5S System in Lean Manufacturing

5S System in Lean Manufacturing

5S is a set of principles that, when applied in the workplace, can drastically improve the productivity and efficiency of the entire setup. It is a lean manufacturing tool that prioritises organisation and cleanliness in the workplace to improve overall results.

The 5S technique not only provides us with the actions to perform but also the right sequence when going about it. 

5S is a lean manufacturing method and so, in order to understand it better, we should first learn a bit about the origins of lean manufacturing and what it entails.

Origin of Lean Manufacturing

In the early 20th century, the manufacturing industry witnessed a significant shift as it switched over to mass production. The manufacturers were now setting eyes on international markets. In this race to gain market share, companies had to improve upon a number of factors such as efficiency, waste, speed, and consistency to surpass their regional and international competition.

How Toyota Changed The Way We Make Things
How Toyota Changed The Way We Make Things

Organisations developed many methods to achieve these goals. Clubbed together, they were referred to as lean manufacturing methods with 5S being one of them.

What is Lean Manufacturing?

It is the application of lean principles, practices, and tools to develop and manufacture products. The primary goal is to add value to the products or services for the customer.

Anything that doesn’t add value to the customer experience is eliminated or reduced as much as possible. Only features, processes, services, and products that add value are retained and are deemed worthy of further investment if necessary.

Different Types of Lean Manufacturing Tools

Under its umbrella, lean manufacturing houses many different tools to minimise waste and maximise productivity. Some of the most popular tools are jidoka, poka yoke, kanban, heijunka, kaizen, and 5S. Industrial engineers often combine many such tools to develop an effective system for a specific company.

One such system that tremendously impacted the West came out of Japan. It was known as the Toyota Production System (TPS). 

TPS or “The Toyota Way” is a set of techniques that continuously improves production efficiency to deliver better value to customers. 5S began as a method employed in TPS.

What is 5S?

5S is a five-step process to improve workplace efficiency developed by Hiroyuki Hirano. It originated in Japan where the five steps are known as Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke. These steps, when put into practice, will reduce waste and elevate the safety standards of companies.

A cluttered workspace can lead to part/tool misplacements, mistakes, production slowdown, and even injury. This can affect production efficiency and cause a loss of reputation. By organising the workplace, employees can avoid such instances and all departments can function just as they should.

5s Steps

5S is an extremely flexible technique that can adjust to different time scales as needed.  The five steps in 5S are as follows:

  • Sort
  • Shine
  • Set in Order
  • Standardise
  • Sustain

Sort (Seiri)

The first step in 5S is Sort. In this step, the participants sort through their tools and equipment at the workstation and transfer them to their designated storage locations. It also entails the removal of parts, tools, equipment and materials from the workspace that aren’t necessary for the moment. Employees either move them to storage areas or discard them.

The process starts by removing all parts from a target area and piling them up on one side. We use the following questions to assess the value of each item.

  • What purpose does this item serve?
  • Who uses it?
  • When was it used last?
  • How frequently do they use it?
  • Is it really necessary to keep it here?

The employees using that workstation are in the best position to answer the above questions. They can use the answers to sort items into different categories. The 5S program guides suggest three or four categories to sort items into. The 4 categories are:

  • Keep
  • Observe
  • Discard
  • Transfer


This category is for items that the employees use frequently. The employees keep them within reach so that minimum time is needed to procure them. We return these items to the target area for the employees’ use.


red tag area

To this category, we relegate items whose usefulness we are unsure of. These items belong to the “red tag area”. Often, a physical red tag is attached to them to identify these tools and items whose usefulness is being assessed.

We have to determine their necessity by monitoring their use over a period of time that depends on the business cycle.

For example, for an assembly line that manufactures and delivers pizza, a week’s time would suffice as they would have completed hundreds of deliveries by that time to make an accurate assessment of the usefulness of each item in the “Observe” category.


This category consists of items that do not add any value to the work environment but have been overlooked. Examples include expired or degraded chemicals, broken tools, outdated equipment, etc.

The workstation is better off without them. The management removes them from the 5S’d space and either sells, recycles, or discards them.


Rarely used items that come in handy during special operations are a part of this category. This can include special tools for overhauling equipment, a second set of tools for major overhauls, etc.

Depending on the nature of the items, employees will either store them in a special storage area or move them to a department where they would make more sense.

The frequency of sorting will be based on the application. It can be weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually for spaces such as storehouses or filing cabinets. Some applications may need a daily sorting routine.

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Set in Order (Seiton)

The second step in the 5S process is Set in Order. Once the first step is complete, the employees are only left with items that are required for the workstation to run effectively. They can further improve efficiency by arranging the items in a way that promotes minimal motion, transportation, and waiting time.

