The 5S of Lean Manufacturing

By Gene Russell, President & CEO of Manex

The 5S of Lean manufacturing is second only to safety in any manufacturing facility.  Like safety, 5S has physical, psychological, and cultural impacts on everyone including management and company owners.  Good housekeeping and organization must be always expected.  A place for everything and everything in its place.

What are the steps in 5s of Lean manufacturing?

  • Sort
  • Set in Order
  • Standardize
  • Shine
  • Sustain
 Often when speaking to a non-manufacturing audience about the 5S of Lean, I give the example of a broom out of place and a team member spending 10 minutes at the end of every shift looking for that broom. At the end of the year, that’s a lot of hours just spent looking for one broom. Almost as important as the hours and days of lost productivity is the preparation for the culture of change that must be involved to make long-term improvements at the company. 5S is an excellent way to involve and commit everyone on all shifts. Using this discipline with hourly team members is critical to establishing the foundation for continuous improvement and Six Sigma.

The organization of the plant or shop provides an immediate view to that commitment and to the company culture. Everyone must adhere to the discipline. For example, if there is something out of place in a work cell and a manager walks by it, then the true nature of the commitment to everything the company is seeking is communicated… in a very bad way. If there are too many containers in the Kanban we must ask why just as in the broom out of place.

Inappropriately communicated and managed 5S initiatives are often seen as simply excuses by hourly employees for managers to ride them on the topic. It is leadership’s job to effectively communicate and lead by example.

Setting the Tone for the First 5S Event

The tone of the first 5S event should be:

  • How can we help make the operators’ jobs easier by having clean and safe work areas?
  • How can we make sure operators have everything to do their jobs efficiently and effectively?
  • How can managers make sure the operators have input on the placement of things in their work area?
  • How can managers ensure that key metrics are understood and are tracked/monitored by the operators so everyone knows how we are doing versus our goals?
Manex has led many Kaizen 5S and 5S for Lean Manufacturing events focused on manufacturing over the past 26 years and the payoff is always very high for our partner clients with mostly sweat equity and discipline by the team. We can show you the how and we can also help you create the necessary culture and management practices to achieve the fifth S – Sustain.


About the Author:

Gene Russell is President and CEO of The Corporation for Manufacturing Excellence (Manex). Mr. Russell has held three successful CEO positions over a 20-year period for businesses that included early-stage, private equity and non-profit. He has served as senior leadership for global Fortune 100 and iconic consumer branded companies. Prior to Manex, Mr. Russell led a turnaround at a California midsized manufacturer. His experience in global sourcing and manufacturing over several decades led him to Manex where he brings real-world experiences, and as a result, a personal passion to restore and invigorate domestic USA-based manufacturing. Mr. Russell can be reached at