February 25

5S Lean Manufacturing Perfection


5S Lean Manufacturing is often the starting point to many lean programmes and also a misconceived idea that it’s what all lean is. It’s not. We’ll discuss what it is and how you can use it, in this guide.

What is 5S Lean Manufacturing? Simply called 5S, it stands for 5 steps to workplace organisation, to ensure that the business is optimised for easy access of tools, equipment, material and information. Often, lots of time is lost because the workplace is not geared to efficient and effective working. 5S helps overcome this, by using the following 5 simple steps:

Sort the workplace and de-clutter it from needed and non needed items.
Set locations and limits of tools, material, storage, information, etc. Ensure it’s easy to find what you want and that you don’t over store things.
Shine – Fix things that are broken, paint equipment, clean and bring the place to a high standard
Standardise the new ways of working for everyone to follow
Sustain using leadership support and accountability to ensure the 5S system is being maintained by everyone.

With its roots emanating from the Japanese lean production system, 5S often forms the starting point to lean a journey. Here’s how it all fits.

Table of Contents

Lean Simulation

A quick simulation to help understand the principles of 5S.

5 Steps to a 5S Lean Manufacturing Program

What it is and how it’s more than a tidy up.


The first step of 5S…


Understand how to set like champions…


Shine so cleaning is an everyday thing.


How to standardise the gains, to keep 5S going.


Here are some tips to to help sustain the programme.

5S Lean Manufacturing Simulation

Let’s have some fun…

In the diagram below, try to find the numbers in sequential order, from 1 to 40, all within a minute:

5S-game stage 1

How far did you get?

There were some numbers missing. Did you find them?

If you are within the 99% of masses, you didn’t get close. There’s just too much clutter around to easily find the numbers.

They’re not organised; not easy to see; and not optimised for the task at hand… and that task is:

  • To find the numbers from 1 to 40… efficiently
  • To identify where the missing numbers are… quickly

So, let’s make it a little easier for us…

Let’s Sort Things Out a Bit

If we organise a little better, we can begin to see what’s important to us and what’s not.

In the case of this exercise, we only need the numbers. We’re not bothered with the shapes and other distractions. Let’s get rid of them.

Now, in 1 minute, count again, by finding each number in sequence.


How far did you get, now?

It’s obviously easier; that coupled with the fact that you already knew the location of some of the numbers already.

Did you manage to find the missing numbers? You still probably couldn’t find them. Not yet.

This process of sorting what’s around us is naturally the first step in getting ourselves organised and more efficient.

We need to agree what we should keep, and what we can get rid of. We do this so it doesn’t slow us down in performing our work. Remember, our work is to count the numbers to 40 and find those missing ones.

But, we can make further improvements to our numbers game…

Set Things in Order

Setting is about locating areas to support an optimised way of working. In this instance, we want to find the numbers in sequence, and locate the missing numbers, quickly.

To achieve this in our numbers game, we could arrange the numbers in order and group them in multiples of ten.

It’s now getting much easier to search and find those numbers.

Repeat your task. In 20 seconds:

  • Find the numbers from 1 to 40 in sequential order
  • Identify where the missing numbers are.

Did you find the missing numbers?

Chances are you may have done so. But we can make more improvements to this number storing system that we’re developing.

We could locate the numbers in numerical order

5s game phase 4


We could also standardise our numbers’ size and font type to make them even easier to see and read.

We could add a simple red / green visual control system to show the numbers that are available (in green) and those that are missing (in red).

Here’s our new and improved number system of ours:


Now we can see clearly, without little thought and complexity, the numbers in sequential order. We can also see the missing numbers instantly, too.

So, after that long example, the missing numbers are 7 and 31.

Using this new system, you could probably skim your eyes from 1 through to 40 within 5 seconds, and get everything you need.


Well, at the start, we struggled to probably get up to 10 and had next to no chance finding the missing numbers within 1 minute… and by the end, we optimised the process, created a new system which enabled us to find the missing numbers within 1 second… and standardised it, so we can keep working this way.

This rather crude but simple example covers much of what 5S is all about.

5s lean manufacturing is about optimising our workplace and processes, to make it easier to flow and do what we need to do quickly, with all the noise and inefficiencies removed.

5 Steps to a 5S Lean Manufacturing Program

5S is more than just a tidy up. It allows you to organise your workplace to improve efficiency and productivity by saving time.

