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Kelsey Rzepecki


How to Sustain a Culture of Continuous Improvement With 5S

5S is one of the easiest ways to build a foundation for operational success

Published: Wednesday, December 12, 2018 - 12:02

As the global economy grows, it’s more necessary than ever to stay on top of efficiency. Keep up with increasing production demands by implementing a continuous improvement method to streamline the workflow.

Continuous improvement is an ongoing effort to improve products, services, and processes. It starts with small, incremental changes, and over time it adds up to produce major improvements to productivity, quality, and cost savings. A 5S system is an effective improvement tool to guide this process.

5S—A method of improvement

5S is a Japanese management approach originally developed by Toyota as part of its lean manufacturing system. It helps correct inefficiencies and ensure smooth operations by keeping the workplace clean, functional, and orderly. It’s also designed to support a workplace culture of continuous improvement. 5S is one of the easiest ways to build a foundation for operational success because it consists of simple planning, and it can be implemented quickly in every aspect of a business.

Small and large facilities can both experience benefits from continuous improvement using the 5S method. Whether you’re incorporating new machinery and automation technologies for a significant facility transformation, or simply want to better utilize your workspace by reorganizing the factory floor, there is room for 5S everywhere.

To increase the chances of success, it’s important to integrate a continuous improvement mindset into your workplace culture from the start. You’ll need participation and buy-in from employees; this begins with each individual. Use direct feedback to identify challenges and implement solutions as part of a shared vision. When workers can see that what they are doing is making a difference, they will feel motivated and empowered to continue because they can recognize how their efforts contribute to a common goal.

The 5S system is made up of five easy-to-remember steps that each play an integral part in helping facilities successfully implement and sustain the system.

Step 1: Sort

Evaluate all facility inventories and tools, removing all unnecessary items to reduce clutter. This will help make work areas easier to navigate and help eliminate hazards that may be lurking. Identify items that should be removed using a visual communication method known as red-tagging. It is a simple way to easily identify what may be unnecessary in a given area, helping to decide whether items should be returned, moved, or discarded.

Step 2: Set in order

Make things easy to find. Place tools and materials in places where they are easily accessible so workers spend less time searching for them. Assign equipment to specific locations so personnel know where to find and return items each time. Designate permanent storage locations for every item, and make those locations visible with signs.

Step 3: Shine

Conduct basic maintenance duties. Make it a part of the daily routine to inspect, clean, and maintain work areas. Provide workers with the appropriate cleaning supplies for their work areas and equipment, and post cleaning checklists within each work area. This will help ensure workers can be more productive and stay safer on the job.

Step 4: Standardize

Encourage workers to share their insights and write down their decisions to help establish consistency in the workplace. Ensure all personnel understand the goals and steps of the 5S system in order to experience the true benefits within the facility. For facility-wide understanding, implement color schemes to represent hazard or safety categories, and color-coding to identify tools and their corresponding storage locations. Post a legend for 5S visual communication at strategic facility locations.

Step 5: Sustain

Sustaining 5S is the final step in implementation and helps maintain the system. Repeat all steps of 5S daily—this will ensure the workplace remains clean, safe, and efficient. A way to sustain 5S also includes conducting worker-led or supervisor-led routine checks using a 5S checklist. When goals are met, communicate these successes to all to help motivate workers to continue the great work.

Challenges and benefits

With continuous improvement, the process is continuous; there is no final destination. Additionally, the way you measure improvement in your facility may be different from others. There is no single, foolproof way to achieve a successful 5S system, and there will be trial and error on the way to your desired results.

Getting people to change the way they’ve always done things isn’t easy. It’s also a common root cause for new methods failing. The goal is that the steps of 5S will remain ingrained in day-to-day work processes, even long after the initial implementation has been completed. To prevent workers from reverting back to old ways, ask employees for ideas about how to improve their processes. This will help them directly experience the value of the changes. Rather than take orders from senior leadership who may have never done the process themselves, employees can take the lead for their own work.

Employee buy-in is essential for success. 5S makes it easy to engage workers and help spark ideas for sustainable improvements; it also increases chances of follow-through on implementing changes and overall investment in the outcome of the changes.

One of the biggest benefits of continuous improvement is that small improvements over time are inexpensive to implement, in part because many ideas result in eliminating processes instead of adding them. This helps to reduce wasted efforts that will have a significant impact on your bottom line.

Sustaining 5S

Each workplace will have different goals and priorities. In order to maintain 5S, you must be diligent and shift your focus to a long-term mindset. This is where the fifth ‘S’ (sustain) comes in; not only to sustain improvements, but also to guide a continually improving workplace. Improvement steps you discover during the 5S process can open the door to more open communication and feedback. Workers may be more prone to speak up about issues and improvements to prevent downtime in the future. Regular support and reassurance from management to workers is crucial to help better visualize goals and understand that they are achievable.


About The Author

Kelsey Rzepecki’s picture

Kelsey Rzepecki

Kelsey Rzepecki writes for Graphic Products, makers of the DuraLabel line of industrial label and sign printers. For more information about customized visual communication, visit Graphic Products’ website or call (800) 788–5572.