5S: It’s not just housekeeping

By Richard Knust   

Operations Manufacturing 5S Lean plant think lean

Getting the most out of a clean and tidy plant.



It’s surprising how many facilities don’t use 5S. The simplest of techniques is an ideal starting point for any manufacturer wishing to embark on a lean journey.

The 5Ss are Japanese words: seiton (sort); seiri (straighten); seiketsu (shine); seisi (systemize); and shitsuke (sustain).
Or more simply, “everything should be in the correct place, all the time, in a clean environment.” This means the plant, machinery and equipment are always clean; floors are free from oil and other hazards; the work area is clear of unwanted equipment, tools or work pieces; and aisles and ‘no go’ areas are clearly marked and free of obstructions. Store tools on tool boards, not the bench or the floor; store components tidily in racks; eliminate work in progress; and clean everywhere regularly.
A 5S program starts in a small area of a facility where success is guaranteed, and it will be used as a model area for other groups. Start in the cafeteria or meeting rooms so folks see the immediate impact and enjoy the benefits of operating in an organized environment.

Stage one is about tidying up. Photograph or video the area for posterity. Remove items that are obviously scrapped and fix a red tag to all questionable items. If the item is used during the following week, remove it. After one week, a second tag should be attached to remaining items. Include old machines and equipment.

At the end of the second week, remove all items with two red tags and store them for a short period, just in case they’re needed. A word of caution! Some items may only be used once a month, so don’t get rid of them.


When all red tagged items have been removed, stage two begins.

Everything should be cleaned – machines, shelves, floors, containers and skips. Specific areas should be identified, such as the place for the waste bin and the location of cleaning equipment. Next, paint the whole area, including the floor.

Create employee meeting areas and identify materials storage areas. Convert the floor to “talking floors,” marked to identify areas such as aisles, dividing lines, dangerous places, ‘no go’ areas and traffic flows.

Signs should identify areas, processes, special equipment and reject/scrap materials. Place tools in their correct position on tool boards and identify all production material.

The regular clean program begins at stage three. Procedures should be prepared to indicate what needs to be cleaned, how often, who will clean it and what equipment will be used.

Encourage every employee to spend at least five minutes a day cleaning his or her own work area.

Establish cleaning stations containing all the equipment required to tidy an area and mop up spills. Remember, cleaning is not a special event when a customer visits – it should be a way of life for all employees.

Once the area is clean, tidy and everything is stored correctly, stage four (standardization) kicks in.

This ensures similar standards are used across all areas within a plant. Checklists and regular auditing ensure the newly created standards are maintained.

Have empowered work teams audit each other’s areas and make the results available on notice boards. When an area is ‘perfect’ take photographs to use as a reference for the future and as a benchmark for other areas.

Stage five covers training and discipline. All members need 5S training. This involves preparing checklists for each machine, cell or area, and schedules for auditing the employee’s own and other areas. Checklists cover all aspects of the work areas including jigs, tooling, the surrounding area and common areas within the plant.

And remember there are two additional S components: safety, which should always be top of mind, and “shikkari-yarou,” which means “let’s try harder.”

Richard Kunst is president and CEO of Cambridge, Ont.-based Kunst Solutions Corp., which publishes the “Lean Thoughts” e-newsletter and helps companies implement lean solutions. Visit E-mail

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