Some of the time-saving examples are:

  • Find tools quickly
  • Spend less time walking about, so you can spend more time adding value
  • Easily find the next job to work on
  • Know when to work on the next job
  • Get the information you need quickly
  • Know where everything goes
  • See what’s working and what’s not so you can fix problems faster

5S: Low Hanging Fruit

5S can and should be used across all areas of the business.

In fact, it’s is a simple tool, which can be used to transform the workplace with little cost involved. Simply by sorting, setting, shining and standardising, you can create efficient processes and work habits that attack the 8 process wastes, which are evident in every work area.

It allows you to eliminate the low hanging fruit, so to speak. By this I mean, you don’t have to spend a long time analysing and delving deep to make an impact.

Just by simply observing how things are done now, you can see where things can be improved to make a positive impact on productivity and efficiency by improving the layout and organisation.

(I.E. save on time spent walking, searching and asking questions)


Anything That Stops Flow

Flow stops when inefficiencies get in the way

When you’re working without distractions and any wasteful activities in between, you’re flowing work. In other words, you’re doing the things that you should be doing.

Any distraction that you face should be noted. It’s often these distractions that can be eliminated through good 5S and workplace organisation. Here are some examples of these distractions:

  • Excessive walking to find a tool that someone’s taken
  • Not all the information is to hand… and now you have to go and ask questions
  • You’re waiting for someone to complete their work in the previous process, before you can get to it
  • There are too many errors, so you have to waste time fixing them
  • There’s too much clutter in the workplace and you’re forever stepping over things and moving things around to find what you want
  • There’s lots of inventory built up so it’s hard see what’s next
  • You’re spending too much time conducting extra processing to get the job done

The idea of 5S is to fix these so more value added work gets done.

In order for this to happen, there are 5 simple steps to 5S.

Here’s a break down of what they are:


Sort involves touching everything in your workplace and asking whether you need each item or not.


The idea here, is to remove the clutter.

Ensure that what’s left in your work area is exactly what you need. And that it’s fit and proper for the task in hand.

Also, it’s a time to challenge how much you store. For instance, if you have 100 reams of paper, which will last year the whole year, why have so much? This only takes up space, adds to the clutter… and is a waste (holding far too much too soon).

Why not have enough for a month or a week, or even a day? By sorting what you need from what you don’t, you’ll have more space and will be able to work in a safer and more productive environment.

Remember, in 5S, everything should be to hand and ready for use.

Red Tag

Source: seton.co.uk. A Red Tag Area is simply a visual holding area for items that need to be cleared from the work area.

You’ll notice a reference to red tag in the image above. A red tag area is simply a marked out zone where items go that you’re unsure of. They may be needed, they may not.

Instead of spending too much time discussing, items that are not needed, but not instantly thrown away, should be placed in the red tag area. The team will review these items together, later.

The point is, if you don’t need the item, or there are too many of them (in terms of our reams of paper example), remove them from the workplace and put them in the red tag area.

This allows you to keep implementing the sort phase and rapidly eliminating clutter, whilst avoiding the need to make big decisions and stop your flow in clearing things out.

At the end of each week, review the Red Tag area together, so you can decide whether to fix, throw, or pass each item to another department.


This is the next phase in your 5S lean manufacturing programme.

It involves setting locations and limits for all the items we need. And by limits i mean agreeing how many should be stored.

Our paper reams is another example, here. It could also include asking questions around some of the following:

  • How many jobs should wait in queue until they’re taken to be worked on – preventing excessive waiting time and build up of work
  • How many tools are needed for every day line-side use
  • Where should items go to ensure there’s less walking within a work area – This may include re-layout of the whole work area
  • What information is needed so people don’t have to ask questions – making the area visual
  • What information do we display to show the team’s status
  • What consumables do we need and how much (think day or even hours worth)

Setting is not just about putting things back nicely. It’s about making retrieval faster of the stuff that’s needed.

This is where we can make big improvements to the time it takes to do what we need to do. By ensuring items are located based on frequency of use, we can make some big time savings in movement.

Here’s how to do it:


The rule of the sort phase is to locate items in the following order:

  • Items that are used daily should be within arms reach
  • Items that are used weekly, should be stored at the edge of the bench / desk area
  • Items that are used less frequently, should be stored in the work area

All items should have clearing marking and labelling to show where they belong.

The time saving we make on moving highly frequent items closer, can be huge.

