Apply 5S forethought: Once started it’s hard to change course

By Richard Kunst   

Industry Production Manufacturing 5S Lean manufacturing

Do it right and there’s more to gain than reduced searching.

Eliminate waste with 5S. PHOTO: Olivier Le Moal –

Many manufacturers like to start their lean journeys by embracing 5S because it creates such an impressive visual impact. They head into the methodology with great zeal but little forethought.

There’s much to organize, clean, sort, paint and in general they complete a much overdue housekeeping initiative with shadow boards everywhere to make things look that much more organized. But before you start a 5S initiative, do give it a lot of thought.

Consider these factors:

• What is your process? Stop, look and observe. Define what the process does well and what could be improved. Look at how much “walk” is involved for team members to operate within the process. How accessible are the needed tools, parts and components?


• Do we need it all? Determine what items the operator uses the most. Are they easily accessible with minimal movement? Get rid of the just in case stuff. Perfect the process, don’t invest in insurance coverage.

• Where is it placed? Before starting 5S, seek simplicity before organization. Define the proper location for your tools. Use shadow boards, but only as a final touch. Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada was fixated on making as many machine adjustments as possible using a 13-mm wrench. If you only need one size wrench, you don’t need a complete set mounted on a shadow board. Throw the excess wrenches away. Place the active wrench in a location close to where it will be used and don’t be afraid to purchase many of them. Remember, a 30-inch reach requires 0.6 seconds so limit the wandering. Eventually, organize items used sporadically on a shadow board, close by but not in the way.

• Part presentation. Once the operator is focused on performing the assigned task within a process, don’t interrupt his/her concentration. Ideally, the components should automatically load and be presented to within a natural arch of the operator’s hand movements without taking a step. A multi-bin approach using flow racks allows replenishment of inventory from the aisle without operator interruption. Wherever possible, use gravity for small components. To access components, consider using a proper length of hollow PVC drainage pipe capped at one end with a cutout.

Corrective action

For larger parts, consider orientation. A bit of a complement to chaku-chaku (load-load) will allow the operator to pick and align the component without having to think. Add a splash of poke-yoke (mistake proofing) and if the component is out of spec, the operator will wake up and conduct corrective action.

Don’t forget to 5S your data. A Fortune 50 company decided to embrace an ambitious project to consolidate its fastener library. Initial investigation showed the database contained more than 22,000 types of fasteners.

The problem started innocently enough within engineering as they developed item masters and bills of material. Some engineers would name a fastener 13 mm by 10 cm hex head bolt; or 10 cm by 13 mm hex head bolt; or hex head bolt 13 mm by 10 cm, creating multiples of the same item.

As cost reduction initiatives were added while operating within a standard cost system, it was simpler to change a part definition while assigning it a new cost.

If you do not conduct at least a cursory assessment of your database, there’s a good chance of double stocking the same part with a different definition within your workstation, wasting valuable real estate.

There’s much to pre-think, research and define before you start your 5S initiative. If you think it would be a great lean starter, think again. Once you start, it will be difficult to change course.

Richard Kunst is president and CEO of Cambridge, Ont.-based Kunst Solutions Corp., which helps companies become more agile, develop evolutionary management and implement lean solutions. Visit E-mail

This article appeared in the January-February 2020 print edition of PLANT Magazine.


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