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What Is A 5S System?

By providing a systematic framework for organization and cleanliness, 5S helps facilities avoid lost productivity from delayed work or unplanned downtime.

The 5S system is a lean manufacturing tool that improves workplace efficiency and eliminates waste. There are five steps in the system, each starting with the letter S:


Remove unnecessary items from each area

Set In Order

Organize and identify storage for efficient use


Clean and inspect each area regularly


Incorporate 5S into standard operating procedures


Assign responsibility, track progress, continue the cycle

1. Sort

The first step in the 5S process is Sort. The goal of the Sort step is to eliminate clutter and clear up space by removing things that don’t belong in the area.

Clearing the Work Area

For this step, take a close look at the items, tools, and materials in a work area. Items that are necessary or useful for the work being done in that space should be kept there. Everything else should be removed.

Some of those removed items will need to be thrown away or recycled. Other items might belong to another work process or location; they should be returned to their “homes.” However, you might find some items that you aren’t sure about.

2. Set In Order

The goal of this step is to organize the work area. Each item should be easy to find, use, and return: a place for everything, and everything in its place.

Building a 5S Map

Tools that are used frequently should be stored near the place they are used. Spare equipment, supplies, and other tools that are used less often can be kept in a central location, where multiple teams can share them. Items that are typically used together (such as drills and drill bits) should be stored near each other. Each of these decisions will make sense on its own, but it may become difficult to keep track of everything. It may be helpful to create a 5S map as part of this process.

A 5S map is a diagram or floor plan that provides an overview of a work area, process, or station. It provides a visual reference to show where the tools, supplies, workers, and travel paths are, and how they relate to each other. A good map may also include a description of the work that happens in the area shown.

3. Shine

The third step of 5S is Shine. While the first and second steps cleared up space and arranged the area for efficiency, this step attacks the dirt and grime that inevitably builds up underneath the clutter, and works to keep it from coming back.

Routine Cleaning

Shine moves far beyond just pushing a broom around every now and then. It involves regular cleaning of every part of the work area — often a daily wipe-down, and a more thorough cleaning each week.

Everyone should pay attention to the overall cleanliness of the workplace, being willing to pick up trash and so on. But for 5S to give the best results, each worker should take personal responsibility for their own working space.

4. Standardize

The first three steps of 5S cover the basics of clearing, organizing, and cleaning a work space; on their own, those steps will provide short-term benefits. The fourth step is Standardize. By writing down what is being done, where, and by whom, you can incorporate the new practices into normal work procedure. This paves the way for long-term change.

The Power of Writing Things Down

It’s been said that “If it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen.” Writing down the decisions that you make in your 5S program will help ensure that your work doesn’t just disappear. If you made a 5S map in the Set In Order step, that map can be part of your new standard for the area. In the same way, the process that you use for red-tagging items can be written down and included in the standards.

Writing out your decisions doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind, though. The purpose of 5S is to make your workplace better, not to make it unchangeable. You are writing the standards for your facility, and you can change them to fit new information or new business needs.

5. Sustain

The fifth step of a 5S program is Sustain. The idea here is continuing commitment. It’s important to follow through on the decisions that you’ve made — and continually return to the earlier steps of 5S, in an ongoing cycle.

Never “Once and Done”

The 5S approach was never meant to be a one-time event, but an ongoing cycle. This is key, because early successes in 5S can open the way for problems. If open space becomes available in the Sort step, but afterward, tools and materials are allowed to gradually fill in that space without any organization, the end result can be an even bigger mess. The solution is to apply the ideas of 5S over and over, as a routine part of normal work. That’s why Sustain is so important.

Sustaining a 5S program can mean different things in different workplaces, but there are some elements that are common in successful programs.
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