Businesses have a long history of improving safety and quality. One of the most well-known innovations dates all the way back to Henry Ford and his assembly line. Using go/no-go gauges (a quality control tool), Ford ensured that items were manufactured within their specified tolerances.

Since then, innovators have developed lean manufacturing methods to support the safety and quality improvement process. One of these is the 5S system.

The Basics of 5S

The purpose of 5S is to help your employees de-clutter, clean, and organize the workplace using five “S” principles:

  • Sort – Remove tools, supplies, and equipment that are not part of the work process from the main work space.
  • Set in Order – Organize the area and everything in it to improve the quality and flow of the work.
  • Shine – Clean the area and all items in it, restoring them to their original condition.
  • Standardize – Develop rules to ensure 5S is applied uniformly and regularly.
  • Sustain – Develop ways to ensure that each 5S step becomes a daily habit.

Overall, 5S enables employees to find what they need to do their work, perform that work in a uniform and safe manner, and maintain an organized and safe workplace.

Implementing 5S

To implement 5S in a way that ensures improved quality and safety, there are five important steps to consider.

1. Identify Value

Lean manufacturing requires businesses to identify what customers value, and compare the products or services they offer to those values. Your products should be designed so that they directly meet the needs of your customers, removing any features that do not (find out How Lean Manufacturing Can Help Your Company Succeed).

5S, however, takes this one step further. It also requires you to evaluate your work processes and how they add value to the company. Which procedures and processes are needed to accomplish work? Which are unneeded? Which can be simplified? Which are unsafe?

Performing this kind of evaluation will make it easier to identify wasteful or unsafe steps, and create more efficient workflow as you move through each step of 5S implementation.

2. Map Your Current Workflow

Many businesses only have a partial picture of their workflow. They don't have a comprehensive idea of what work is completed in each area and what steps are required to perform each job.

To avoid that problem at your company, start by creating a map that provides a general layout of your workplace. Next, use color coding to identify the type of work that happens in each area. This will help you quickly identify similar tasks that could be grouped together or tasks that don't belong in an area.

The map is a visual aid that will help you understand your current workflow and will help with the next step: identifying motion.

3. Identify Motion

By "motion" I mean any instance in which your workers move between workstations or to other areas for tools, supplies, or information.

Identifying the motion patterns in your workplace will be invaluable during the "set in order" phase of 5S. You will be able to see how things could be rearranged to reduce motion and improve safety. For example, identify tasks that require workers to move significant distances each day to accomplish their work, identify high traffic areas where accidents might occur, and so on. Focusing on reducing the foot traffic in these areas will result in the greatest improvements.

4. Create Flow

Once you have a map of your current workflow, you will be able to map out alternative layouts that help eliminate wasteful motion, mitigate safety issues, and put regularly used items at their point of use. Creating flow ensures items will move from production to shipping with the least amount of movement or interruption.

A part of what makes 5S so powerful is that it makes workflow visual by using floor marking and labels. Floor marking allows you to create designated places for tool benches, shelves, machinery, tools, and more. You can also use them to demarcate separate pathways for powered trucks and workers, improving safety and efficiency (learn more about Wayfinding and Floor Marking).

Use visual marking to communicate what things are and where they belong. Pay close attention to items that are often mistaken for another or misplaced. An unlabeled grease gun, for example, may cause quality issues. Many manufacturing facilities produce finished items that need different types of grease and mistakenly applying high-temperature grease to a motor that will run in extremely low temperatures will cause the motor to fail, leaving you with a very disappointed customer. Labeling these items is a simple, easy, and efficient way to reduce errors and improve customer satisfaction (learn the difference between a label and a placard).

5. Striving for Perfection

For the 5S system to work, it must be practiced daily.

When work processes change, or you hit upon a better way of organizing things, it's important to adjust to the new situation. Whether it requires a change in workflow or for tools and equipment to be shifted, making positive changes ensures that your workplace will stay organized and safe.

Striving for perfection, however, is often one of the most difficult things to do. It requires you to continuously improve your practices and often requires a corresponding shift in the workplace culture (find out what are the Essential Elements of Creating a Workplace Safety Culture).

Solutions for 5S

The 5S system provides a systematic method for improving your workplace. With clear steps and dynamic tools, you can quickly organize your workplace, increasing quality and safety. Graphic Products offers a full line of visual communication tools that can help get your 5S program started.