5S Lean Manufacturing - Set Phase Quick Tips


This phase involves a number of key elements:

  1. Clean, paint and shine the work area to bring it to a new and improved standard
  2. Ensure that the work area is visual, so you can see leaks, issues and other abnormalities easily
  3. Set the cleaning standard to maintain this new level of cleanliness
  4. Make cleaning easy and a part of every day routines
5S Cleaning hierarchy
It’s easy to see where the leak is

5S Clean involves being able to see where deformities are, so you can quickly fix them.

If there was grime everyone on the machine to the left, you may know there’s a leak, but have no idea where it’s coming from.

Clean and Check Example - Fixing a machine and protecting from damage
Clean it up and protect it from future damage

Notice the before photos to the right.

What was once a dirty and poorly kept machine…

Has now been transformed by the clean phase.

The equipment has been cleaned, reconditioned and a barrier erected, to prevent damage from fork trucks and pallet trucks.


After the first 3 S activities of sort, set, shine, it’s now time to standardise what’s been done.

Without standards being implemented, it would be hard to sustain the 5S efforts. People need standards to ensure they follow them.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the standardise phase:


To standardise, we need to:

Add photo standards to the area. Each standard should show how the bench, work area and storage areas should look in accordance to the new way of working.

We also need to use these standards to ensure that they’re being maintained every day.

Here’s an example of a 5S photo standard:

A clear, simple and easy to see standard

The next step is to ensure the people in the work areas are responsible for maintaining these disciplines.

Creating zone owners also helps with this, too. Do this by splitting up areas within work areas, and assign people who are responsible for maintaining (And improving) 5S.


Once you’ve got standards in place and so too, owners, the next thing to do is to create daily 5S checks and cleaning tasks. These are simple tasks that ensure the 5S standards are maintained.

They’re visual displays to reinforce if each 5S cleaning task has been done and by whom.

Here’s an example:

Make the cleaning rotas visual, so they can be seen and checked


Sustain consists of the obvious, but it’s the hardest part of what otherwise is a simple process.

For a 5s lean manufacturing programme to be effective, it must be maintained.

Sustaining means two things:

  1. Ensuring daily 5S is being maintained
  2. To challenge current working and ensure 5S is being improved (hence one improvement per month)

By doing this, the 5S programme follows the lean mantra of continuous improvement.

There’s a range of requirements for 5S to be sustained. This involves:

  • Ensuring leaders’ buy-in to support teams in implementing 5S – it’s not something that should be turned on and off, willy-nilly and only for the operators. It’s for everyone to do their bit.
  • Empowering teams to make regular improvements and better the current standard
  • Conducting 5S audits to ensure your 5S lean manufacturing programme sticks and is improving over time
  • Ensuring everyone is trained and know their roles in 5S

Here’s a snap shot of the sustain phase requirements:

5S Sustain

The crux of the sustain phase is to ensure that 5S is maintained. This step is more of a cultural thing and therefore should be dealt with changing people’s behaviours and mindsets… And not “set and forget.”

Try to be creative here to keep people motivated and enthused in 5S. Try to link real improvements and achievements to the 5S programme.

Reward the most improving team and individual with the most ideas…

Acknowledge the team with the best 5S audit score, or the most productivity savings this month. And anything else you can think of that will help encourage commitment.

Here are some tips:


Additional Questions:

Here are some questions and answers that clients normally ask me around 5S:

How long does a 5S activity take to make an impact? 5S is a very quick lean tool. If you get commitment and plan a 5S event, you can see a huge change in as little as a few days of week, depending on the size of the facility.

Should I 5S my whole business in one go? I’m speaking from experience here… I would conduct the planning, like getting a floor plan of the whole facility and agreeing the zones and owners. I’d also go through a quick 5S training ‘heads-up’.. But, i’d pick one area where you could have a big impact in a quick time frame. Go narrow and deep as they say. Perfect it here, and make it world-class. Then roll it out to the next area or two, so you can keep control of it. The last thing you want is to 5S everything and turn around, to find no-one has sustained anything.

Why is 5S so hard to sustain? It’s a culture thing. You need to spend more time on managing and engaging with people than conducting a 5S event. That’s why leaders must do their bit, and lead change, and help drive the 5S programme in their areas – that’s why zone owners and daily accountability, and checks are crucial, as well as rewarding and praising teams for good work.


You may also like

How to Begin Your Lean Journey: 5 Steps to Making an Impact

5 Reasons Why Continuous Improvement in Manufacturing Is Important

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