When a manufacturing facility is messy and dirty, it is common to hear “we should do a 5S program here”. However, the 5S methodology is often misunderstood.
There are two aspects to 5S and we’ll cover both in this article:
The literature on the topic of 5S generally emphasizes this aspect.
It becomes obvious if we study the first 3 S’s, in the context of a production workshop:
(4S and 5S are about ensuring that it becomes an established system and that people keep working at it daily. Actually, if you get 1S, 2S, and 3S done right and you can go through that cycle every few months, you have won the battle… As long as management doesn’t take its eyes off that ball!)
There is a reason why every lean manufacturing consultant swears by the power of 5S:
However, we have seen two widespread issues with 5S.
David Collins, our Founding Partner, often says that “a factory might be all messed up but doing good 5S”. How is that possible?
Well, 5S is a process. It is not an end goal. And it is a counter-measure to solve issues (for example productivity and maintenance issues) which might be different from one cycle to the next.
A factory might have done a nice job organizing, making space, and keeping its environment clean. But they might realize that the process layout is preventing them from reaching higher productivity. So they might “break” the rules they have set, make a big mess, try and refine a new layout, and then stabilize things by setting new rules.
Yes, the workshop might look like a mess for 3 months. And yet this is excellent 5S at work.
The following approach generally works fine, if the factory’s management has sufficient influence over the staff to get the five S program running. Expect some resistance and be ready to push people!
What have your experiences been with 5S? Have you seen short-lived programs that didn’t go anywhere? Successful implementations? What do you think is the key to make it work?