5S Lean Manufacturing: Practical Ways to Transform Your Firm

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The basic principle of 5S is to organise workspaces in such a way as to improve flow, reduce processes and eliminate waste – and make your manufacturing business more efficient.

Here we take you through how SMEs can take advantage of this important lean manufacturing technique – along with examples of practical steps you can take, and companies that have used 5S successfully.

What are the 5S principles in lean manufacturing?

5S is a visual system of lean manufacturing based on five Japanese principles:

  1. Seiri / sort – sorts the workstation and eliminates anything not needed in the space. Sort and separate necessary items from unneeded tools, parts, and materials.
  2. Seiton / set in order – sets in order the sorted items, arranging them neatly and organising them for easy identification and location of tools and parts.
  3. Seiso / shine – shine is the simple cleaning of the workstation, removing rubbish and maintaining a clean uncluttered space in which to work.
  4. Seiketsu / standardise – standardises the activities by scheduling regular maintenance and cleaning of the area, making it common practice.
  5. Shitsuke / sustain – sustains and maintains by implementing 5S and regularly undertaking the sort, set shine, and standardisation of tasks.
Staff discuss strategy in a meeting

5S is based on 5 principles starting with S that aim to make your workplace cleaner and more efficient, and gives staff a framework to maintain these improved practices

How the 5S principles are applied in practice

The theory of 5S sounds simple enough – but how does it look in practice?

We’ll start with how the 5S lean manufacturing principles can be applied in practical terms in a general context – and then we’ll move on to how this might look in practice in a craft brewery in the next section.

How-to steps for 5S implementation

1. The first principle is Sort – the separation and organisation of items within a workspace to clear clutter and eliminate unnecessary items. This step groups and classifies items into five commonsense categories:

  • Frequently used: essential items regularly employed in the context of a specific workspace.
  • Infrequently used: the things only occasionally required or used.
  • Potentially needed: the items that may possibly be needed. When unsure about the necessity of items, they should be red-tagged and include the name of the person tagging the item, the reason it was tagged, and a proposed review date. Tagged items should then be moved to a storage area until the review date and a relevant manager approves removal.
  • Misplaced objects: items that are not required in this workspace but necessary in another.
  • Redundant items: objects that are not needed in the workspace, and which can be immediately removed.

2. The second principle, Straighten, involves the systematic sorting and arrangement of items in specific locations for ease of access. This step is all about finding the right location for items to reduce waste from excess movement.

  • Place items that are frequently used within easy reach
  • Group items into logical categories
  • Organise categories using colour codes to signify importance or frequency of use
  • Use modular storage systems and shelving
  • Implement shadow boards for smaller tools that provide a visual aid to show when items are missing
  • Label everything clearly and logically
  • Paint floors to delineate storage areas and walkways
  • Dedicate a surface area entirely to working
Tools arranged in an orderly way in a workshop

Two core 5S principles – Sort and Straighten – entail organising the workplace so only essential items remain and these are easily accessible

3. The third principle is Shine, which involves the cleaning, inspection and maintenance of tools and equipment to create an orderly work environment. This step not only provides a nice workplace, but also helps staff identify problems before they become major issues.

  • Wipe down equipment with appropriate cleaning products and tools
  • Look for the source of leaks and spills to remedy the cause
  • Examine tools for wear and tear to determine if they need maintenance repair or replacement
  • Strip large items to inspect the condition of their parts
  • Follow proper cleaning procedures to protect equipment

4. The fourth principle, Standardise, establishes a system that captures 5S best practices for the team. This step helps to create reproducible activities and clean, consistent habits.

  • Document your 5S lean manufacturing processes and set expectations
  • Create checklists – keeping them short, simple and organised by role, shift and frequency
  • Develop kits containing the materials required to perform specific tasks
  • Create a schedule for tasks and activities
  • Include visual support in documentation and training materials

5. The fifth principle, Sustain, maintains the 5S processes of regularly completed tasks, which ensures continuous improvement. This step embeds 5S practices through regular reviews and scheduled tasks.

  • Teach your employees how to action 5S activities and train them about what is expected
  • Supervise staff after the initial training to ensure they are adequately prepared to undertake tasks on their own
  • Schedule regular reviews of activities by task, role, and frequency
  • Openly communicate with staff and seek feedback to improve 5S practices
  • Set reminders for quarterly auditing and review of the red tag holding area
Staff meet to discuss new processes

The fourth and fifth principles of 5S ensure your staff have clear guidelines for how to implement the system

The visual brewery: A Case Study in 5S Implementation

Regulations stipulate specific requirements for handling and storage of food and beverage products, with stringent measures to maintain cleanliness and hygiene standards.

