The 5S philosophy of efficiency, safety and organization in manufacturing first entered the mass consciousness through the success of TPS, the Toyota Production System. TPS wasn’t a Toyota invention; rather, it was the company’s interpretation of the standardized 5S manufacturing methodology that was created by Hiroyuki Hirano, the legendary lean manufacturing authority.
The 5S system, in essence, helps manufacturing enterprises scientifically analyze their processes for possible safety gaps and shortcomings in efficiency, and correct them. While the five parts of the approach (the name of each beginning with the letter S — Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain) do succeed in their aim helping create lean, standardized and well-organized workshop floors, they go much further.
Businesses that try the system often fail to see the benefit and give up on it, assuming that it may be too simple an approach for their needs. It’s a common conclusion; the system possesses deceptive simplicity. The apparent simplicity masks complexity, however. It takes experience in the system to put its components together to form an organic whole.
If your organization has been considering implementation of the system on the manufacturing floor and has hesitated for fear that it could fail to work, it is likely that management labors under an imperfect understanding. It may be useful to address areas of misconception that could stall the decision making process.
Misconception: The 5S approach can be deployed by remote control
Since most managers tend to not be familiar with the 5S system, outsourcing responsibility for deployment to consultants is a common practice. Managers hear of case studies where manufacturing businesses, at the end of their 5S deployment process discover that they have no more efficiency than they had to begin with. In truth, these efforts fail for reasons of a basic error of assumption — that the task can be farmed out. Successful deployment of the 5S method requires the full involvement and close participation of every worker who will operate the shop floor. When implemented correctly 5S does work.
Misconception: Lean or 5S organization is mostly about cost-cutting
Unorganized workplaces are often cluttered with equipment that is rarely used. A 5S implementation will usually recommend the unloading of such equipment, regardless of how state-of-the-art it may be. If a piece of equipment isn’t truly necessary, it doesn’t find a place in a lean shop floor.
Many managers, then, come away with the impression that 5S is all about going after cheap, low-cost process building. Instead, it is about efficiency. If a high-priced piece of equipment does not help get the job done more efficiently, it is bound to get in the way. Many 5S implementations do recommend new, high-end equipment when there is justification.
Misconception: 5S is just about pretty signs and labels
A shop floor that has undergone 5S organization often looks different, and according to prominent 5S materials supplier Creative Safety Supply, it does attract the most notice among untrained observers. The visual techniques, the cleanliness, the neatly organized look and the signs and labeling used, though, are only indications of deeper processes at work.
One of the areas of focus of 5S is about helping workers learn awareness of their surroundings, and learn an ability to become aware of safety lapses as they occur. A high level of organization and well-done safety signage tends to be effective at helping workers notice problems. A tool left out of its cradle or a container of chemical that hasn’t been stored would be would be quickly noticed in such an environment. The 5S system isn’t about housekeeping or beautifying. Rather, it is about organizing for better visual control.
Misconception: 5S is expensive
It does take resources to successfully implement the 5S approach. There is likely to be a teething period as well, in which workers stumble with newly learned ideas. The up-front costs involved in implementing 5S are made back many times over, however, through increased efficiency.
Misconception: 5S is a fad
The principles of lean manufacturing have been around for decades in one form or another. Seen in this light, 5S isn’t new or a fad. Google Trends shows interest in 5S, lean production and lean management growing over the years. The system has demonstrated results in major corporations across the world, and has been an integral part of those businesses for decades. Trends and fads rarely have such staying power.
Eve Little is a stock controller who enjoys writing in her spare time. Recently learning, and hearing more and more about 5S she is focusing her articles on this topic. Her writing appears on various business blogs.
This Guest Post was contributed by Tim Brown