The 5S Lean Method: An Essential Guide for Your Maintenance Facility

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

What is 5S?

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

What Does 5S Stand For?

Specifically, 5S stands for:

  • Seiri (Sort)
  • Seiton (Set in order)
  • Seiso (Shine)
  • Seiketsu (Standardize)
  • Shitsuke (Sustain)

Objectives of 5S

The ultimate goal of 5S, as mentioned, is to make sure the workplace is as orderly and logical as possible. Anything that’s 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.

The Five Steps of 5S

The steps of 5S each have their own process. These are described in detail below.

1. Sort

The first step of 5S is seiri, which is translated as “organize” or “sort.” This step involves sorting 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 with 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, it’s removed.

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

Tip: A facility might extend seiri beyond physical objects to abstract items such as overwhelming data streams or behaviors that impede innovation.

2. Set in Order

After you’ve decluttered the work area, next comes seiton, which means “orderliness.” As such, it’s translated as “set in order” or “straighten” in the 5S methodology.

In this step, you’ll take the equipment/tools/processes/etc. left in the area and arrange it 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 (in fact, over 20% of wasted time results from traveling to different parts of a facility). 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 may not be 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. 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 shape.

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 will also likely be necessary, especially starting out.

Tip: 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.

It may take time for these practices to catch on and become part of your culture. Using our PM checklist example, it may take time and repeated training to get people to use your checklists consistently.

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 whole methodology 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—are 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 improvements 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 a 5S Program in Your Workplace

Here are the key benefits that companies see when they implement 5S correctly.

1. Low Upfront Cost

First of all, 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. In fact, 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, the process of 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 PMs on equipment reduce the odds of breakdowns as well as any injuries that may come as a result.

4. Improved Employee Morale

5S requires employee buy-in in order 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 end 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. With a process that thorough, it helps embed lean culture into the company as a whole.

Tip: When implemented, it’s important to make 5S and other lean practices a part of your company’s culture. Otherwise, the success it provides may be short lived.

5S in Lean Manufacturing

The 5S process forms the foundation of lean manufacturing. As such, it plays a key role in creating the kind of culture needed to sustain lean practices such as TPM.

5S and the Eight Pillars of TPM

TPM, or total productive maintenance, is a maintenance philosophy in which keeping equipment in reliable working condition is the duty of everyone in the company. The goal is to improve productivity without incurring unnecessary expenses.

TPM has eight pillars, the first of which is 5S, which forms the foundation. From there, the other seven pillars are:

  • Autonomous maintenance – Basic routine tasks are handled by operators and other staff where possible.
  • Continuous improvement – Also known as Kaizen, which aims to reduce losses to zero.
  • Planned maintenance – Important maintenance tasks are planned in advance to prevent breakdowns.
  • Quality maintenance – Standards and checks are used to eliminate defects.
  • Training – Regular instruction is needed to get buy-in and develop needed skills.
  • Office TPM – Administrative functions should help eliminate losses.
  • Safety, health, and environment – Each of the other pillars should promote workplace safety.

5S sets the groundwork that supports the other pillars by getting everyone on board with basic cleaning and upkeep tasks. From there, TPM can be implemented to its greatest effect.

Example of 5S 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.

9 tips for Implementing 5S 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.

1. Involve Everyone

The first main tip is to involve everyone. Each employee, each manager, and each executive in your company should be in some way involved in 5S. Otherwise, you won’t develop the kind of culture 5S needs in order to survive.

To involve everyone, take time to figure out who is responsible for what. Typically, employees are responsible for sorting, straightening, and cleaning, while managers are in charge of developing best practices that will make 5S a part of daily work routines.

2. Train New Employees

In the spirit of getting everyone involved in 5S, make sure you train new employees on what that means for them. That may include media such as instructional videos, but it can also be as simple as side-by-side mentoring, in which they’re shown first hand what sorting, setting in order, and shining will involve in their day-to-day work.

When training new employees, make sure you also provide instruction for those who are transferred in from other departments within the company. Each department is different, after all, and that means 5S will take a different shape in each area as well.

3. Focus on the Purpose of 5S

To get the level of employee “buy-in” you need, take time to teach your employees and managers the purpose of 5S. For instance, simply telling maintenance workers that they need to check in equipment at the end of each maintenance task may not be effective. On the other hand, if you help them understand how doing so makes work easier for everyone, they’ll be more likely to accept it.

At its core, 5S is about making work easier on everyone by removing inefficiencies. When people understand that, they’re more likely to support it.

4. Use Visual Communication

At the heart of 5S is visual logic. By using visual elements to structure the workplace and assist with navigation, you can eliminate waste and make the space more efficient. Some ideas include:

  • Floor markings and signs
  • Posters with task lists
  • Labels on cleaners and equipment
  • Color coding
  • Safety and hazard warnings

5. Focus on Safety as Well as Eliminating Waste

Some companies add a sixth S for “safety.” While people may argue about whether a sixth S is needed, the point still stands that safety is crucial to effective 5S implementation.

As you conduct each step of 5S, take safety concerns into consideration, including those that might have environmental impacts. Doing so prevents losses that could easily disrupt normal workflow in your facility.

6. Tailor 5S to Each Department

Each department is different in terms of its role and how it operates. As such, no 5S program should take a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Sorting, straightening, and so forth should each be conducted individually for each department in your company. This way, each department can create the practices and procedures it needs in order to function without disrupting those of others.

7. Be Creative

Just as some companies add a sixth S for “safety,” others add one for “spirit” as well. “Spirit” in this context refers to the spirit of 5S, which is that it should be creative and fun while making life easier for everyone working in the facility.

Employees and managers alike should be engaged in finding ways to improve existing practices and processes, and challenges should be met with a positive attitude. Instead of a problem being a cause for concern, it’s an opportunity for improvement.

8. Strive for Continuous Improvement

In that vein, 5S only accomplishes its end goal if it’s used as a way to create continuous improvement, or Kaizen, in the facility. The final step, “sustain,” is centered on constantly looking for ways to make your 5S program better, and the standardization of sorting, setting in order, and shining implies that your team should be ever on the lookout for areas where items might be cut out or rearranged.

9. Use Your CMMS to Implement 5S

Finally, your CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management System) can be an invaluable tool in performing 5S. Some examples of how it can help include:

  • Looking at materials 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, your CMMS will make the process easier and more effective.

Tip: The features offered by UpKeep support all of the above examples.

Put 5S 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 is able to complete tasks with fewer delays and errors, ultimately improving the reliability of your equipment.

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