Techniques for optimizing 5S in manufacturing processes

The National Safety Council estimated that there were 65 million days’ worth of lost production due to work injuries in 2020 alone. And the cost of this loss is impossible to calculate given the variation in overhead expenses for each business.

Because of the potential impact that safety incidents can have on an operation, many sites turn to the Japanese practice of 5S. Its goal? Introduce organization and cleanliness to the workplace—eliminating scrap, improving productivity, and protecting workers from common hazards.

If your site is struggling to maintain 5S in manufacturing processes, you’re not alone. For many companies, 5S is an ongoing project that requires constant oversight and reevaluation. To streamline the implementation process and make sure 5S remains in place, here are some of the techniques you and your team can use.

Free checklist!

Complete a 5S audit of your manufacturing facility with the line items in this checklist.

Map out proposed changes

It’s easy to rush into action when you’ve decided to make a change. But before you jump to the implementation stage, take the time to map out proposed 5S changes.

Here’s how to test out your ideas before jumping to action:

Walk through the process as if your 5S changes are already in place. Take note of any issues you come across while trying to complete work tasks in the area.

Are you able to access all the equipment, tools, and materials you need?

Are there any barriers preventing you from keeping the space tidy and organized?

Do your changes impact the process flow in a significant way that requires new training or an overhaul of the plan?

Because manufacturing processes often involve heavy equipment and complex workflows, a pre-test of any planned changes is essential.

As you map out new 5S manufacturing solutions, you must consider their potential impact on both departments and individual workers.

Meeting inter-departmental needs

Depending on the size of the area you want to address, you might need to coordinate with multiple departments. So, when trying out a new 5S manufacturing layout, consider the impact it will have on your entire operation.

Here are some of the factors you should think about:

  • Do multiple departments share the tools and equipment within the affected area?
  • Does a change in one area create a bottleneck or safety issue in another?
  • Will the 5S impact access to resources (replacement equipment, extra materials, etc.)?
  • Are all managers able and willing to ensure that their employees follow the 5S?

Planning and preparation lower the possibility of rework if your 5S approach fails. Plus, it can lead to more dynamic solutions for the upkeep, storage, and replacement of tools and equipment. That saves your manufacturing operation money and helps to prevent shutdowns due to mechanical failures.

Collecting employee feedback

Experimenting with the 5S of an area can be stressful for workers. Imagine coming into your shift and finding that the entire workspace has been reorganized. None of your tools and materials are in the same place that you left them. And once you get started, you notice that the new change has created a major, avoidable inconvenience.

This type of experience is common in large manufacturing facilities where changes are made quickly and without sufficient input from floor workers. Over-eager managers may make a sweeping decision to reorganize a space, only to have to turn around and fix it a short time later.

The easiest way to avoid these issues is to speak with employees before you make drastic changes. Simply bring your ideas to them and see what they have to say. Most of the time, they’re going to be able to point out a problem or concern you didn’t think of on your own.

This invaluable feedback will help you refine the 5S plan until it integrates smoothly with the existing process. If you’re contemplating a major overhaul, these discussions should be part of a larger process modification plan.

In those cases, a drastic change to existing workflows, equipment, etc., will have an impact on the 5S. So, you’ll need employee feedback in addition to extensive planning to ensure the safety and sustainability of your configuration.

Once you’ve mapped out your 5S manufacturing plan, it’s important to coordinate action items so you can reach your desired outcome faster. And with new forms of digital EHS management, tracking 5S for manufacturing processes is easier than it used to be.

Coordinate the 5S implementation

Implementing new 5S in manufacturing is arguably more difficult than other industries for multiple reasons. First, some manufacturers have to run their machinery 24/7 to avoid extensive “warm-up” periods and the lost production time. So, trying to find time to reorganize a work area in a constantly moving process can be a major challenge.

Another reason why 5S implementation is hard in manufacturing is because fixed equipment limits the amount of reorganization you can do in the first place.

Because you can’t “rearrange the furniture,” the way you might in a retail store, for example, manufacturing 5S requires a little bit more creativity during the planning process. And that also means you’ll have a harder time reversing a 5S system if it doesn’t pan out the way you want.

While you can’t control the fixed elements of your operation, you can control how you coordinate the 5S process. Once you’ve decided on the details of your new 5S approach, here are some ways you can roll it out more efficiently.

Break it down

Trying to overhaul an entire work area at once can backfire. Especially if you’re in a rush. This may lead to costly mistakes and interrupt the operation beyond what’s necessary.

Instead of rushing, break your implementation strategy into multiple steps. This will give you the time and space to make an efficient transition from one setup to another.

It’s best to break your process down during the planning phase. Once you start moving around workstations, reorganizing, labeling, and cleaning an area, you’re going to want to finish. And having to recalibrate in the middle of the process creates unnecessary scrap.

Track action items digitally

The easiest way to manage a 5S program is digitally. Especially in a manufacturing facility where you’re coordinating with multiple areas and/or teams. The benefits of action tracking software are that it:

  • Streamlines communication of both pre- and post-implementation 5S activities
  • Shows all complete and incomplete tasks
  • Allows admins to set regular reminders for upcoming 5S deadlines
  • Organizes all documents, photos, etc., to a new 5S approach
  • Makes it easier for different departments to collaborate towards a successful 5S rollout

And since most EHS software has multiple functionalities, you can even use it to track other types of data and tasks (such as the ones related to incident reports and investigations).

Managing the critical changes you make

Use our change management tool, Frontline MOC, to track and coordinate major changes within your site.

Audit the area

Even when you’ve finished reorganizing an area, you’re not done. The last “S,” sustain, is designed to ensure that the area remains intact. What does this require? It requires consistent oversight.

Ultimately, most projects fail because leaders don’t commit to them the way they should. And if you’re investing in an optimized 5S program, you might as well provide enough upkeep to ensure that it survives.

Sustain 5S by:

  • Creating and enforcing a regular cleaning schedule.
  • Assigning different leaders to audit specific 5S areas.
  • Getting workers involved in maintenance by providing them with a place to request deep cleaning, material restocks, equipment repair, etc.

These are just some of the ways that you can ensure the survival of a 5S initiative. Ultimately, production schedules tend to dominate manufacturing priorities. But 5S in manufacturing is essential to the cleanliness and safety of the worksite.

Comprehensive oversight of each area cuts interruptions as much as possible by eliminating hazards and reducing incident rates. Plus, it helps workers feel cared for, which goes a long way in reducing turnover. Your 5S efforts will help build a culture of cleanliness that protects workers while keeping the process running smoothly and efficiently.