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How to implement 5s in your factory (with examples)

Updated: Mar 21


1.Sort 2.Straighten 3.Shine 4.Standardise 5.Sustain

In this blog we cover:

What is 5s?

5s is an interesting and often misunderstood building block of lean. Understanding ranges from the ill-informed:“it’s a fancy way of saying - clean up and do your housekeeping”

to the deeper understanding of:“it’s how we organise the workplace to support safety, quality cost and delivery”, all the way to the philosophical:“it’s a way to bring managers closer to the shopfloor and build relationships”

5s is a way for people to organise their working area to allow them to focus on making a good quality part, safely and on time. It also helps Team Leaders and Supervisors quickly see & sort out problems.

The 5s's are:

  1. SORT


  3. SHINE



Each word is explained in depth below. There are variations of these words. “Straighten” is sometimes “Set” for example. They all mean broadly the same thing. There is rarely a need to learn the Japanese S words, although Toyota’s limit of 4s’s rather than 5 does speak to a deeper point about self-discipline (shitsuke) being the result of a habit repeated.

Examples - Before and After 5s implementation

This blog is about getting started with 5s in a poor, underperforming area. We could write a thousand words alone on what the 5s are and why you should bother. There’s plenty of information out there about that, but this blog is about getting started. How to get from chaos to organised. As shown in these examples of implementing 5s before and after in manufacturing.

5s Activity before and after in a job shop :

Before and after 5s in a factory

5s Activity before and after in a large factory in the construction industry :

Before and after 5s in a factory

In other words, work in areas where your operator can’t focus because they’re hunting for stuff, compensating for bad tools, machines and materials. Areas where your Team Leader can’t see when things are starting to go wrong – if nothing is ‘normal’ (5s straighten), everything is abnormal!

Why does 5s matter in manufacturing?

At Sempai, our practical approach sees 5s as a foundation block. Imagine you buy some land to build a house. First things first, you need to put a foundation in so that your dream home doesn’t subside when the bad weather comes. 5s acts the same way in a factory. It’s always raining somewhere on the shopfloor, a good 5s condition helps you work well IN SPITE OF that rain. In simple terms you get 2 things from strong 5s:

1) It lets you focus on making a good quality part, safely and on time.

2) It helps your leaders quickly see & sort out problems (e.g. machine working badly, slips or trips, missing/wrong tools & material)

So, before we break down the steps in a 3s blitz lets define what the 5s are:

  1. SORT - Separate what you need to do the job from what you don’t need

  2. STRAIGHTEN - A place for everything, everything in its place

  3. SHINE - Daily cleaning is inspection, use your eyes to check the machine

  4. STANDARDISE - Make it easy to follow the 5S standard

  5. SUSTAIN - Self-discipline

A quick start to implementing 5s: With a 3s activity

In an ideal world you improve the 5s condition of each area little by little. Getting rid of unneeded tools and parts, giving things a home, red tagging as you go to identify and fix:

  • Anything that’ll affect safety - e.g. trailing cables, fluid leaks, sharp edges

  • Anything that’ll affect quality - e.g. tools stored on top of each other, parts mixed

  • Anything broken – e.g. jig missing a clamp, broken tool

  • Anything homeless – if it hasn’t got a home, you can’t visually check it’s there BEFORE you need it

This little by little approach is the best way to go but, sometimes, an area is such a risk to Safety and/or Quality, and in such a bad way, that it needs a blitz to get to a basic decent standard. Then you incrementally improve it afterwards. This is called a 3s blitz and below is a way to do it. The 3s relates to the first 3S’s – sort, straighten and shine – although not done in that order. More on that later.

We’ve broken the guidance down into

The overriding point is that there has to be a reason to do a 3s blitz. That reason should come from the area owner/Team Leader. In the same way that Kanban is a pull system, rather than push, we want our lean approach to be pulled by people in the factory. What’s in it for them? What kind of pain are they experiencing that can be eased by a better organised work area? These are the key questions. Getting out hands into processes on 4 continents tells us that a 3s blitz done TO an area rarely sticks.

