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What is 5S?

5S, often referred to as Lean 5S, is a philosophy that focuses on identifying key items in your process, getting rid of unnecessary items, and optimizing the operation’s workflow with standardized and sustainable methods.

The 5S methodology is centered around 5 Japanese S words which are conveniently translated into 5 words beginning with S in English.


By focusing on the key methodologies attached to these 5 points, companies are able to organize and optimize their efficiency and productivity.

Key Takeaways

  • The 5 S’s are Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, & Sustain.

  • 5S is part of the Lean Manufacturing methodology.

  • The method is designed to build an optimal working environment, both physically, and mentally.

  • Some companies have adopted an extra S for Safety, prompting some to call it 6S.

  • Use visual work instructions software to add a layer of visual control to your 5S and 6S measures.

What are the 5 S’s

Let's take a look at each of the 5 S's and highlight some key measures for each S. When beginning your 5S journey, each step should be done sequentially. However, after the process has been completed, each S should be an ongoing venture for all departments. The idea is to never stop cleaning, never stop organizing, and never stop optimizing.

1. Seiri - Sort

The first S is Seiri, which, when translated into English, means “sort”. In this step, you’ll want to take a good hard look at your production items. This includes:

  • Parts
  • Materials
  • Tools
  • Procedures

Once you’ve identified your production items, you’ll need to sort everything out into two categories, needed and unneeded. This can also be categorized as necessary and wasteful.

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Pro Tip

A good way to determine if something is necessary or wasteful is to look at it from the perspective of the customer. Ask yourself: Does this directly or indirectly add value to the customer? If yes, keep it and enhance it. If not, throw it out.

Now, when considering parts and materials, sorting means removing them from the production space. This way, users and machine layout are not encumbered with unnecessary materials. But, we surely don’t want to throw out everything that is not in use. If money has been spent, then it’s best to use these materials to their fullest and slowly progress to smarter inventory measures.

However, if there are no plans to use these materials and a lack of space is affecting production efficiency, then perhaps the items should be sold or removed entirely.

Intelligently sorting through your production items in this manner helps to clean up the production line of unnecessary items so that the operation is less distracted, less complex, more spacious, and more open to an enhanced and streamlined setup.

2. Seiton - Set in Order

In this next step, take all the items left from “sorting” and “set them in order” for ease of use. This means placing these necessary items in the optimal place so that the operation can be streamlined.

The goal of this step is to make everything flow in an optimal order so that physical elements, as well as employee workflow, are simple and effective. Here are some key methods that help companies increase flow and order.

  • Place tools and equipment close together in a specific order of operation to limit travel time between workstations.
  • When short on space, arrange machines, parts, and tools with the highest frequency closest to the workplace.
  • Introduce consistency by setting up fixed locations for production items so that production resources are easily found and accessible.

3. Seiso - Shine

They say cleanliness is next to godliness, and there may be a bit of truth to that. A clean and organized working environment can often protect manufacturers from workplace accidents, product defects, and low employee morale.

To implement Seiso, perform the 2 following actions and make your operation shine!

  1. Clean the workplace at regular intervals:
  2. While cleaning, use the time to inspect equipment and the workplace.

Cleaning can be done daily or at another predetermined frequency but it should be done often. This also gives your operators the chance to inspect the workplace, the equipment, and their tools for any issues that would normally go unnoticed.

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Pro Tip

Create specific cleaning and inspection guidebooks within VKS to ensure that everything meets the exact standards of your company and 5S methodologies.

4. Seiketsu - Standardize

Now, you’ll need to standardize the above processes. Sorting, arranging, and cleaning need to be established as the standard operating procedure. And these standards need to be easily repeatable.

To accomplish this, you can do the following.

  • Establish a comprehensive structure that enables the best practices to be accessed and followed.
  • Provide process documentation to ensure that everyone knows their tasks and responsibilities.
  • Use photos and other visual control methods to verify compliance.
  • Create checklists to review standardization methods regularly.
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Pro Tip

Use work instruction software to accomplish all of the above methods. Create standardized digital work instructions that guide workers through every step of their tasks and responsibilities. This ensures that the best practices are followed every time.

5. Shitsuke - Sustain

The last step in Lean 5S is to make these processes sustainable. You can do this by performing the following.

  • Schedule regular training sessions so that all employees stay on track with the 5S philosophy and methodology.
  • Ensure that all practices and methods can be carried out over the long run.
  • Perform 5S audits regularly to ensure measures are being followed.
  • Discover and implement improvements over time.

The last point is crucial for modern businesses. We may get the idea that sustainability is about keeping things the way they are or maintaining the status quo. But for every operation, Sustainability should mean a whole lot more than that.

Sustainability is about keeping an eye on the future and creating new practices that keep your company alive and thriving. As technology, workforces, and methods change over time, companies will have to find new ways to maintain growth and sustainability.

Bonus S: Safety

Through the popularity and improvement initiatives brought on by 5S methodologies, some have seen fit to add a 6th S to the philosophy: Safety.

In this step, you’ll need to identify hazards, perform risk assessments, and establish preventative measures. In many ways, the 6th S is a review of the 5S methodology with a keen focus on preventing hazards and sustaining safe practices.

Preventative measures can be any of the following actions:

  • Removal of unnecessary risks
  • Establishing PPE requirements
  • Distribution of safe standardized practices
  • Institute administrative controls such as safety policies
  • Create better training modules
  • Change company culture to think about safety
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Pro Tip

Each one of these safety measures can be accomplished with work instruction software. Establish best practices, ensure safety compliance, create effective training programs, and improve employee safety engagement with one purpose-built software.

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