What Is a 5S Program?

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Imported from Japan, the 5S system maximizes efficiency, productivity and workplace safety.
Imported from Japan, the 5S system maximizes efficiency, productivity and workplace safety. (Image: Fuse/Fuse/Getty Images)

The 5S system organizes the workplace for maximum efficiency, safety and productivity. Originating in Japan, 5S later traveled to the United States and Europe and has been adopted by some of the globe's biggest manufacturing companies, including Toyota. To understand the basic concepts of 5S, you begin with a short language course in five Japanese words.

Seiri: Sort

The 5S system begins with seiri, a word meaning "sort." Workers tag, remove and store any item on the floor not needed for production. Objects that obstruct or slow down workers are moved to a better location or removed. Managers keep tabs on new items brought to the workplace and must balance the usefulness of tools, accessories and machinery with their tendency to slow down the workflow. Needed tools are labeled and sorted for easy identification.

Seiton: Streamline

By the seiton principle, items and tools that are needed for production are placed where they are most accessible, depending on frequency and nature of their use. A pair of goggles needed whenever a welder is at work, for example, would be stored within easy reach of the workbench -- not in a storage cabinet or closet. The floors are taped to show optimal positioning of people and equipment, and work instructions are kept handy -- or posted on a sign -- so that the flow of work is clear and logical.

Seiso: Shine

Seiso or "shine" means keeping the workplace clean, using a daily cleaning session to inspect and maintain equipment, and bring the area up to optimum standards. Workers have specific daily "shine" responsibilities; each is responsible for restocking tools and supplies and reporting any malfunctions or equipment problems when found. Supervisors also carry out a daily inspection.

Seiketsu: Standardize

Implementing seiketsu means setting up consistent rules and procedures known to all employees and making them familiar across the organization. The system works best if it applies to all workers in a uniform and streamlined way and is clearly communicated by management. Regular schedules and clear assignments ensure that all workers know what is expected of them and where they should strive to improve.

Shitsuke: Sustain

Finally, shitsuke means "evaluation" or "discipline." This stage means regular inspection and performance reviews by management. Officers and the entire company must be on board with the program and set an example in their own work and habits to champion the 5S system. To sustain the 5S system means to meet often, train new employees, resist falling into prior habits and stay vigilant on the implementation of the system.

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