The 5S methodology is a simple way to ensure compliance with these regulations, and every aspect of a brewery or brewpub will benefit from the application of 5S lean manufacturing.

1. Seiri (sort) in a craft brewery

In practice this would see raw ingredients sorted into categories and those that aren’t regularly used removed. Ingredients used only for limited seasonal releases should be labelled and removed from the workspace. At the bottling station sort and keep the necessary items such as empty bottles, bottle caps, crates and pallets, anything else unneeded within the workstation should be eliminated. This may include kegs, PETs, and labels. Sort and separate these items, all of which should be tagged and removed to the appropriate workspace – or removed altogether.

2. What Seiton (set in order) for a brewery looks like in practice

Determine what tools and utensils are required at each stage of the brewing process. Locate them in the areas they will be used – for example, beside the mash, kettle, heat exchanger or fermentation tank.

At the bottling workspace arrange and place the necessary items neatly and in a way that is practical for the bottling process. Position pallets of bottles close to the bottling station for ease of loading onto the bottling equipment. Place bottlecaps close to the bottling machine to facilitate fast replenishment. Have crates and pallets stacked neatly at the correct end for easy removal to storage and/or dispatch.

3. Seiso (clean and clear) in a craft brewery

Keep the brewing area clean and clear, ensuring that buckets, ladles and other tools and utensils are returned to the correct place. Ensure there is an appropriate receptacle for broken bottles at the bottling station and a system for removing this from the workspace. Maintain a system for cleaning up spillage and overflow.

4. Seiketsu (standardising the process) at a brewery

Schedule regular maintenance of equipment and machinery. Ensure that new deliveries of raw materials or pallets of empty bottles are put in the correct spot and not placed ad hoc. Make cleaning and mopping of the workspaces common practice between batches.

5. Shitsuke (sustain and maintain) for a craft brewery

Conduct regular audits of workspaces to ensure that all processes are being implemented correctly and regularly. Empower staff by providing sufficient training in the 5S lean manufacturing system to keep them engaged and involved.

Considering many brewers offer brewery tours, it’s particularly important to ensure that workstations within the production space are clean and uncluttered to deliver a visually pleasing, safe environment for both staff and customers.

A craft brewer pours a sample from his vat

For a craft brewery, steps like making sure utensils are accessible where they are used, and providing receptacles for broken items, are simple ways to use the 5S system

Businesses that have successfully implemented the 5S system

There are many companies – in various industries – that have successfully implemented the 5S principles of lean manufacturing in their organisations.

Successful implementation requires a commitment to providing the time and resources necessary to facilitate the 5S principles correctly. This includes an investment in proper employee training. The benefits of implementing lean, however, are significant when done correctly. The following businesses are examples of organisations that have managed to achieve success in 5S lean manufacturing implementation.

The Toyota Production System (TPS) 5S system

The Toyota Production System (TPS) operates on the belief that employee job satisfaction, safety and engagement builds lean manufacturing companies that are substantially more flexible and responsive to consumer expectations. Since its conception in 1948, TPS is now widely implemented across numerous industries large and small.

Toyota started with the flow production process adapted by the Ford assembly line, introducing self-monitoring machines to ensure quality. They then determined that by using fast setups to generate smaller volumes it was possible to attain low cost, high variety, and rapid throughput to respond to changing customer demands while maintaining product quality.

Toyota’s 5S methodology went further to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of individual processes by identifying and eliminating process waste such as defects, overproduction, lost time, over-processing, and excess inventory.

WRD Wells’ successful 5S implementation

Wells hygiene and food safety systems started out as a small family-owned business supplying products to the food processing, healthcare, manufacturing, and dairy industries in New Zealand and Australia. WRD Wells’ commitment to the practice of 5S has helped maintain stringent hygiene standards to prevent cross contamination and maximise compliance with food safety and food handling regulations.

Wells has become an expert in 5S lean manufacturing to the extent that 5S products and services are an integral part of the business. Some examples are:

  • Providing colour-coding solutions in production areas that help separate cleaning zones
  • Setting up mounted or mobile 5S shadow boards to help effectively and hygienically organise workplaces
A man brushes his equipment down in the workshop

There are well-known examples of large companies that use 5S – but small-medium enterprises are well-placed to use these methods to achieve greater efficiency and staff morale

Hewlett-Packard’s use of the 5S lean system

Hewlett-Packard introduced the 5S lean manufacturing system to help keep the storage areas of its necessary parts neatly stacked and well organised for ease of access.

