The 5S Lean Process: An Essential Methodology To Streamline Manufacturing

In production, one of the most important things you can do is have an efficient system with little to no waste. What if you could reduce processes and improve flow with one simple methodology?

Enter the 5S lean manufacturing process.

So what exactly is the 5S lean process, and how can using it make your company’s manufacturing systems more efficient?

We’ll explain the 5S process step by step, tell you the benefits of using it in your workplace, and give you great tips for implementation.

What Is the 5S Lean Process?

After World War II, Toyota sought ways to reduce waste in their facilities. The methodology the company implemented — which came to be called the Toyota Production System — included principles for creating a logical order in the workplace. Those principles were eventually adopted by the West, where they were given the name 5S.

5S is a set of principles that are intended to put the workplace in proper order. They involve all stakeholders in eliminating unneeded materials, putting everything in its proper place, and standardizing workplace upkeep practices.

The Objectives of 5S

The ultimate goal of 5S is to make sure the workplace is as orderly and logical as possible. Anything unnecessary is cut away, items are put where they’re needed, and the area is kept tidy and clear of debris.

In addition to the above, 5S is also designed to be routinely executed, thereby fostering continuous improvement.

Request a Demo


What Is the 5S Methodology Step by Step?

The 5S tool originates from Japanese terms all beginning with the letter S. They are:

  1. Seiri (Sort)
  2. Seiton (Set in order)
  3. Seiso (Shine)
  4. Seiketsu (Standardize)
  5. Shitsuke (Sustain)

When followed, this cyclical methodology leads to continuous improvement and greater efficiency. 

Let’s explore each step in depth and discuss how they can help your manufacturing process.

#1: Sort

The first step of 5S is seiri, which is translated as “organize” or “sort.” This step involves going through anything currently in the workspace and figuring out what needs to stay and what needs to go.

Sorting is focused on keeping only what is strictly essential to getting the job done. If a tool, piece of equipment, or process is unnecessary, it’s eliminated in this step.

To sort your work area, start by asking these questions about each item:

  • What is the item’s purpose?
  • Who uses it?
  • Is it used often?
  • Is it really needed here?

In some cases, it might not be clear whether an item needs to be there or not. 

For instance, a technician may think a certain tool could be necessary at some point, but it hasn’t actually been used in a while. In those cases, a red tag would be attached to the item. The tag should have basic information, such as the item’s description, location, and the time the tag was placed. If the item hasn’t been used for a set period of time after tagging, it’s removed.

Items that aren’t needed might be thrown out, recycled, sold, put in storage, or transferred to another area or department.

#2: Set in Order

After you’ve decluttered the work area, next comes seiton, which means “orderliness.” It can be translated as “set in order” or “straighten” in 5S and the lean manufacturing process.

In this step, you’ll take the equipment/tools/processes/etc. left in the area and arrange them in the most logical way possible. The end goal is to make sure the work area is as easy to use as possible by cutting out forms of waste, like travel and waiting time

When performing seiton, consider these questions:

  • Who uses this equipment?
  • When is it used?
  • Would some item placements be more efficient or ergonomic than others?
  • Which items should be grouped by type?
  • Which should be grouped by task?
  • How will individual pieces be organized?
  • What paths do people take through this space?

As you consider how you can reduce waste and make the work area as useful as possible, make sure it fits within the whole context of your facility. If one arrangement would make one person’s job easier while getting in the way of everyone else’s, it’s probably not worthwhile.

#3: Shine

Once your workplace is arranged in a logical order, it’s time to shine it up. The third step is seiso, which translates into “cleanliness” (or “shine” as used in the 5S framework).

The bulk of shining is a cleaning campaign: sweeping, mopping, wiping, dusting, putting things away, and so forth. Essentially, it’s the basics of workplace upkeep.

However, what many people may not realize is that shining involves not only cleaning but also preventive maintenance (PM). Part of keeping your workplace in good shape is making sure the equipment runs properly, and that requires consistent upkeep, such as replacing worn pieces and lubricating moving parts.

