5 Steps to Savings

Improve efficiency and morale by implementing a program based on the 5S's

by Sherri Gallagher

Let's say your company has recently gone through some layoffs. Employees are worried, morale is low, and management has directed you to implement a new program to reduce costs without incurring expenditures.

What to do?

The best way to solve this problem is to implement a program known as the 5S's. The name comes from the five Japanese words that mean to sort (seri), organize (seitor), clean (seisu), standardize (seiketisu) and improve the standards and show respect (shitsuke). This low cost, simple system can be used at every work station from the factory floor to the sales representatives' home offices and will improve efficiency and morale.

Some of the key types of waste include wasted motion, production failures, inventory, conveyance, waiting, excess and inefficient production. The 5S's directly attack wasted motion and indirectly affect the rest. Depending on your facility, this program can give you a 3 to 5% efficiency improvement.

The five steps

Before you start, take a picture of the work station to be organized. Before and after pictures will have a tremendous impact on management.

Step 1: Sort. Put everything used on a daily basis into one pile. Things used weekly go into another pile, monthly a third pile, and items used less than monthly go into a fourth pile. Do this for every part of the work area. Then from each pile, take out a single item to use and place the rest into a spare pile. For example, if you have four boxes of pens, keep only one box.

Step 2: Clean. Clean all the work surfaces before putting anything back. Make sure adequate disposal containers are within easy reach of the work station. Put all the spare parts into the communal storage area. Make a list of the returned items so you can report them to management. File all necessary documents and clean all the tools. Set a cleanliness standard that's easy for everyone to meet.

Step 3: Organize. Label all the files and binders. Items used on a daily basis should be within arm's reach of the worker. Items used on a weekly basis should be within one step, and monthly items should be within two steps. The rest can be stored within a few steps of the work station. Clearly mark where each item should be kept.

Step 4: Standardize. Post the agreed upon cleanliness standard and take the "after" picture. Provide transparent dust covers as needed. If the covers are opaque, people might store unrelated items under a single cover.

Step 5: Improve the standard. Go back to the work station after a month and identify any areas for improvement. Look for spares and return them to the communal storage area. Review the cleanliness standard and revise it if necessary. Repeat this step the following month.

In the factory

To maintain neatness in a factory, you may want to organize the movable tool boards that get issued with specific jobs. Paint outlines of the tools on the boards so it's clearly evident if a tool is missing.

Meet with all the operators to determine the optimum layout of the tools. Be aware of who is right-handed and who is left-handed because that will impact the final layout. Then work on developing compromises. Step five is critical in this situation. Do some morale building. Give people the opportunity to have some control over their work environment.

In the office

Though it is generally not necessary to outline the location of the tools, it is important to keep everything consistent. The picture standard (the "after" picture you took in step four) is critical to maintaining this standard. Allow employees to keep some personal things at their work stations, such as a picture or two.


Do a quick study of one or two representative work stations. Note the number of times employees walked away from the work station to perform daily tasks. Also note how long these trips took. Look for ways to reduce traveling or motion and assign an appropriate time frame for these tasks. Compare the times to the total available workday.

This is an ongoing efficiency improvement. When we applied this method to an inspector's work station, the first cycle eliminated 17 trips per day of 30 feet each to regularly-used measuring devices.

Place a value on the tools returned. At one company, we found 18 6-inch calipers that had been missing but were actually being kept as spares, just in case. Look at the office supplies returned and compare them to the office supply budget. Note the one-time savings in your report.

Be sure to include some before and after pictures in your report to management and recognize the other employees who helped you make the improvement happen.  

SHERRI GALLAGHER is president of Technacon Co. She earned a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering and operations research from Syracuse University. Gallagher is a member of ASQ.

If you would like to comment on this article, please post your remarks on the Quality Progress Discussion Board on www.asqnet.org, or e-mail them to editor@asq.org.

--William Coleman, 12-07-2015

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