Their Computer Systems Division in particular employs the 5S pillar of Seiton (straighten) to streamline their workers’ daily processes. Using stacked storage areas – much like supermarket shelves – Hewlett-Packard stores parts needed to build products in a systematic arrangement of to prevent lost time.

How Parker Hannifin uses the 5S system

Parker Hannifin is a large, diverse company that manufactures motion and control technologies. Early on the company recognised that safety needed to be an integral part of their lean manufacturing process – so they made Safety the sixth S for their organisation. As a result, workspaces are more efficient, ergonomics have improved in the final assembly cell, and eye strain and back injuries have reduced dramatically.

When Parker purchased HVAC provider Sporlan, the organisation reshaped its work environments by implementing adjustable workstations, job tracking, team scheduling and standardised lean principles. New U-shaped aluminium workstations easily allowed movement and reconfiguration when needed. Meanwhile, clear partitions with maximum height limits increased visibility and resulted in improved productivity, material handling and plant flows.

Brewing with 5S: Wasatch & Squatters and Salt Lake Brewing Co.

5s lean manufacturing sets the expectations for a clean, well-organised and safe brewery – from orderly bottling, labelling, and packaging lines to more efficient maintenance of brewery equipment.

Wasatch & Squatters Brewery was a pioneer in the implementation of 5S lean manufacturing in the craft beer environment, executing the system over a 120-day period to achieve percentage KPIs quarterly until the 5S methodology was implemented completely.

Following implementation, monthly audits of the physical area were conducted with regular plant follow-ups to ensure the new system was being applied correctly. This resulted in an increase in productivity, a successful 5S workplace culture, a reduction in lost time, and greater efficiency in plant maintenance.

Another example of 5S in brewing is Salt Lake Brewing Co. This craft beer brewery and brewpub operation functions under the 5S lean manufacturing philosophy, using guidelines such as ‘Keep it organised’ and ‘Everything has its place’. These guidelines have helped put the entire team on the same page regarding the company’s expectations for a clean, well-organised brewery.

Larger breweries to implement 5S lean manufacturing include the New Belgium Brewing Company and Tooheys Australia – both of which have benefitted from safer, more efficient and more productive workspaces, reduced floorspace and all-round greater efficiency.

Staff discuss improvement plans in their office

There are numerous advantages to using 5S – but avoid the pitfall of driving further improvements when your processes have already been optimised

Advantages and disadvantages of 5S lean manufacturing

The advantages of 5S lean manufacturing include cost savings, greater efficiencies, improved safety, better processes, waste reduction, and better staff morale.

5S principles are a component of the overall lean manufacturing philosophy that is based on waste elimination of all kinds within the workspace. With 5S, cost savings are realised through the reduction of waste, raw material supplies, labour hours and lost time – and it also supports the easy identification of wasted motion, defects, and productivity.

Involving staff so they actively participate in the implementation of 5S lean manufacturing, and encouraging their contribution to the process, provides a sense of ownership and satisfaction.

However, care must be taken to ensure reasonable expectations from 5S lean manufacturing to avoid false economies. These can occur when organisations attempt to keep driving further improvements that can be counterproductive. An example of this is increasing the time spent on attempting to make improvements in areas that have already reached optimal efficiency and productivity.

The 5S lean manufacturing system for modern SME manufacturers

5S lean manufacturing principles can be as easily adopted by SMEs as by larger organisations, helping them to improve turnover and support growth strategies. The successful implementation of 5S lean manufacturing largely relies on the ability to make small changes – and in fact, SMEs have an advantage here because they are generally more flexible and have flatter structures for faster decision-making.

For SMEs, 5S principles can be achieved through better organisation and more efficient practices – making them accessible for small-to-medium businesses. The steps are manageable, and advances in technology and cheaper automation options make it increasingly simpler for SMEs to implement lean manufacturing practices.

That said, the biggest challenge for SMEs is employee resistance to change. This can be overcome through direct communication with staff and adequate training that demonstrates the overall benefits of 5S to both the business and its employees.

The cost of implementing 5S lean manufacturing for an SME is largely made up of investment in time and training. While an initial outlay for new equipment such as modular shelving and tools for improving workspaces may be necessary, existing equipment and materials can often be reconfigured or repurposed for greater process efficiencies and productivity.

But spending the time and money to sort, straighten, shine, standardise and sustain can certainly pay off for SMEs in the long run.

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Alecia Bland - Unleashed Software
Alecia Bland

Article by Alecia Bland in collaboration with our team of inventory management and business specialists. Alecia's background is in ancient languages. When she's not reading a book with her cat for company, you can usually find her cooking, eating or trying to make her garden productive.

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