What to do - Pre-activity

  1. Confirm the 5s area

  2. Talk to the Team Leader(s) responsible for the area.

  3. Do they understand what is going to happen?

  4. Agree one Team Leader to take part in the activity – they will be the champion to close out outstanding red tags and make sure the standard maintains and improves.

  5. Assess the size of the area. Can you do it all at once with the size of team you plan for in, say, 5 hours. Do you need to break it down into smaller pieces? Make it tough but achievable. How much you can get done depends on the size (and complexity) of the area and the number of people you can safely manage in that area during the activity. If the area is too small, you’ll trip over each other, too big and you’ll barely scratch the surface.

  6. Walk the area with this Team Leader and...

  7. observe the process to understand how it flows and how work is being done. This gives YOU (as 3s blitz leader) clues for red tagging and STRAIGHTEN issues later.

  8. Ask what the top quality problems are (in case 5s problems are a cause)

  9. Find out if any recent accidents have occurred.

  10. Do a mental red tag for safety, quality, homeless and broken problems. Take a digital camera to snap these as before photos.

  11. Take 1 before photo of the whole area from a fixed point. You’ll do this after from the same point.

  12. Find a clear-out area to put tagged items during the activity.

    1. Select a team. ALWAYS involve people from the area, the Team Leader (as discussed above), Maintenance (if area has machines), Materials Handler (if area is assembly), Customer process, Supplying process? the Manager (shows commitment).

    2. Ensure 100% attendance from these people. Most teams are between 4 and 8 people. 8+ can be like herding cats, so choose wisely.

    3. Plan with operations / materials to release the area and people.

    4. Ensure communication across shifts to let everyone who touches the area know what is happening

    5. Check with Maintenance...

  13. That you will be using the correct cleaning materials.

  14. Read the COSHH sheets and get the right PPE available.

  15. If there is any part of the machine to be extra careful with e.g. electrical panels or vision systems.

  16. If the machine will suffer memory loss, needs backing up or has a special shutdown / start-up routine

    1. Get cleaning materials ready: Brooms, Dustpan & Brush, Scrapers, Mops, Mop bucket, clean cloths, hot water source, cleaning fluid, gloves. (Remember: The 3rd S shine is not about making it shiny, it’s about inspecting for early problems)

    2. Get chalk (to mark out the clear out area) and 4 permanent markers for the STRAIGHTEN to write on the tape.

    3. Pre number 100 red tags – have 50 more in reserve unnumbered

    4. Print out the red tag log sheet - 1-100 pre numbered + 2 blank sheets

    5. Get hold of the right coloured floor tape - for line marking the area, inventory and the defect/scrap bin. Probably white or yellow and red.

On the day

  1. Start in a training room. Let the team know why they are sitting there, why their area

  2. Deliver a basic 5s teachpoint with a quick game (we use the kitchen game) - to engage the team and give them a reason to go out and graft for the next 4/5 hours

  3. Make sure everyone has eye protection, ear protection (if required) safety shoes and gloves.

  4. Go to the shopfloor (take the red tags, red tag log sheets, chalk, camera, permanent pens, white and yellow tape, cleaning materials)

  5. Check that production can be stopped and ask the maintenance team member to isolate the services – lock out tag out is best. Be careful of residual pressure. NEVER DO 5S IF THE MACHINE IS NOT ISOLATED.

  6. Define the Boundaries of the 5S area – walk the boundary so that the team know where to work.

The Process for a 3s Blitz Activity


1. Hand out pre-numbered red tags to each team member & start red tagging. Check around the team to make sure they are writing specific problems down, are initialling them and tying the tags on.

5s red tagging activity

2. Take all tagged items into the clear-out area. Use a team member to create the red tag log sheet to note all of the tags down approx. 30 minutes into the SHINE.

