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Implementing '5S' Programs in Manufacturing Facilities

Many manufacturing facilities have opted to follow the path toward a "5S" workplace organizational and housekeeping methodology as part of continuous improvement or lean manufacturing processes.

5S is a system to reduce waste and optimize productivity by maintaining an orderly workplace and using visual cues to achieve more consistent operational results. The term refers to five steps -- sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain -- that are also sometimes known as the five pillars of a visual workplace. 5S programs are usually implemented by 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 system is a good starting point for all efforts aiming to drive out waste from the manufacturing process and ultimately improve a company's bottom line by improving products and services and lowering costs. Many companies are seeking to make operations more efficient, and the concept is especially attractive to older manufacturing facilities looking to reduce their costs.


"A place for everything, and everything in its place" is the mantra of the 5S method. This results is an improved manufacturing process and the lowest overall cost for goods produced. 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.

A typical 5S implementation would result in significant reductions in the space needed for operations. It also would result in the organization of tools and materials in labeled and color-coded storage locations, as well as "kits" that contain just what is needed to perform a task.

The 5S methodology is a simple and universal approach that works for companies all over the world. It is essentially a support to other manufacturing improvements such as just-in-time production, cellular manufacturing, total quality management, or six sigma initiatives. It is also a great contributor to making the workplace a better place to spend time.

Benefits for a company from using the 5S methodology include raising quality, lowering costs, promoting safety, building customer confidence, and increasing factory uptime.

Jim Norton is president of Custom Products & Services Inc.

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