Shining isn’t the job of your janitorial crew alone. Employees need to know how to keep their workplaces tidy and in working order.

#4: Standardize

After having sorted, straightened, and cleaned the workspace, it’s time to make those activities standard practice. Cleaning and straightening aren’t to be done only once, but routinely.

For this reason, the fourth step in 5S is seiketsu, which translates into “standardize,” and its goal is to create standard operating procedures that support an efficient, orderly workplace. 

That may take the form of: 

  • Visual signs and markings
  • Instructions
  • Charts
  • Regular PM tasks; and
  • Checklists

Regular reminders of this part of the process will also likely be necessary, especially when first starting. Setting aside a few minutes each day to perform 5S tasks can help make it a routine part of your employees’ workday.

The most central component of standardization is to make the first three steps as repeatable as possible. In terms of preventive maintenance, for example, that might take the form of a maintenance checklist for each PM work order.

#5: Sustain

The fifth and final S in the 5S methodology is shitsuke, which has the literal translation of “discipline.” In 5S it’s called “sustain,” and the purpose is to make the 5S lean process a permanent part of your work practices.

Shitsuke aims to make the entire 5S process smooth and sustainable. A major part of that is making sure everyone — including management and company leaders — is involved in 5S. No one is exempt from 5S, and it’s up to managers to implement practices and processes that keep it going.

Some of the practices this step may encompass include:

  • Implementing rules that support the previous four steps
  • Regular audits to monitor progress
  • Root cause analysis to get to the fundamental core of issues
  • Employee training
  • Regular updates to the 5S program

This final step incorporates continuous improvement. Companies that track the results of their 5S programs and consistently make tweaks will foster the kind of culture that needs to exist in order to sustain it. They’re looking forward to greater heights rather than settling for the status quo.

5 Benefits of the 5S Lean Manufacturing Process in Your Workplace

#1: Low Upfront Cost

5S has a very low upfront cost compared to other lean practices. Very little, if any, special equipment is needed, and the learning curve doesn’t typically require any technical training. The main costs of 5S are a bit of time for training and implementation plus some possible minor supplies, such as materials for instructions, floor and wall markings, labels, etc.

The low upfront cost and relative simplicity of the process make it easy to implement, at least when it comes to the first few steps. The last two — standardize and sustain — may be more difficult since they involve making 5S a part of your workplace’s routine practices and culture, but they still have very little material cost.

#2: Efficient Work Environment

One of the primary benefits of 5S is the fact that it can create a more efficient work environment. Less time is spent trying to find tools or traveling to different areas within the workspace, and the area is kept clean and orderly.

The results are often measurable. One study performed in a student lab showed that 5S reduced equipment search time by 12%.

Ultimately, 5S reduces waste in the workplace, making it more productive and profitable.

#3: Safer Workplace

Safety is another benefit of an effective 5S program. Given that safety hazards and accidents are sources of inefficiency with high costs attached, they should be eliminated as much as possible in the course of performing each step in the process.

For instance, organizing a workspace with visual markings can support both efficiency and safety. Keeping equipment clean and in its proper place can make it safer to use and retrieve, reducing the risk of an accident. When it comes to shining, regular PM on equipment reduces the odds of breakdowns as well as any injuries that may come as a result.

#4: Improved Employee Morale

5S requires employee buy-in to be effective, but when you have that buy-in, employees are much more engaged. Instead of simply going through routines, they’re encouraged to be forward-thinking and make improvements where they’re needed.

A number of the steps, such as sorting and straightening, work best with employee feedback. Operators and maintenance technicians know their workspace best, after all, and drawing on that expertise both improves efficiency and validates their experiential knowledge about the area. The result is higher worker morale and engagement.

#5: Fosters a Lean Culture

5S is the foundation of lean culture. When each step is implemented correctly, everyone in the facility is encouraged to focus on how processes and work areas can be made more efficient. People are more likely to think about ways to eliminate waste and improve work processes.

