What is 5S and how is it used in industrial workplaces?

5S methodology

Waste reduction methodology is a key strategy from lean management philosophy

By Simon Walker

5S is a workplace organization method originally developed by Toyota Corp. It is part of Toyota’s Lean Manufacturing methodology, which is designed to reduce waste within a facility.

The 5S method consists of a list of five Japanese words: Seiri (整理), Seiton (整頓), Seisō (清掃), Seiketsu (清潔), and Shitsuke (躾). These can be translated as: Sort, Set In order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain.

5S can be used to eliminate waste, improve efficiency, and optimize workflow when applied to a work environment. The list of five key principles describes how to organize a workspace for efficiency and effectiveness. This is done by identifying and storing the items used, maintaining the area and items, and sustaining the new order. The decision-making process usually comes from a dialogue about standardization. This builds understanding among employees of how they should do the work.

5S Methodology Defined

The fives S’s in the system are derived from five Japanese words Seiri (tidiness), Seiton (orderliness), Seiso (cleanliness), Seiketsu (standardization), and Shitsuke (discipline). However, the translations have been substituted with five English words that start with the letter S. These are outlined as follows:

Seiri (整理), which means: Sort

This first S of the 5S methodology relates to tidiness. All materials, including equipment, tools and supplies, and work-related objects, should be neatly arranged and all unnecessary objects should be removed. This step reduces clutter and makes the work environment tidy so that it is easy to find resources that are needed to do the work at hand.

Seiton (整頓), which means: Set in order

The second S relates to orderliness. All materials, including equipment, tools and supplies, and work-related objects should be placed at optimal locations for ease of access. The objective is to be able to lay your hands on the item you need quickly and with ease. This also frees up space and eliminates clutter. It also aids in accident prevention by removing unnecessary materials that may be an obstacle in the work process.

Seiso (清掃), which means: Shine

The third S relates to cleanliness. All tools, equipment, and machinery must be cleaned regularly so that they are ready for use. The objective here is to make the work environment as safe as possible. There should be no dirt, spills, or detritus on surfaces. The work environment should be free of waste, and the spaces and places in which workers operate should promote and support productivity.

Seiketsu (清潔), which means: Standardize

The fourth S relates to standardization. The processes of sorting, order, and cleanliness should be standardized and implemented across all offices and branches of operation. The objective is for all aspects and branches of operation to consistently gain the benefits of practicing seiri, seiton, and seiso.

Shitsuke (躾) which means: Sustain or Self-discipline

The fifth S relates to discipline. The business or organization has the ability and training to continuously and consistently practice the 5S system. The adherence to the processes established will always bring new efficiencies and maintain previous gains. The objective here is to maximize potential by using the 5S system so that all obstacles to productivity are removed.

The 6th S – Safety

In some cases, an additional step is added to the method – Safety. This step focuses on ways to eliminate risks in the workplace and should be combined with the previous steps. An integral part of the 5S system is visual communication. It allows workers to independently and easily follow the system. Some examples of safety precautions include floor markings and labeling. For instance, a floor sign can indicate forklift traffic, so a worker knows to avoid the area or proceed with caution when approaching it. Some believe that safety is implied in 5S and an additional step is not necessary, but adding this step ensures that safety is a focus for every process and action taken. 

Evolution of the 5S Methodology

The implementation of 5S proved to be successful for Japanese industries. It increased output, as well as quality, and efficiency. It also reduced costs. American industries took note of this success and started applying the methods, producing similar results to the Japanese.  

5S is one of the underpinnings of the Just In Time (JIT) manufacturing process. JIT is used in many modern factories today and allows for a production line to produce only the quantity of a product that is needed at the moment. This process is throttled up or down based on real-time demand.

The 5S System is highly flexible and has been integrated with many other workplace efficiency systems and methodologies. One of the most widely used methods that have been derived from the 5S system is a process called Lean, or Lean Manufacturing. It, too, came from Japan’s JIT method.

Today, Lean is employed around the globe to bring efficiency to industrial workflows. 

5G, Lean and JIT share similar philosophical DNA. JIT and similar models are rooted in early- to mid-20th century American industry. For example, the Ford Motor Company’s assembly line and business-applied statistics had a major influence over Japan’s post-WWII industrial revolution.

Benefits of the 5S Methodology

Since its origins, 5S has helped companies successfully employ more complex forms of Lean Manufacturing. 5S is easy to remember and follow. It increases safety and morale, product quality, and equipment life. It also allows for valuable data collection. Additionally, it reduces injuries and production costs. It also reduces defects and downtime as well as supplier mistakes. Beyond that, the advantages are a reduction of tools and inventory searches, storage and, often, warehousing costs. 

The 5S system is a solid foundation for many industrial systems and methods, but the success of the system is ultimately reliant on the company and its employees. Managers and workers need to be properly educated and trained in the system. They need to understand how the methodology will be implemented in the workplace. This can be done by creating a committee to manage and support the system, and adjust it as the need arises. 

Although responsibility may fall on a committee, it is important to encourage all employees to participate in the process. When the 5S system is properly understood and implemented by everyone, it can significantly improve efficiency in both the workplace and among workers.