5S: The Lean Roadmap

by Charles Skinner, Consultant, Productivity Inc.

As manufacturing activity slows, plant managers shift their attentions to increasing efficiency in their plants through lean manufacturing methods. But knowing exactly where to begin their lean journey is the first task facing plant managers and improvement teams. The answer is simple - The 5S program. The 5s's are: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain.

According to Net Economy writer Carol Wilson, economic slowdowns are a major opportunity for suppliers to improve their manufacturing processes and drive down costs. Building efficiency into manufacturing processes starts with lean practices on the shop floor, and the implementation begins with "5S."

Lean methods originated with Japanese author Hiroyuki Hirano's breakthrough 5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace (Productivity Press, 1995). Productivity also conducted numerous Japanese Study Missions to show 5S in action to interested American manufacturers. Based on 5 pillars, 5S is critical to the implementation of all other improvement efforts.

I believe that 5S is the must-have tool. For any of the tools in the toolkit for becoming lean -- quick changeover, total productive maintenance, mistake-proofing, and so on -- 5S significantly helps in both the implementation and sustaining of improvements. The Gold Standard for 5S is that anyone should be able to find anything in their own workplace in less than 30 seconds, and anywhere else in the workplace in less than 5 minutes without talking to anyone, opening a book or turning on a computer.

Overview of 5S

The 5S's are: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. The goal and process of sorting is organization. The sort process distinguishes needed items from unneeded items and removes the latter. This process forces people to remove all items not currently needed for work, wherever it may be, including factory and offices. It is initially the most difficult for people who are afraid to let go of parts, machines, and data, "just in case" they may be needed in the future. However, "red-tagging" items allows workers to set aside and evaluate items and information in terms of its usefulness and the frequency with which it is used. The items and information are returned, stored elsewhere, sold, given away or thrown away. Red-tagging is best done in one target area at a time and within one or two days. When red-tagging is completed, problems and annoyances in the workflow are reduced, communication between workers is improved, product quality is increased, and productivity is enhanced.

"Set in order" organizes a work area for the maximum possible efficiency. Organization and orderliness work best when they are implemented together. "Set in order," means arranging needed items so that they are easy to use and labeling them so that anyone can find them and put them away. The key word in this definition is "anyone." Labeling is mostly for other people who need what is in the area, when the area "owner" is away. The ideal is economy of time and motion. When orderliness is implemented, there is no wasted human energy or excess inventory.

"Shine" - as the word implies - means to thoroughly clean everything in the work area. Planning a cleanliness campaign is a five-step process including: cleanliness targets, assignments, methods, tools, and follow-up inspections. The goal is threefold: 1) to turn the workplace into a clean, bright place where people enjoy working, 2) review the firs two Ss, 3) find the source of dirt or litter and eliminate it. And the definition of cleanliness is "keeping everything swept and clean." "Shine" should become so deeply ingrained as a work habit that tools are also kept in top condition and are ready for use at any time, and cleaning is needed less. Cleanliness should be a daily habit.

Once the first three "s"s are in place, "standardize" details a plan to maintain the continual improvement activities. Standardized cleanup integrates sort, set in order, and shine into a unified whole, and "sustain" (the fifth "S") involves workers in planning how to keep it that way. Having clearly designated tasks completed on a regular basis is the key.

Empowering shopfloor workers to take control of their daily activities and their work environment is the unifying principle of 5S. By taking an active role in designing and maintaining their workplace, workers take more pride in their work, leading to greater satisfaction and higher productivity.

The Northrop Grumman Case

According to Dave Abbett, head of Lean Material and Strategic Integration at Northrop Grumman, the best way to stabilize and understand a process is 5S.

Northrop Grumman first deployed 5S on a part delivery process. The work area assembled a variety of components into a single product. Before 5S, the area was not well-organized, and the process was inefficient.

According to Abbett, 5S made substantial improvements in the "point-of-use kiting" area. With 5S implementation, the area saw 93% reduction in the space employees' travel to complete the tasks and a 42% reduction in overall floor space. The system has become a one-piece flow operation between assembly and mechanics, enabling everyone involved to know what the station has and what it needs. Value Stream mapping now provides diagrams of the workstation, indicating the locations of essential tools and materials.

But the process has not been easy. The company has made tremendous gains in small pockets, but it has been difficult to implement the process throughout the entire company. One way Northrop Grumman continues lean implementation is with a web site dedicated to distributing lean information. The site has training material and contact information for everyone in the company to access lean tools.

Rather than trying to bite the entire elephant, Northrop Grumman tried to understand manageable pieces. Companies can understand details of a complex process, and use 5S to implement the future state map.

5S is the foundation for successful lean implementation. 5S is the tool to begin, support, and sustain the lean journey.