5S – Continual Improvement with Polytron

To excel in manufacturing, improvement never stops. Polytron always wants our clients to provide the very best services for their customers, and the 5S method is a great way to get there.

You love your business. You have since you first laid eyes on it. But somehow, as it always happens, things get a little stale and you need something to stir up the feelings you had in when you first started. If you think your old plant needs a facelift, look no farther than 5S.

5S is a method of continual improvement through organization and cleanliness. The method was developed by Japanese industrialists after WWII, though the Western world has only been familiar with it since the 80s. Now, 5S is almost a standard in the manufacturing and industrial world as one of the first things to look to if something’s going wrong at your plant. It isn’t too challenging to implement, though many businesses falter within the first year of implementation

Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering 5S – and you should. Each S stands for a different practice at the work site that improves your plant’s organization, cleanliness, and standardization. Improving these of course leads to better profitability, efficiency, and safety, things everyone wants for their plant. The steps of the 5 S methodology are as follows:

  • Sort-Sort through everything in the work area and remove what is unnecessary.
  • Set in Order-Organize everything in the work area for efficient retrieval and return.
  • Shine-Regular cleaning. There’s no point in organizing everything if you let it fall into disarray again!
  • Standardize-Develop a course of action to put the first three steps into practice as habits. Update this process as you see how it works with your environment.
  • Sustain-Have a system in place to monitor your results and adjust accordingly.

Of course, you can’t just waltz into the plant one morning and expect everyone to work according to 5S. You’ll need to invest in this method to get anything out of it. Training, sustainability, and even tools necessary for cleaning and organization in the first place. It may be a costly enterprise to take in, but the benefits have been tracked over the years and proven that this system is well worth every penny.

So let’s say you’ve started putting 5S methodology into practice. How do you manage everything? How do you apply the methodology the way it was originally intended? How do you make it happen when employees just aren’t getting it?

How to Manage Your 5S Methodology

Unfortunately, the 5S practice often fails after only a year, according to Jamie Flinchbaugh, Lean Consultant.

He points to a common 5S problem, or really any new methodology incorporated in the workplace. Though 5S is one of the most praised practices in the field, it can and often does fail quickly, wasting the time and effort of those who fought to put it into place. 5S is an invaluable method that can drastically increase cleanliness, safety, efficiency, and even production when carried out correctly, so why does it fail so often?

Flinchbaugh argues that 5S fails because its purpose is not effectively communicated to employees. Yes, we covered how to handle communication earlier with S.M.A.R.T .communication, but 5S is a different kind of communication. And it is certainly true—if your employees see this as just a process to increase cleanliness or organization in their part of the workplace but care nothing about cleanliness or organization themselves, they will cut corners. It’s up to you to explain the intent of the process; 5S isn’t about another checklist for busy work, it’s about keeping everything standardized in such a way that a problem will be obvious and immediately identifiable.

Flinchbaugh continues to identify five other steps to help sustain 5S operations, mostly involving continual audits to monitor the system’s success. It’s even easier than thinking through six steps whenever you question your 5S practices. Think of it this way—when you incorporate any new methodology into your training process, treat that new methodology as you would an employee. Do not just set it to work and let it be, check on its progress. Evaluate its efficiency regularly and ensure that it’s working. See that employees are getting along with it and that it fits into your company’s vision. When it seems to be lacking, put pressure on it and change what you need to. If you continue to monitor the practices that you train your employees to follow, they will remain as effective as you need them to be.