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Quality Insider

Implementing 5S Workplace Organization

A three-step process for improving efficiency and productivity

Published: Friday, May 11, 2012 - 14:11

Many manufacturing facilities have opted to follow the path toward a “5S” workplace as an element of lean manufacturing. Implementing 5S programs involves small teams working together to get materials closer to operations, right at workers’ fingertips and organized and labeled to facilitate operations with the smallest amount of wasted time and materials.

The 5S methodology uses visual cues to achieve more consistent operational results. The term refers to five steps: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain, which are also sometimes known as the five pillars of a visual workplace. Benefits to the company from using the 5S methodology include raising quality, lowering costs, promoting safety, building customer confidence, increasing factory up-time, and lowering repair costs.

Consolidating stored items into the smallest possible footprint yields benefits ranging from more efficient use of space, faster and easier retrieval, and an improved appearance.

The 5S system is a good starting point for all improvement efforts that seek to drive out waste from the manufacturing process. It ultimately helps a company’s bottom line by improving products and services and lowering costs.

“A place for everything, and everything in its place” is the mantra of the 5S method. Storage and workspace systems allow improved organization and maximum use of cubic space for the highest-density storage. The result is an improved manufacturing process and the lowest overall cost for goods produced.

The five pillars of a visual workplace

Implementing the 5S method means cleaning up and organizing the workplace in its existing configuration. It is typically the first lean method that organizations implement. This lean method encourages workers to improve their working conditions and helps them learn to reduce waste, unplanned downtime, and in-process inventory.

The 5S methodology is essentially a support to such other manufacturing improvements as just-in-time (JIT) production, cellular manufacturing, total quality management (TQM), or Six Sigma initiatives. It also helps to make the workplace a better place in which to spend time. A typical 5S implementation would result in significant reductions in the square footage of space needed for existing operations. It also would result in the organization of tools and materials into labeled and color-coded storage locations, as well as “kits” that contain just what’s needed to perform a task.

Figure 1 provides an overview of the five pillars, with a brief definition of what the step means in a manufacturing context, why it’s important, and the list of problems it avoids if implemented.

Figure 1: The Pillars of 5S. Click here for larger image.

The 5S methodology is typically implemented using a three-step process, which includes establishing a cross-functional team (including employees who work in the associated areas), touring all areas associated with the manufacturing process under review, and brainstorming ways to improve organization to reduce waste. For example, factories have more than their share of searching waste. It is not unusual for a three-hour changeover routine to include 30 minutes of searching. When attempting to reduce changeover time radically (for example, going from three hours to 10 minutes), there is clearly no room for 30 minutes of searching waste.

Fewer steps and greater organization mean less waste.

Value-stream mapping can be used in the 5S process to analyze the material, process, and information flow. The information is used to develop a current state map, which sets out how things have been done in the past. The team then analyzes the current state map to identify opportunities for workplace organization and housekeeping improvements. A wide range of ideas is considered, although all ideas won’t end up being viable, all are worthy of investigation. The key is to observe nonvalue-added processes and create an environment to promote value-added work through waste elimination.

Small teams work closely together to plan the greatest efficiency and productivity in operations and processes.

Finally, the team envisions a future state based on the exercise and begins implementing the future state. The process is iterative; the future state becomes the current state, and a continuous improvement process should be used to identify new ways to reduce waste. Waste is defined very broadly and includes things like waste in the movement of material, carrying too much inventory, defects or rework, producing scrap, waiting, or unnecessary motion.

Some examples include waste of motion because the person sent to get a part or tool could not find it; searching waste because no one can find the key to the locked cabinet that contains needed tools; waste of defective products because defective parts were not separated properly and were used by mistake; and even waste caused by unsafe conditions, such as boxes of supplies that are left in a walkway, causing someone to trip and get injured.

For example, team members might observe workers walking long distances to obtain needed parts, or spending time reaching into bins on shelves to find parts. Or they may identify hardware, like nuts, bolts and screws that are used in a certain area but stored in a central storage facility far away from the point of use. The goal of the value-stream map is for the team to walk the process and identify what operators really need vs. what they receive.

Open shelving (left) is inefficient at storing small items. High-density drawer and shelf storage (right) enables storage of small items in right-sized compartments, increasing cubic capacity and organization.

The role of storage in the 5S workplace

As noted, one of the 5S pillars is identifying and eliminating many kinds of waste, including time wasted searching for items, waste due to difficulty in using items, and waste due to difficulty in returning items. Storage solutions play an important part in implementing waste elimination through space reduction, organization improvement, and inventory management. Storage cabinets and workbench products that allow dense storage, a smaller footprint, and visual organization near where the tool is needed can be a key factor in implementing the 5S program.

Systems should be set up so everything has a place that is available when needed, including the manufacturing floor, areas where products are being packaged, and the equipment maintenance area. Everything should be labeled and identified. Local storage minimizes travel time, and adjustable storage and workbenches make it easier to adapt to the differing needs of individual employees. Using storage walls organized with barcoded handles can reduce wasted time due to lost inventory and searching. Such systems also facilitate quick tool changes for different product lines. Storing tools next to machines in use rather than in multiple storage locations around the facility can save hours each day.

Modular drawer storage cabinets that allow the maximum use of cubic space for the highest density storage are ideal for high-density storage of parts, tools, and items of virtually any size and type. They are scalable enough to adapt to future requirements, provide maximum weight-bearing capacity, tailored drawer organization, and ergonomic item-handling and access.

Customizable storage solutions allow the creation of storage that accommodates a variety of item sizes.


A place for everything and everything in its place, clearly labeled.

Designed to allow dense storage and a smaller footprint, the storage cabinets make it easy to add flexibility to production lines to facilitate faster turnaround time. The photos below illustrate how the proper storage unit meets the No. 1 mantra of a 5S system for a manufacturing facility: A place for everything and everything in its place.

The 5S visual workplace, where tools are easy to find and located right at the work area, leads to a clean, efficient work environment.

Storage solutions can go a long way to improve using the 5S methodology to improve manufacturing processes, enabling quicker, more efficient production, which contributes to lower overall costs.


About The Author

Lista’s picture


Founded in Switzerland in 1945, Lista International Corp. designs and manufactures storage and workspace solutions for manufacturing, maintenance and repair, government, vehicle/engine service and repair, education and training, and medical industries and also specialty solutions. Its products sold in North and South America are manufactured in its Holliston, Massachusetts factory.