5S – just a nice idea or are you proving the benefits?

May 2020

September 2019


Why it doesn’t work for some but is transformational for others

Most production and quality managers of food processing plants are well aware of what 5S is and can tell you how it was originally developed by the Japanese as a means for improving operational efficiencies. Hopefully they all know what it stands for (Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain).
However, some leave it in the too hard basket, some from larger companies perform a few token gestures so they can tick the box for their managers and others have thoroughly implemented it, all the staff are totally engaged in it and they have tangible evidence to show for their efforts. So why is this you say?


The reasons why and how to positively change this

Vincent Van Gogh said that “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” This is so true of 5S and Lean management systems, but they don’t happen by themselves.
Firstly, it needs full buy in from the top to work effectively. Top management are the ones ultimately responsible for a company’s food safety and quality programs. They must ensure that resources are available to not only get the program underway, (e.g. the first three S’s), but they are committed to standardising and sustaining the program.
Once management have given their endorsement, there needs a detailed plan for the implementation and one person in the business who can take overall responsibility for it being rolled out, with the outcomes very clear and visible for all.


Getting the buy in

Next comes a programme of education, ensuring everyone in the organisation has a proper grasp of exactly what 5S is and the immense benefits it can bring. It can be quite exciting for the team when they realise what they can individually do to achieve great results; an example of the ‘whole being greater than the sum of its parts’.
We recommend the person responsible gets together some 5S champions in each team who can work on implementing 5S throughout the factory. They should be well trained and have an in-depth knowledge of the system.
This team of champions can then go on to train the rest of the staff, and oversee the implementation of 5S. Regular meetings should be held to keep track of progress with staff at every level, and posters can be used as regular reminders using bespoke signage and visual management products.


Yes, it works in the real world

If this all sounds like a lot of work, you need to get a grasp of the benefits offered and proven in real world examples such as this case study. They proved that the 5S methodology can be very effectively used in this sector.
A wide array of gains were made including reduction of processing costs, better utilisation of space (some plants in other studies reported that they eliminated the equivalent of four 20 foot containers of waste), elimination of down time and costs caused by lost or misplaced tools, increased efficiency overall, improved working conditions for staff, reduced machine maintenance costs and so on.
Getting rid of redundant, outdated or obsolete equipment and even raw materials such as ingredients can provide extra space, eliminate potential pest harbourages and reduce the likelihood of using the wrong item in the wrong place.
This may be even more important for small companies that often have a bad habit of keeping everything in the hopes that they will use it one day. This would include old and outdated labels that, if used by accident, could result in a product recall. And, as a reminder, the use of improper, and often outdated labels, is a common cause of allergen recalls.


Some simple ideas to kick start 5S

A significant help in implementing 5S is the use of shadow boards for things like cleaning tools, workshop tools, PPE storage and much more. This has proven to many customers to reduce time for staff looking for tools but also some other benefits such as the overall impression these make to the whole workplace.
Some customers have even commented that auditors who walk in and see a place for everything and everything in its place, are far less likely to go digging further as they might when confronted with a factory that is cluttered and disorderly.
There are lots of resources available to help you on this journey, from a full thesis that was developed for this industry to many helpful resources online about 5S, free tools such as checklists and audit forms plus various courses available. Just start with something simple and you will gain your appetite to go further!


Tracking the gains

One thing to remember as you embark on this journey is to document not only the improvements made but how the end result was achieved. Taking before, during and after photos can create real “WOW” moments with management and staff, recognising the distance you have come.

If you want to make an excellent start that will transform your workplace and realise gains immediately, fill in the form below to get 5S happening sooner than you thought possible.

Post by Nathan Senior