MRO Magazine

Implementing the 5s’s: A Place for Everything

As we discussed in 'Hello Muda' (Machinery & Equipment MRO, June 2004, pg. 38), the elimination of waste is the focus of Lean initiatives. One of the tools that can be used in maintenance in exactly the same way as in manufacturing is the applicat...

November 1, 2004 | By Cliff Williams

As we discussed in ‘Hello Muda’ (Machinery & Equipment MRO, June 2004, pg. 38), the elimination of waste is the focus of Lean initiatives. One of the tools that can be used in maintenance in exactly the same way as in manufacturing is the application of the 5S’s.

In this article we will take a brief look at the individual steps as they can apply to maintenance. Those who wish more detailed procedures in 5S’s should consult textbooks such as 5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace by Hiroyuki Hirano.

Originally the 5S’s stood for the Japanese words describing this Lean process, but in the Western world, it has come to stand for: Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize and Sustain.

We will see how the implementation of these steps eliminates a variety of ‘waste’ in the maintenance department, although this can only be done when ‘industrial inertia’ has been overcome.


When the idea of 5S’s is introduced, you will surely hear comments like “But we know where everything is,” or “We need everything in the stores,” or “We keep that item because you never know,” or “Sure we need that many — we’re changing them every week.”

Before you move on, you need to overcome any reluctance to change direction by emphasizing how the implementation will:

Create a better work environment

Reduce the frustration of looking for parts

Make tools readily accessible

Ensure correct parts are available

Eliminate unsafe conditions

Increase job security through more profitability.


Sort is when you go into those dark, forgotten corners of the stores and tool cribs and discard all of those thing you don’t need — tools, parts, etc., for machines sold or shut down, parts bought by mistake, parts that were close to the size and the only ones your suppliers had, personal stashes, and so on.

Any items that you are not sure of should also be removed, but these will be held in a quarantine area with a red tag attached. Also make a list of what and where red tag items are.

Obviously those items for which there is no use can be removed and sold or sent to a sister plant which can make use of them — or just plain thrown away. The more difficult task is deciding what to do with the red tag items. Once something is placed in the quarantine or ‘Red Tag’ area, nothing should be removed without documentation as to where, when and why it is being used.

In the meantime, asking the following questions will help with the process:

How useful is the item for the work we do? If no use – dispose of it.

How often will the item be used? If not very often, then store it somewhere out of the main traffic area.

How many of these items do we need for the work we do? Any excess can be disposed of or stored somewhere out of the main traffic area. Sometimes we find that vendors sell items in packs of six but we’re only likely to use two this year — so store the other four out of the flow.

Documentation for what is being tagged and where it is held should be reviewed periodically. A time limit should be set on how long an item can sit in quarantine before it is disposed of. Analysis of lead times and costs obviously will influence any decision on disposal.

This step obviously reduces the waste in inventory.


This step is usually carried out in conjunction with Sort and is completed when everything is arranged in order. All aisles, racks, bins, etc., must have location identifiers that are clear and logical in layout.

Items that are most often used are stored closest to the workplace in specified areas that are clearly labelled. Outlines may replace labels in designating storage areas on floors.

Storage should be developed so that no more than the maximum number required can be physically kept at the location and that the items can be easily identified by anyone.

For smaller, less expensive items, an item could be attached to the front of the bin or box.

When arranging tools, they should be stored so that they can be removed with one motion. Tools that are used together should be stored together.

Ergonomic studies and material flow diagrams are also tools that can be used to help reduce the Waste of Motion, Inventory and Defects, while lowering employee frustration caused by searching or by unsafe conditions.


One of the most frustrating times for a maintenance worker is when he wants to use a tool or piece of equipment and finds it covered in grease and grime. The purpose of Shine is to eliminate this problem and to ensure that not only is equipment kept clean but also kept in premium condition.

Not only should the equipment or part be cleaned before it is put away, it should also be inspected so that any defects can be repaired or replaced in order that everyone can be confident that the equipment will function as designed.

Any nicks in cables, leaks in hydraulics or damage to lifting equipment can be detected and corrected at this time, providing a safer work environment.

The practice of cleaning the workshop daily should be instituted so that there can be no chance of contamination when repairing machines. This will reduce the Waste of Inappropriate Processing.

If Shine is applied to machines, it can quickly highlight air or hydraulic leaks, along with worn parts (operator involvement would be appropriate at this time).

Assigning areas and machines for shine will soon encourage pride of ownership, which needs to be recognized.


This is the process of making a habit out of the first three steps and is as a result of the first three steps. Sort, Straighten and Shine must become daily occurrences, so Standardizing checklists need to be developed to monitor this.

They should encompass inspections of bins, tools, etc., for right locations, good conditions and cleanliness.

Should these checklists show some instances of backsliding, then some simple ‘5 Why’ root cause analysis can be carried out and a solution developed for removing the underlying cause.

All areas of the plant need to use the same standardization of storing, naming and detailing parts and equipment.


This is the last and, usually, most difficult step. In many instances, we see everyone getting excited about the first time the 5S’s are carried out. But as time moves on the commitment drops off.

The process requires the complete commitment of senior management to prevent this, with the ultimate goal being to Sustain existing changes as a result of self-discipline.

Some of the ways of promoting self-discipline are:

Ensure everyone understands what is happening and more importantly, why.

Allow enough resources to carry out the 5S’s — either regarding people or time.

Have plans detailing what needs to be done.

Recognize everyone for a job well done.

An organization operating in a 5S environment is not only safer and more productive, but also sees less stress, greater involvement and a happier workforce — definitely a win-win situation.

Cliff Williams is engineering and maintenance manager at Multipak Ltd., Mississauga, Ont., and a consultant with TMS Total Maintenance Solutions of Markham, Ont. He can be reached at


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