How to Understand the Toyota 5S Program

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"5S" is a tool that helps drive the Toyota Production System (TPS), a complete management system and corporate philosophy focused on eliminating waste in processes to drive greater efficiency. 5S represents a part of the overall system and is used to enable visual management. The goal of 5S is to make problems easy to spot. Problems in any process represent waste, which in turn represents inefficiency. The name "5S" comes from the five terms used to identify each step that must be followed when using this tool.

Seiri, a Japanese term pronounced “Say-Ree,” is translated into English as the verb "sort" or "separate." Sort through all items at each workstation and separate what is needed daily from what is not needed. Tag items that are rarely or infrequently used and move them out of the station. Tagged items will later be disposed of or moved to another area based on a needs assessment that covers the entire plant floor or a section of a facility.

Seiton, pronounced “Say-Ton,” means "set in order" or "straighten." Arrange needed items in designated locations and visually mark where they belong. Outline the location around a piece of equipment by marking the floor with paint. If the equipment is moved to another area, the mark will remain as a clear indication of what equipment is missing. Outline each tool in its space on a peg board with tape. If the tool is not in its place at the end of a shift, employees will know to look for it and return it to its place so it is ready for the next shift. The intent is to make abnormal conditions visible so action can be taken immediately to correct the situation. Abnormal conditions result in waste or inefficiency, such as when someone has to waste time to find a missing tool.

Seiso, pronounced “Say-So,” means "shine." After sorting and setting things in order, do an initial thorough cleaning of each work area. Cleaning should then become a daily activity. Always keeping the area around a piece of equipment clean will make it easy to recognize problems, such as oil leakage. It is also important to keep debris off the floor to eliminate obstacles that could prevent smooth process flow or pose tripping hazards. Even paper on the floor can represent problems leading to waste. A discarded label on the floor could mean product somewhere in the facility is not properly identified.

Seiketsu, pronounced “Say-Ket-Soo,” means "standardize." Now that everything is clean and in order, look for best practices across all work stations. Establish rules and standards associated with what has been done in each of the three previous steps. Make it clear what the standards are that must be matched at each station by defining them in work instructions, posting visual aids or other methods that are meaningful to employees.

Shitsuke, pronounced “Shi-Tsu-Kay,” means "sustain." This is the hardest step to achieve. To sustain the cycle of 5S it must become a habit for all employees to look for things that are out of place, identify unnecessary items left in each work area and pick up debris whenever it is spotted. There should be a continuous effort to recognize waste and take action to improve the flow in and out of each workstation. Shitsuke generally requires a change in organizational culture and will always require management commitment.

Tips & Warnings

  • Consistent and continuous communication and training, and a reward system, will help to drive 5S philosophies across an organization. Daily or weekly audits performed by each employee at each workstation, followed by occasional random audits by management, can help turn 5S practices into habits.
  • Many organizations tend to stop at Step 2. Once there is a place for everything and everything is in its place, activity can stagnate. If this happens, new things will start to accumulate until there will no longer be a place for everything and nothing will be in its place.

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