How to Organize Your Shop: Try 5S

Are you needing some organization in your workshop?  Do you spend more time trying to find tools and supplies and less time actually working?

Are you hoping to improve your efficiency and cut your waste down?  Would doing all of this help to improve quality to the customer and possibly even reduce prices?

Well, you are starting to find yourself approaching the tenets of something many in the manufacturing industry have studied and implemented for many years.

It’s called lean, and it has roots from Henry Ford’s manufacturing days, and was brought to fruition through the implementation and development of the Toyota Production System at Toyota Motor Corp.

From the concept of lean, many tools have been devised to assist in reaching a goal of a more lean manufacturing production process, and one of the best for organization is the 5S system.

5S comes from 5 Japanese terms that, when combined in a particular order, help a shop become more visually-organized.  For example, if we wanted to “5S” a woodshop, we would need to break things down into these 5 S’s : Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standarize, and Sustain.

So, first, in the Sort stage, we would go through the shop and designate things that are needed on a daily basis, things that are broken or in disrepair, things that are working and needed on a daily basis, excess inventory that isn’t needed, and identify objects or machinery that are just plain “in the the way.”

After things are sorted in that way, it is now time to remove the useless junk (especially if you have some folks in your shop who tend to hoard stuff to fix later or save for a rainy day), get all specialty tools and stock that isn’t used frequently out of the way, and decide which machinery should be repaired to replaced. You can do this sorting with red tags that are specifically designed for sorting things.  Then, you designate a few “red tag areas” to hold the things that are being kept but are not needed frequently.  This “Sets Things in Order,” by removing obstacles to trip over or take up space on your work tables.

Setting in Order also includes organizing your tool drawers, workbenches, stock rooms, etc.  Everything that will be used soon is organized and placed in its proper place.  Inventory and equipment should have “shadows,” or outlines around everything so there can be no mistake of what goes where.  Drawers can have specially cut tool foam inserts in them that hold each tool in one specific position and will not let them intermingle and untidy things.

In the Shine stage, all equipment should either be repaired or replaced at this point.  This eliminates the waste of waiting, or downtime while workers mill about waiting for their machinery to operate correctly.  The area should be swept and cleaned to its optimum state.  As if everything is perfectly brand new for every work shift.  This offers each workers a clean, safe environment, and they will not spend anytime looking for the correct tool or inventory stock.

Standardizing everything means that all of the tools should be similar, workers should all be on the same page as to what their responsibilities are for this program, and that all workers should all possess similar levels of training and expectations from their management.  This offers a consistency to the operation that can help things continue.

Sustaining a program like this is difficult.  It needs constant supervision.  Workers tend to go back to their old habits, unless management is always present and guiding employees toward the ultimate goal.  Everyday, each shift should be expected to finish their shift cleaning and putting tools away, sweeping floors and tables, and preparing the workplace for the next shift or next day of work.  Without the sustain stage of 5S, the previous stages are for nothing.

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