James Fowler
When implementing a Lean plan, don’t leave out safety.

5S is a discipline that can help provide a strong foundation for a Lean enterprise by driving a focus on order and efficiency. The name derives from five Japanese terms that define the discipline’s key points of focus:

Some companies follow a 5S Plus process. The sixth S is normally Safety and Environmental Health. While technically much of this is incorporated in Shitsuke, which mandates following all company rules and regulations, it helps put greater emphasis on worker safety and environmental responsibility.

The benefits of embracing a 5S or 5S Plus system go far beyond having an orderly workplace. They include:

The primary challenge in implementing a 5S or 5S Plus program is maintaining it. Even the most dedicated employees can start to skip end-of-shift clean-up practices when the workload gets heavy. “I’ll do it tomorrow” can quickly grow into “I’ll do it next week” or “I’ll do it when things slow down.”

What is the best way to establish a program that will sustain itself over time? There are five key elements: Training, intra-work area audits, internal audits, keeping it relevant, and conveying ownership.

A good training program helps link the disciplines holistically to the overall activities of the work area so that employees constantly evaluate the outcome of their activities and the benefits that come with an orderly, clean workplace. For example, loading printed circuit board assemblies in a carrier correctly not only follows the “set in order” discipline, it also minimizes defect opportunities and eliminates wasted motion. The better employees understand the benefits of maintaining the disciplines, the more likely they are to sustain the program. A good training program also shows clear examples of practices to be avoided and should include photos of the most common violations. This helps ensure that even newer, less experienced employees have a complete understanding of practices to avoid, and also reinforces best practices with older employees who may be resistant to changing the way they’ve done things in the past.

The most effective way to ensure continuous compliance is to place audit ownership within the work area. Team leaders or supervisors should be charged with
daily or weekly audit responsibility. This ensures regular reinforcement of desired behaviors.

Compliance with 5S or 5S Plus discipline should also be part of the less frequent internal quality audit program. This helps ensure all work areas are consistently maintained, and can help identify areas where a team leader or supervisor may be too lax in their audit practices.

The final way to motivate sustainability is by linking it to other activities such as Kaizen events or training related to continuous improvement activities. Linking the 5S disciplines to these activities helps keep the program fresh and relevant in employees’ minds.

When approached holistically as a foundation discipline for an efficient, Lean manufacturing process, 5S is a powerful tool. The key to unlocking its benefits is engaging employees in ways that motivate them to continue to broaden the way they apply the disciplines in their daily work activities. Conveying “ownership” of sustainability to team leaders and supervisors helps ensure continuous reinforcement of best practices.

James Fowler is director of ISO compliance at SigmaTron International (sigmatronintl.com); james.fowler@sigmatronintl.com.

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