5s clear out area after red tagging


Everybody gets filthy cleaning the area thoroughly. Top to Bottom. Be careful to use the right cleaner inside machines, on tools & jigs and electrical panels. Because you are inspecting as you are cleaning, issue more red tags as needed.

5s shine to inspect the area while cleaning

During the SHINE use two team members to sort the essential from the non-essential (N/E) in the clear-out area. One person should be from the area and the other from outside (to challenge fixed ideas about essential items). The non-essential items should be binned or returned to their home. The essential items should be cleaned ready to be STRAIGHTENED back into the area.


When SHINE is finished, all essential items left in the clear-out area should be STRAIGHTENED back in the area with named, configured homes. We use tape at first as the area will need a few days to see if the new homes are the best for working in the area. Also, painting homes around items is a bit of barrier to further kaizen.

An area after 5s straighten / set

You may want to use the maintenance person (during STRAIGHTEN) to close out red tags – prioritise safety, then quality and broken items.

Clear the area after the 5S and hand back to production. Whoever has led the 5s activity is responsible for staying with the Team Leader until the area is able to produce good parts again.

How long does a 3s Blitz take?

Example timings for the above are below. Please remember that they will vary depending on the size, condition and nature of the process. Gather the team together briefly at each stage and tease out of them next steps. Everyone must have a common understanding. Briefly means 1 minute or less:

0 - 45 mins 5s teachpoint (take a photo of the team in the room)

45 - 60 mins Isolate machines & pace out the area

60 - 80 mins Red tagging (take a photo of someone red tagging)

80 - 95 mins Remove items to clear out area (take a photo when it is full)

95 - 225 mins Shine (someone on red tag log after 30 mins + take photos)

With approx. 45 mins to go of the shine get the 2 people on essential v non-essential split. Have them get rid of the non-essential items (bin or return home).

225 – 285 mins

  • Straighten essential items back in – demonstrate 1 item with the whole team and then maybe pair them off. Operators have a big say here but also challenge them. (Take a photo of straighten)

  • Take photos of red tags that have been sorted – ones you have before pictures of i.e. 1x homeless, broken, safety, quality.

285 – 300 mins

  • Make sure everything has a home. Pack up the cleaning materials. Recap with the team. Start processes and hand back to production. When leading a 3s blitz ALWAYS hand back the area when you say you will.


  • During the essential (E) v non-essential (N/E) sort, you will get rid of items. Ask the team to tear off the tag, keep the tag and write on it ‘N/E’

  • During the straighten you will solve homeless red tag issues. Ask the team to tear off the tag, keep the tag and write ‘E sorted’ on the tag. As other problems are fixed, again tear the tag off, keep the tag and write ‘E sorted’ on the tag.

  • You are unlikely to solve all red tag issues in this activity. If it is not sorted then leave the red tag hanging. It is a visual control – “something is wrong here”.


Ask your Team Leader to communicate to the Operators coming in what has happened. Tell them that you will post some visual information in the area tomorrow latest. Ensure that the Team Leader has a way of communicating to the 3rd shift.

With the team, possibly away from the area, update the red tag log sheet and establish:

  1. How many tags were issued

  2. How many were essential and non-essential

  3. How many essential are outstanding

  4. You’ll also need this information for the 5s summary sheet.

The image at the top of this blog is of a 5s summary sheet, they’re really good to let people know what has happened…why and how!

Doing the 3s blitz only gets you so far - a baseline condition. The next step (the 4th S) is to agree a practical 5s checksheet, to maintain the condition. Create a basic handwritten 5s checksheet that can be put in place asap to maintain the standard. Handwritten is ok for the moment.

Watch our video below to find out more and see real examples or download your 5s Checksheet (with example) here

The photos dotted throughout were taken from a 3s activity we led earlier this year - one of hundreds we've done across many industries. If you'd like help establishing 5s in your factory smoothly, just give us a nudge or message us on LinkedIn

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