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Lean 5S

What is Lean / 5S? The Benefits and How to Get Started

Originated in Japan, 5S is a lean manufacturing methodology used to help eliminate waste, optimize productivity and increase efficiency. Companies who implement 5S enjoy a cleaner, safer and more organized workplace. 5S is one of the most widely adopted techniques. It may also be referred to as “5S Plus” or “6S” to emphasize a critical aspect of any workplace — safety.

The pillars of 5S include:

Lean 5S Diagram - Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain

Due to its Japanese origin, the original 5S uses Japanese words - Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu and Shitsuke. However, the English language version of 5S uses:

  • Sort — Sorting through materials and tools to determine which are necessary vs. unnecessary, with the intent to remove any unnecessary items from the work area.
  • Set in Order — Organizing and identifying the remaining necessary materials and tools for ease of use.
  • Shine — Cleaning the area of any dirt and debris. This important steps helps to make any other problems, such as leaks or spills, more apparent so they can be addressed to improve safety. 
  • Standardize — Establishing a daily process to complete the sort, set in order and shine pillars. This ensures you maintain the cleanliness and order created during the initial 5S event.
  • Sustain — Turning 5S into a habit to sustain the initial gains in productivity and safety, while also maintaining waste reduction efforts.

Benefits of 5S

Lean 5S Key Benefits

Lean manufacturing methodologies like 5S can help you to provide more value to your customers, while also helping you reduce waste, enhance worker knowledge and increase productivity.

Reduce waste

Waste can account for up to 95% of all costs in non-lean manufacturing environments, according to Taiichi Ohno, co-developer of the Toyota Production System.

The root cause of most organizational waste is due to information gaps, such as an employee not knowing the best way to complete a task. In these instances, time is wasted searching, waiting, retrieving and doing rework.

One way to combat such waste is by creating a visual workplace or visual factory. A visual factory uses visual devices, such as shadow boards and one point lessons, to communicate important information at the point of use. That way, employees have instant access to the information they need when they need it.

For example, clearly labeled shelves can make it easier for employees to find what they need, preventing time waste or mistakenly grabbing the wrong item.

Enhance knowledge

Did you know that people gain 75% of their knowledge from visuals? That’s compared to just 13% knowledge gain through hearing and 12% through smell, touch and taste, according to Dugan Laird, author of “Approaches to Training and Development.”

While training plays a crucial role in keeping your workers safe, you can easily enhance that training with effective workplace visuals, including signs and labels. But, what makes an effective visual? It should tell an employee precisely what procedural and safety information they need to know, plus when and where they need to know it.

Knowledge-based visuals can include:

  • One point lessons —  Post one point lessons on standard operating procedures where they are most relevant on the shop floor and are seen by workers daily.
  • Safety signs — Notify employees of safety concerns, including the potential danger and correct precautions to take, at the source.
  • Pipe markers — Help employees, contractors and emergency personnel understand what’s flowing through which pipes and the direction each flows.
  • Electrical disconnect labels — When positioned right on the equipment, employees can quickly locate the disconnect switch to avoid accidents and save lives.

Improve productivity

Brady Lean 5S Tool Shadow Board

Proper tool and material identification can save companies millions of dollars by making it easier for workers to find the things they need to do their job.

Tool labeling saves $1 million/day

A high-end, defense technology manufacturer was experiencing an exorbitant amount of tools being checked out of the tool crib every day. Through a 5S rapid improvement event, incorrect tool identification was found to be the core problem. On average, workers were wasting an average of 45 minutes per shift searching for tools.

The manufacturer opted to label each tool by work cell and operator. They also introduced a new mobile work cart equipped with shadow boards for tool storage.

With a 5S system in place, workers did not need to check out or purchase additional tools. The manufacturer also increased production capacity of its large mining trucks with an average price of $8 million per unit. This led to an additional $1 million per day* in revenue and saved an average of $60,000 monthly in tool costs.

*Large scale savings due to the high-end, defense technology industry has an annual revenue exceeding $65 billion.


Steps of Lean / 5S Defined

Lean Sort

Sorting is intended to help you separate the tools and materials that are actually needed to do the work, from any unnecessary tools and materials. Once everything is sorting, the unneeded items should be discarded to keep your workplace free of clutter and hazards.

Set In Order

Organization is key at this stage and this pillar helps you ensure everything has a place and is neatly arranged, including equipment. Proper identification and labeling of parts, including the use of shadow boards, are imperative to successfully sustaining the gains from this initiative. This stage also is an excellent opportunity to establish safety measures, quality standards or general procedures that can then be communicated to employees using visual controls.

