The 5S initiative is one of the most difficult to accomplish in your lean journey. The efforts to sort, simplify, sweep, standardize and sustain are the backbone of lean. Many companies roll safety as the 6th S, but in reality that is a mistake. 5S is about the lean manufacturing of business. For businesses to treat the safety of employees on the same plane as lean is a critical mistake. In the hierarchy of business and employee needs, employee safety is the most critical and far more important than efficiency and is the baseline of the hierarchy. The emphasis on the 5S is overlooked and considered by many to have aspects that are optional and not necessary for productivity improvements. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Sorting is necessary for several reasons. First a sorted facility reduces inventory waste, eliminate the use of un-standardized tools or parts, and eliminates confusion to employees who are at different training levels. It also increases usable space by the elimination of storage for unnecessary items, obsolete tooling, and duplicate materials. Having the correct tools visually noticeable in each workplace allows both the operators and supervisors to realize any shortages that may exist. If you look at effective assembly operations, tools are placed in the proper places before, after, and during production. Have you ever had the home project and did not return the hammer to the proper place at the end of a project? Then in a couple of months when the next project is started you floundered to find where you left that hammer. The same is said for the wrench on an assembly line. After the daily production is complete, if an operator leaves the wrench in an undesignated location, they will have trouble starting the next day’s production on time. Therefore, efficiencies are dwindled from their optimum. Communication between shifts and workers becomes more effective in a well sorted environment and much of the extraneous discussions and frustrations disappear as everything is where it should be located. Finally, a poorly sorted operation effects the quality of product. Tool substitutions are minimized as all the proper tools are always available to everyone. The application of any incorrect parts or subassemblies are eliminated.

Simplifying the operations are key to the lean process. This effort also reduces inventory as designers attempt to use common hardware that is readily on hand. This prevents special orders for unnecessary products. This also eliminates waste due to difficulty in using unique items and improves quality as options for misapplication become more limited. But the simplification goes further than design. It includes the arrangement of the workspace and encompasses shadow boxing tools and standardizing the best tools for the job. The development of simple jigs and fixtures improves the quality of product as a standard method of locating features is in place. Jigs can be designed with the same basics and mere detail changeovers accommodate mixed model production. As a manager, we should also drive the organization to the simplest functionality by reviewing each step of the operations with engineering, operations and quality concurrently. Do not merely accept the design from research and development as seldom is efficiency and productivity taken into account.

Sweep or shine is essential for several reasons. First and foremast is ensures a safer workplace. The cluttered workplace is one that is doomed for trips and falls. Clean and bright workplaces have a psychological effect on workers that is positive and is one where we are proud to employ ourselves. The lack of lighting can lead to poor morale and inefficient work. Shine can also assure that tools are in the proper condition for usage at all times. The lack of lighting also allows undetected visual defects and therefore the bright and shiny workplace is less apt to produce and ship nonconforming hardware. I painted all my machines white in a company. Initially, the thought of white machines that remove metal was frowned upon because it was not sustainable. As each machine showed a leak, the leak was fixed to prevent the need to repaint. That triggered an improved TPM program which reduced downtime by 21%.

The most difficult is the standardization of work. This effort integrates the sort, weep and shine and simplifying efforts. It ensures conditions do not deteriorate to the former state and facilitates the implementation of the aforementioned. The standardization of work ensures that work is performed the same way time after time and integrates an improved quality and predicable delivery plan. It is difficult to create the standardization of work and it is very time consuming. You must segment your workplace into sub-sections so that smaller successes can be declared and celebrated. It is essential that the format for the standardization is easy to implement and that any software you use is ready to use for its purpose. Do not use ad hoc programs as the documentation and implementation is difficult and strangling the organization with complicated programs will exhaust personnel. Eventually, your standard work will allow you to predict how many people are needed to attain takt time for work cells and will assist in allocation of resources necessary to attain customer commitments.

Making a habit of properly maintaining correct procedures and installing the discipline to regress requires that all personnel including management pay attention to detail. The consequences of not allowing employees to correct standard work when needed, to clean, sort, straighten the workplace, and allowing an environment of sustainment will deter any advancement of the lean systems your put in place. It will evolve a culture where employees will consider your journey as another program that went to the wayside and will make any revitalization of the effort more difficult.