Perhaps one of the keys here is the fact that 5S should include everyone, from new employees to experienced managers. A process that thorough helps embed lean culture into the company as a whole.

An Example of the 5S Lean Process in Manufacturing

To get a better idea of how 5S looks in a manufacturing environment, here’s a look at a possible scenario.

The maintenance team at a food processing facility wants to streamline the efficiency of their maintenance practices. To do so, they follow each step in the 5S process:

  • Sort – They look at each tool in their MRO inventory to see which ones are used most. Less frequently used tools are put in storage. Any tools or replacement parts that are obsolete or unused are sold or scrapped.
  • Set in order – The remaining tools and parts are rearranged to be easy to access and track. Equipment checkout and check-in practices are also implemented.
  • Shine – The whole work area is cleaned, and PMs are created for routine tasks. Equipment operators are also trained to handle minor upkeep.
  • Standardize – Equipment and materials lists are created for each work order, as are checklists for PMs. MRO inventory counts and ordering practices are adjusted to match actual demand. Five minutes are set aside each day for basic cleaning.
  • Sustain – The maintenance team monitors their equipment and work orders using a CMMS and makes adjustments as needed.

Tips for Implementing 5S and the Lean Manufacturing Process in Your Maintenance Facility

As simple as 5S is, it’s not necessarily easy. If it’s not implemented well, it won’t be very effective, at most resulting in a quick spring cleanup without any lasting benefits. 

The following tips can help you implement the 5S methodology in your facility in a lasting, meaningful way:

  • Involve everyone.
  • Train new employees in 5S.
  • Focus on the purpose of 5S to gain buy-in.
  • Target safety as well as eliminating waste.
  • Tailor the 5S lean process to each department.
  • Be creative.
  • Strive for continuous improvement.
  • Use visual communication such as:
    • Floor markings and signs
    • Posters with task lists
    • Labels on cleaners and equipment
    • Color coding
    • Safety and hazard warnings

Finally, one of our most important tips is that your CMMS can be an invaluable tool in performing 5S. Some examples of how it can help include:

  • Looking at material lists on work orders to see what’s truly necessary to keep on hand.
  • Checking work order completion times to see where time might be lost.
  • Reviewing asset health to see how PMs might be improved.

While not strictly necessary to perform 5S, UpKeep’s CMMS will make the process easier and more effective.


    Request a Demo


    UpKeep Can Help You Put the 5S Lean Process To Work on Your Maintenance Team

    When it’s implemented correctly, 5S transforms the workplace into a logical, easy-to-navigate space, all while setting the stage for continuous improvement and the efficiency of practicing lean principles.

    For maintenance and reliability teams, that means improved safety, less wasted time from waiting and traveling, more efficient workflows, and overall more effective maintenance work. Your maintenance team can complete tasks with fewer delays and errors, ultimately improving the reliability of your equipment.

    UpKeep is the #1 CMMS used by maintenance and reliability teams, giving them the tools and information they need to run operations efficiently and effectively. Request a demo to see how we can help you implement the 5S lean process in your manufacturing facility, and then start a free trial today.

    Request a Demo


    Want to keep reading?


    5S is a set of principles that are intended to put a workplace into proper order. The methodology is based on the Toyota Production System.
    View Article

    What is Kaizen? How Do I Implement It? And How Does It Differ from Lean and Six Sigma?

    Kaizen simply means “change for the better.” Learn how to apply kaizen’s continuous process to improve the efficiency and output of your maintenance team.
    View Article


    While it simply means “change for the better,” it has come to be applied to the philosophy of continuous improvement adopted by numerous organizations today.
    View Article


    Leading the Way to a Better Future for Maintenance and Reliability

    Your asset and equipment data doesn't belong in a silo. UpKeep makes it simple to see where everything stands, all in one place. That means less guesswork and more time to focus on what matters.

    Capterra Shortlist 2021
    IDC CMMS Leader 2021
    [Review Badge] GetApp CMMS 2022 (Dark)
    [Review Badge] Gartner Peer Insights (Dark)
    G2 Leader