Lean Shine

Once everything has its place, its time to make your facility shine with a little cleaning. Improve safety and productivity by eliminating dirt, dust, sources of contamination and other debris. Shine is also an excellent opportunity to inspect equipment in the area to identify any maintenance needs.

Lean Sustain

Now that everything is organized, labeled, shiny and clean, it’s crucial to create a company standard to maintain your lean efforts. Essentially, sort, set in order and shine should be conducted daily to sustain the workplace organization and efficiencies. Visual management, such as job scheduling boards, supply checkout boards and safe state visuals, can clearly and effectively communicate roles and responsibilities to keep employees on task.

Lean Standarize

Maintain your momentum and work to turn 5S into a company-wide habit. Help employees understand workplace organization is a top priority and strive for ongoing continuous improvement.

Lean Plus Safety

In many ways, safety is built into the 5S structure. However, you can take your efforts a step further by identifying potential hazards, risks and preventive safety processes. All are key to keeping your workforce operating at 100% and, more importantly, keeping your team safe.

Getting Started with Lean / 5S

While the pillars of 5S are simple to learn, executing and sustaining a 5S program takes a little more effort and planning to ensure success. To start, schedule a 5S event to get your facility in order. The event can focus on one single area or, for the largest impact, the entire facility.

Prior to the 5S event, ensure you have the necessary supplies to help things run smoothly. Here are a few recommendations of what you might need for each stage of a 5S event:


  • Tags — Use red tags to mark unused items. Then, store them in a designated area to allow employees to sift through and grab anything that may still be needed before its discarded.
  • Floor marking tape— Use to signify the “red tag” section where employees can find equipment that will be discarded if not claimed.
  • Red tag record forms — Track supplies that are kept and discarded.
  • Camera — To document the before and after progress.
Brady Floor Marking Tape for Lean 5S

Set in Order

  • Pre-printed lean labels or sign and label printers, label materials and label-creation software to help you quickly and easily identify your inventory and facility equipment.
  • Safety signs — to inform employees of any workplace hazards.
  • Pipe markers — to instantly inform employees, contractors and emergency personnel about pipe contents, flow direction and level of safety.
  • Training signs — so necessary safety information is located right at the point of need, helping to reinforce training and improve safety.
  • Floor marking tape — to mark traffic lanes, storage locations, products that need to be inspected for quality assurance and more.
  • Gauge labels — to easily detect pressure or temperature abnormalities at a glance.
  • Magnetic or repositionable material labels — to label and organize workbenches, shelves, racks, bins, cabinets and totes.
  • Minimum and maximum level indicators — to highlight overstock situations and points where stock should be reordered.
Brady Lean 5S Shadow Board


  • Cleaning supplies — Such as brooms, dustpans, rags, degreasers, floor cleaners, etc.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) — Such as gloves and safety glasses to protect employees from harsh cleaning chemicals and debris.
  • Lockout tagout equipment — To protect workers from the release of hazardous energy when performing equipment cleaning and maintenance.
Brady ToughStripe Marking Tape for Lean 5S


  • Job scheduling board — to visually sequence job orders and indicate work delays or missed deadlines.
  • Schedules and check sheets — to show which employees should perform certain tasks and when those tasks should be completed.
  • Lean Daily Management (LDM) boards — to track metrics and drive improvement.
  • Safe state visuals — to indicate if valves or air pumps are typically opened or closed to help prevent accidents.
  • Brady Safe State Pipe Marker


  • Pre-printed labels or on-site printer, label materials and label creation software to maintain signage, labels and tags.
  • Dance charts — to help employees remember task sequences based on a standard flow diagram.
  • Preventive maintenance targets — keep preventive maintenance readings consistent by labeling vibration and ultrasound probe points.
  • Replacement part visuals — to clearly identify correct replacement parts.
  • One-point lessons and labels — to help employees remember a particularly forgettable or essential part of a procedure.
  • Brady Kanban Supply Reorder Card


    • GHS labels — to identify primary and secondary chemical containers.
    • ANSI safety signs — to clearly and effectively communicate potential hazards throughout the workplace and how to respond to them.
    • Lockout tagout labels and tags — to keep employees safe from unexpected equipment startups during cleaning and maintenance.
    • Arc flash labels — to promote electrical safety and prevent electrical arc flash accidents.
    • Fire visuals — to indicate the location of fire extinguishers and fire hose cabinets so they are readily accessible in case of an emergency.
    • First aid identification — to identify where first aid supplies can be found.
    • Machine and equipment identification — to alert employees of machine hazards and protect them from personal injury or equipment failure.
    Brady Sign for Safety Glasses

    Product Recommendations

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