What is 5s and how do we use it here at Flexiform?

What is 5s?

5S is a workplace organization method which was originally developed in Japan and was identified as one of the techniques to improve workplace safety, efficiency and effectiveness.

Flexiform have been working towards this way of working for Flexiform – based on an organisational method using a list of 5 Japanese words : seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke, which has been translated can be translated into ‘Sort’, ‘Set In Order’, “Shine”, “Standardize” and “Sustain’  You may have already noticed each of these words begins with an “S” – hence “5s”. Within some workplace 5S has now become 6s with the final S being translated to Safety.

So what does it do?

The 5 stages describes how to best organize any work space to improve workplace efficiency and the effectiveness of both the workplace and workforce by identifying and storing any items used in an employees daily task, maintaining that area and items and continuing to sustain order… basically keeping all items to hand in the most organised and efficient way.

A basic example would be:

When assembling a Flexiform cabinet, we use a spanner to fit the feet.  By keeping the spanner on a shadow board next to the appropriate area, we can ensure the tool is always available and to hand avoiding lost time looking for the spanner.  This may be a very simple example, but, roll this out across a large factory environment and the benefits soon add up to an efficient and steam lined manufacturing environment.

The decision to implement the 5s process usually comes from consultation with all those involved with a certain task or area Adopting such a process builds understanding among employees of how they should do the work and how to improve their efficiency.

Flexiform are no exception to this, after 6 months of analysis, Simon Hoskins Flexiforms Head of Operations has implemented 5s through the Flexiform manufacturing facility, the improvement has been immediate and obvious.

“5S is the start of a long journey of employee engagement in improving production safety, organisation and ultimate efficiency.  It is a proven good foundation to building a culture of continuous improvement.

Our journey started with the Machine Shop. Small teams working together to identify and remove redundant tools, materials and furniture.  The remaining required items, checked, cleaned and stored in a logical, identified location.

Maintaining this improved standard and not slipping back to old bad habits is our biggest challenge.  The new standards have been photographed and displayed for all to see.  Machine Operators audit themselves daily against the new standard, Production Management weekly and Senior Managers and Directors monthly to ensure standards are maintained and improved still further.

Since we started 5S in the machine shop the visible difference is noticeable.  The working areas are safer, cleaner and organised.  It is early days to prove a tangible link between 5S and productivity but the factory efficiency has improved by a couple of percent.

We now turn our attention to other departments within the factory.”

There are five 5S phases: They can be translated to from the Japanese as “sort”, “set in order”, “shine”, “standardize”, and “sustain”. Other translations are possible.

Sort (Seiri)

  • Remove items not used in area – outdated materials, broken equipment, redundant equipment, files on the computer, measurements which you no longer use
  • Ask staff to tag all items which they don’t think are needed – this improves understanding about need and use
  • Classify all equipment and materials by frequency of use to help decide if it should be removed – place ‘Red Tag’ on items to be removed
  • Establish a ‘holding area’ for items that are difficult to classify – hold item for allotted period to enable others not on 5S team to review

Set in order or straighten (Seiton)

The practice of orderly storage so the right item can be picked efficiently (without waste) at the right time, easy to access for everyone. A place for everything and everything in its place.

  • Identify and allocate a place for all the materials needed for your work
  • Assign fixed places and a fixed quantity
  • Make it compact
  • Place heavy objects at a height where they are easy to pick from
  • Decide how things should be put away, and obey those rules

Shine (Seiso)

Create a clean worksite without garbage, dirt and dust, so problems can be more easily identified (leaks, spills, excess, damage, etc)

  • Identify root causes of dirtiness, and correct process
  • Only one work activity on a workspace at any given time
  • Keep tools and equipment clean and in top condition, ready for use at any time
  • Cleanliness should be a daily activity – at least 5 minutes per day
  • Use chart with signatures/initials shows that the action or review has taken place
  • Ensure proper lighting – it can be hard to see dirt and dust

Standardize (Seiketsu)

The setting of standards for a neat, clean, workplace

  • Standardization of best practices through ‘visual management’
  • Make abnormalities visible to management
  • Keep each area consistent with one another
  • Standards make it easy to move workers into different areas
  • Create process of how to maintain the standard with defined roles and responsibilities
  • Make it easy for everyone to identify the state of normal or abnormal conditions – place photos on the walls, to provide visual reminder

Sustain (Shitsuke)

Implementing behaviors and habits to maintain the established standards over the long term, and making the workplace organization the key to managing the process for success

  • This is the Toughest phase within the 5s element – Sustain – many fail just short of this goal
  • Establish and maintain responsibilities – requires leader commitment to follow through
  • Every one sticks to the rules and makes it a habit
  • Participation of everyone in developing good habits and buy-in
  • Regular audits and reviews
  • Get to root cause of issues
  • Aim for higher 5S levels – continuous improvement