Every time an employee can’t find a tool or moves more than necessary to complete an action, the company loses time, and by extension, money. To minimise these losses, the objects must be arranged skillfully.

To perform this job well, the operators have to monitor their tasks, their frequency, and the path they take to complete them. With this information, they can come up with an arrangement that makes the most sense. We must ask the following questions when carrying out research for this step:

  • Who uses which item?
  • What is the sequence of their use?
  • What is the frequency of their use?
  • What paths are taken by its users?
  • Can we optimise the length of this path to cut down unnecessary motion?

Our goal is to create an arrangement such that the tools are easy to find, easy to use, and easy to return to their position on completion.

The employees may need to personalise their workstations as the same arrangement may not work for everyone. An example of this personalisation is taking into account an operator’s dominant hand. Arranging parts should keep individual idiosyncrasies in mind to maximise the efficiency of the setup.

Remember the old adage “A place for everything and everything in its place.”

Shine (Seiso)

After the objects have been sorted and transferred to their designated places, the third step in 5S comes into the picture. The aim of Shine is to have a clean workplace. It strives to build a routine, daily if necessary, to ensure that the workplace is free of any dirt or grime that inevitably builds up.

The cleaning of a work environment must not be left to the janitorial staff. Everyone who uses a workplace is responsible for its cleanliness. This can be done by means of thorough dusting, sweeping, vacuuming, surface wipe-down, mopping, polishing, etc. Putting away used equipment is just as important. These tasks make the workers feel more accountable for their workstation. This feeling translates into greater investment in the job carried out and high-quality results.

At any rate, having a clean surrounding is safer. For example, removing spilt oil or other rubbish post maintenance will prevent slips, trips and falls. It can also reveal important floor tape lanes such as emergency pathways to safety that may be obscured due to dust or other contaminants on the floor. 

Cleaning tools and the surrounding area also means tools and other expensive equipment will last longer. Rusting and other forms of degradation are averted. A longer lifespan means a longer duration between tool replacements.

Preventative Maintenance

Another important aspect of the Shine stage is preventative maintenance.

Every company has a planned maintenance system that must be adhered to for the proper operation of machinery. They have a daily, weekly, monthly, biannual, and annual maintenance schedule designed by the equipment manufacturer. Daily maintenance almost always includes ensuring clean surroundings to prevent contaminants from entering the machinery.

Adhering to these maintenance routines leads to a longer machine lifespan and fewer breakdowns. This ultimately causes time savings and prevents any losses due to work stoppage.

Finally, the organisation must adopt a proactive (and not reactive) approach to cleaning. Waiting too long before cleaning again indicates a lack of cleaning culture. Yes, this step guides workers when it comes to cleaning up an area but the ultimate goal is to set up an organised culture that prevents messes from occurring at all.

Standardise (Seiketsu)

The first three stages in 5S demonstrate the method to maximise a working facility’s efficiency. Following this method boosts efficiency but the effect is temporary.

Over time workstations get busy, especially during demanding projects, and everything else is put on the back burner to increase production. Employees can forget how certain tasks were carried out.

This is where the fourth step comes in. The primary objective of the standardisation step is to provide SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) for 5S implementation. It creates a system that turns individual instances of cleaning sprees into habits. It provides task descriptions, schedules, checklists, and inspection criteria for the tasks. Such a universal system is crucial to ensure all people are on the same page with regard to a certain job.

These SOPs inform the employees as well as the senior management of their tasks, how they are expected to do them, and how to inspect them. It defines the expected frequency as well as the quality of work.

Some tasks may need to be performed every day while others may be performed at greater intervals. Standardising 5S activities brings consistency to an organisation.

Sustain (Shitsuke)

The 5S program with all its set standards is now in place. But as with many programs, the initial excitement of a 5S program can fizzle out over time. The fifth step strives to consolidate 5S in place by creating constant reminders for the workers to implement 5S in the best possible manner

It also involves training and getting more and more people involved in the 5S program. The goal is to make 5S an integral part of the organisation’s work culture. This is the only way to harness the benefits of a 5S culture. Small, consistent improvements over a long period of time can create a world of positive difference.

Besides, with time, certain limitations of the applied 5S methodology may pop up. The fifth step takes into account any previously missed inconsistencies and updates them as necessary.

Continuous improvement ensures that the 5S methodology in place fits in perfectly with the company requirements. To this end, it is crucial to seek and implement employee feedback and suggestions.

The feedback also informs us of the effectiveness of the 5S program. Remember, the ultimate goal of the program is to increase efficiency by curtailing the wastage of effort, time, and money. Having tabs on these parameters helps us ensure that adequate progress is being made. Using actual statistics instead of guessing is necessary even if the results aren’t as stellar as we expected them to be.

