5s in an SME

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5S in an SME environment, more than just housekeeping.

5S – Five Simple straight forward steps to make your job easier!!!

Seiri/ Sort: Identify all items needed in the workplace and then clear and remove any unnecessary ones.
Seiton/ Straighten: Organize the necessary items in the workplace by utilizing visual tools such as labels, colour coding, etc.
Seiso/ Shine: Clean and sweep the workplace.
Seiketsu/ Standardize: Standardize the first 3 steps and make sure that all team members are trained in how to perform these steps with consistency.
Shitsuke/ Sustain: Share information about the implemented 5S projects with all the team members of the organization and set up a monitoring system to observe the maintenance of the organized and standardized workplace.

It is probably fair to say that anyone who has any idea of what Lean is has also heard of 5S. Many companies use 5S to launch their Lean programs because they see it as something easy, something that is very visible, and 5S is indeed a powerful technique. How important is 5S? Many researchers and practitioners will attest to the fact that it is linked to virtually every Lean and World Class improvement strategy so it is important to get it right. But are companies really getting the benefits?

In many instances, unfortunately, 5S is looked upon as a cleaning program where teams of employees get together and clean their work areas by removing unwanted items at first and then straightening, sweeping and putting a shine on the place. That’s it, job done, we’re doing 5S! If the workplace is untidy then clean it up, but don’t call it 5S.


The steps of removing items, sweeping and cleaning are indeed part of the principles of 5S but the benefits of a well implemented 5S program can be far reaching. Everyone from the MD to the operator on the floor, and every area in the company from shop floor to back office must contribute to the overall effectiveness of the program.

The immediately observed benefits of a well performing 5S program are the provision of all indicators necessary to understand the status of any process at any given time, where inefficiency, abnormality,  waste or unsafe conditions are brought to the forefront of all concerned and dealt with. This allows for progression towards company goals in the areas of visual management, improved safety, improved quality, improved productivity, improved morale and the  ‘preparedness’ for higher and more challenging continuous improvement activities.


However anyone who has tried to implement any new workplace strategy will testify that change is often met with resistance and SME’s are no different. Indeed the SME environment tends to have a greater level of fire-fighting and some people actually thrive in this situation. To give up any production time is not an easy step for any SME and goes against the grain.  Things like training, audits, setting up and kitting out tool boards, marking floors, working in teams etc are all part of 5S and are changes to the new way of doing things. Managers too have to adapt because as employees look to improve their working environment they will have lots of suggestions that have to be dealt with. If these suggestions are overlooked it gives the impression that 5S is unimportant to the company and the battle may be lost.


Here at Keltech we have found the implementation of 5S challenging for all concerned. Old habits are hard to break and perseverance is required.  However we have seen tremendous improvements in safety, quality, lost time hours on critical machines and huge progress in the flow of information around the factor and we believe our customers can see that they are not paying for any waste or inefficiency at Keltech. So is it a challenge, definitely. Is it worth it, without doubt!!


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