Continuous improvement: the benefits of the 5S method
Find out about a tool used as part of the lean production approach, which Ferretto Group put into practice when it rearranged the layout of its vertical storage system assembly line.

Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain. Five S’s: one for each step in a practical method intended to promote clean, tidy and disciplined workplaces. The 5S method is one of the cornerstones of the lean approach and it involves a series of common sense measures. If they are implemented properly in a department, they give greater efficiency and effectiveness in the organization and management of all operations, producing tangible benefits for the company in question. As well as enabling staff to work better and reducing the waste of time and materials, the 5S method can help to avoid unplanned downtime and technical issues thanks to the introduction of preventive measures.

Ferretto Group serves as a case study at the University of Padua
On 30 May, Francesco D’Elia, Simone Sitziu and Marco Mirandola (the Lean Manager, Process Engineer and Operations Manager at Ferretto Group, respectively) taught students taking the “Logistics Systems and Production Organization” course as part of a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering about the 5S method and illustrated how the company puts it into practice every day. They focused especially on how the layout of the assembly line of the vertical storage systems was rearranged, leading to concrete improvements in assembly times, use of space and waste reduction.

The 5S method and its benefits

The 5S method is one of the tools employed as part of the broader “lean production” approach: a series of management procedures that aim to reduce and eliminate waste by creating standardized processes in which resources are optimized. More specifically, the 5S method is one of the ways to comply with the third principle of the lean model by making value flow thanks to a clean and tidy workplace. The five S’s (Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain) help to get everyone involved in a continuous improvement process that has very low investment costs but brings numerous concrete benefits for staff and companies.
The main advantages are:

  • Less time wasted looking for materials or equipment
  • Instant reporting of any anomalies or deviations from standards
  • Better quality of work
  • Greater safety – and therefore greater peace of mind – at work
  • Lower costs

From Sort to Sustain: the five S’s
As the name of the method suggests, it involves repeating a number of steps in order. They revolve around three principles: cleanliness, tidiness and discipline.
Below we’ll take a more detailed look at the five phases, which are:

  • Seiri – Sorting through items and removing the unnecessary ones
  • Seiton – Setting in order by putting the strictly necessary items in fixed, clearly marked positions
  • Seiso – Sweeping and cleaning the workplace, to remove dust and left-over or discarded materials
  • Seiketsu – Standardize by setting standards and establishing rules
  • Shitsuke – Sustain the improvements made by complying with the standards and updating them.
The 5S method and its benefits
The first S – SORT

The first S – SORT

The first phase involves identifying what is needed to carry out the work and separating it from what is not required.
In practical terms, this means:

  • Separating items that are intact from those that are not, separating items that work from those that don’t and separating things that are needed from those that are not needed or whose purpose has been forgotten
  • Putting a yellow “DO NOT USE” tag on items that are not intact or do not work but can’t be moved at the moment
  • Putting a red tag on anything that isn’t needed but can’t be moved
  • Creating an area for all materials and tools with red tags
  • Placing in a box/container all items that can be moved and that work or are intact but are not needed or whose purpose has been forgotten.

The second S – SET IN ORDER

Once the tools, equipment and materials that are required in the workplace have been “sorted”, the next step is to find the optimal place for them.
This means they must be:

  • easy to reach, with no obstacles in the way between items and the people who need to use them
  • easy to pick up and use
  • easy to put back in their places once they’ve been used.

In other words, everything has its place and there’s a place for everything. It’s important to bear in mind how often items are used when trying to find the right place for them. For example, something that’s used less than once a month can be placed in a company’s central storage area, something that’s used less than once a week should be put in a container in the department, something that’s used less than once a day should be kept near the workstation and something that’s needed once or more a day must be kept within easy reach, directly on the workstation where it’s used.

The third S – SHINE

The third S stands for “Shine”, which means sweeping and cleaning, to remove dirt, foreign matter, dust and left-over or discarded materials. While this is being done, the machines, tools and equipment can be inspected in order to prevent issues that may arise in the future. If these inspections are carried out systematically and regularly, the associated “costs” will be lower because less time will be required. In the long term, these procedures give considerable savings in terms of time and money. Lots of little inspections can prevent problems that in some cases can lead to extended periods of downtime.

The fourth S – STANDARDIZE

It’s essential to make sorting, setting in order, cleaning and inspecting part of the everyday routine. In order for this to happen, it’s necessary to set standards that are simple to understand and follow. The “rules” must be devised and created by the people who will be putting them into practice, because they’re less likely to be followed if they’re deemed to be imposed from above. Once a standard has been created, clear details of it must be shared with all interested parties.

The fifth S – SUSTAIN

The aim of the last phase is to sustain the improvements made thanks to the first four S’s. In order to do this, it’s necessary to assess staff compliance with standards and update old rules. One way to ensure that complying with the standards becomes part of the everyday routine of the staff is to conduct checklist-based “5S Audits” on a regular basis. As well as encouraging and motivating all managers and members of staff, over time this helps to instil a sense of responsibility and self-discipline in them. Audits also provide training opportunities and a chance to showcase the results achieved thanks to the method.

One method and a multitude of benefits for companies and staff

As we’ve seen, the principles and procedures of the 5S method bring significant, concrete benefits for production staff and organizations as a whole. For the management, it optimizes space and time while also giving greater precision – and therefore better quality – in processes and offering greater cost efficiency. For staff, setting cleaning, tidying and discipline standards leads to better working conditions and environments that are safer and more organized, for greater peace of mind.

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