The 6th S

Modern 5S setups have introduced a 6th S that stands for safety. Neglecting safety can cause loss of life/injury, harm to the environment, and loss of the reputation of the company. As such, repercussions arising from inadequate safety measures can cost companies millions of dollars in recompense and work stoppages.

Therefore, it is important that due diligence be paid to safety to maintain and improve the efficiency of an organisation. Especially in companies where workers are constantly exposed to danger.

This could mean training the crew on fire hazards and fire extinguishing techniques, proper use of PPE, visual safety notices, proper use of tools/equipment, lockout/tagout procedures, and so on.

There is, however, some controversy about whether a sixth S needs to be a part of the 5S program. The 5S program inherently focuses on safety through its various stages, especially through Set In Order and Shine.

The proper implementation of 5S can introduce a robust safety culture that prevents many mishaps.

For example, by proper sorting, acids and bases will never mix preventing the risk of fire. Good workplace organisation will have safety equipment marked clearly. Adequately cleaned workplaces will prevent slips, trips, and falls.

In offices where the probability of hazards occurring is low, it is beneficial to skip the 6th S and instead implement it through the 5S’s. This is because following extreme safety protocols can lead to wasted resources and efficiency.

On the other hand, high-risk areas must have adequate safety regulations and implementation even if it causes a loss of time and resources. A separate sixth step must be added besides implementing safety measures through the 5s as they will not be able to cover all hazards.

Either of the abovementioned approaches to safety may be the right choice for your facilities as each one is built differently. Regardless of the choice made, it is important to consider safety when redesigning workplaces.

Benefits of 5S

The 5S method provides many benefits. A well-rounded 5S system can improve the efficiency of a company anywhere between 10…30%. It can cause remarkable changes in the way an organisation is run, even for those that thought there was no scope of improvement. The following benefits may be noticed.

5S at Workplace
5S at Workplace

Increased efficiency

One of the prime benefits of 5S is the increase in efficiency and productivity of the organisation. A decluttered and well-organised workspace helps employees do more in less time.

Reduced wastage

A 5S program leads to a reduction in misplaced and damaged tools and equipment. The proper storage of items in a safe manner in their designated spaces increases the lifespan of the tools. 

Wastage in other areas such as unnecessary transportation, excess inventory, waiting time, and extra motion is also reduced. 

Improved employee morale

A well-organised and timely managed workspace clearly lays down the expectations and the methodology will help with achieving them. Constant feedback from employees includes them in the decision-making process. This boosts employee morale. The fact that they can personalise their workspace helps as well.

Improved work quality

The increased morale and a standardised process ensure consistent, good-quality output from employees. The excellent manner in which the equipment is maintained also contributes positively to the quality of the final product.

Fewer mishaps

The number of incidents and accidents also goes down with time as 5S becomes highly integrated into day-to-day activities. This means a safer work culture and a high reputation for the company.

Visual Workplace

Implementing the 5S framework can include a lot of visual aids. These help by providing easy-to-follow instructions that can be interpreted on the go.

Here we bring out some methods of highlighting important messages with visuals.


Using labels is a simple way to make sure a person finds the right choice at first glance. For example, labelling tool drawers, shelves, etc. can help with identifying the location of bolts and nuts without having to scan through the inventory needlessly.

Even areas can be labelled to ensure that larger machinery or trash collectors are always in the right spot so we would know where to find them – always.

Shadow boards

shadow board

These tool stands have the “shadow” of a tool imprinted onto the backboard. It makes it easy for the team to find the right spot for the tool quickly when returning the instrument back to its place. Also, it is simple to spot when something you are looking for has already been taken.

Floor tape

We already touched upon that but floor markings are a great visual aid to restrict areas of movement or designate a certain place for goods.

Restricting areas of movement is especially important in terms of workplace safety because you can prevent team members from entering danger zones near working machinery that are not self-evidently dangerous at first glance.


This is basically the same as labelling, just on a grander scale. Large signs and posters can help to position areas from far away, making the commotion straightforward.

Also, some signs can just have reminders about 5S principles. For example, a sign asking to clean up the area after finishing work can have a significant impact on the success of implementing 5S.

Red tags

This is a visual help from the very first step – sort. Red tags are attached to equipment if we are not 100% sure of their necessity at a certain workplace. Having the stickers helps to keep in mind that the evaluation process is still ongoing and making the right decision about the equipment’s suitable place later on.

Colour coding

5s colour coding

Another way to simplify the visuals is by using colour codes. For example, all drilling equipment might have a green sticker on them that matches the colour of the shadow board. So it makes finding the right place for the drill bits even easier when nearby different tool holding boards.

Of course, the coding can apply to many different things, including inventory areas (shipping, stock, tools, etc.), dangerous zones and others to minimise confusion in the working facility.

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