organizational purposes—from delineating a specific workspace to marking off pallet storage or even for helping pedestrian traffic navigate to safe areas within the work environment,” the company explains.
  • Signs and labels: A hallmark of a successful 5S program is that any employee—even a new hire—can come into a work area and easily find everything needed to perform tasks safely and efficiently. That means everything—from shelving to pipes to storage bins—needs to be clearly labeled. Similarly, in the 5S system, signs—whether on the floor, on the wall or freestanding—are used to issue warnings, post schedules, outline procedures and more. Pro tip: In keeping with your overall goal of having a clean, well-organized workplace, use a limited color palette and restrict the number of typefaces you use on signs and labels. Visual clutter is antithetical to the 5S method.

So many kinds of ‘clean’

The 5S method is a lean manufacturing technique and because of its emphasis on a tidy, well-organized workplace also is considered a clean manufacturing system.

But don’t confuse clean manufacturing with cleaner manufacturing, which shares clean manufacturing’s obsession with minimizing waste but is more focused on conserving raw materials and energy, and reducing emissions, pollution and environmental damage throughout the manufacturing process.

There’s also a concept called clean energy manufacturing, tied to a U.S. Department of Energy initiative created during the Obama administration that supports and encourages manufacturing technologies for cleaner energy generation and distribution.

Now, have we cleared things up?

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