Lean manufacturing

Understanding the 5S Lean Manufacturing Principles

Lean manufacturing is a type of thinking that focuses on reducing waste and creating orderliness in your factory. The lean methodology relies on what is commonly referred to as a 5S system to succeed. The five "S" words are specific terms in the workspace that help foster an atmosphere of cleanliness and order. Workplace organization depends on the structure provided by the 5S methodology. By reducing the unnecessary items in your warehouses and instead focusing on cleaning up and tidying up the work area with regular cleaning, you can create a healthy environment for continuous improvement.

In this article, we’ll help you understand how having a 5S system in your organization can help you bring structure to your production flow to avoid chaos and smooth the struggle to stay organized.

The 5S of Lean Manufacturing

Lean manufacturing is a methodology that focuses on maximizing productivity while reducing waste in the manufacturing plant. 5S is a specific philosophy within lean manufacturing that is often characterized by "a place for everything and everything in a place." It is based on five principles—all beginning with the letter S—that originate from the Japanese culture and language: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu and shitsuke. These Japanese words in English are: sort, straighten, shine, standardize, and sustain.

These words are important in the history of lean manufacturing as they represent the ideals of the methodology. By implementing these principles in your factory, you can help improve your organization, create sustainable cleaning methods and patterns, and monitor the flow of production that is the lifeblood of your production facility. With the 5S principles in your workplace, you can focus on reducing waste while also fostering a clean culture and safer working conditions.

1) Sort

“Sort” is the first principle of the 5S methodology, and it means going through all of your materials and products to sort them out. You want to only keep the essential materials and items needed to carry out your manufacturing processes—excess items are considered a waste of space.

Sorting your materials and products creates a cleaner environment, one without the clutter and mess that you might currently have on your production floor. Rather than having boxes of broken or unnecessary parts sitting around your warehouses and inventory centers, you can eliminate the excess and save space for materials and products that add value to your production efforts.

Essential Tools for This Principle

  • Red tag system
  • Visual management and visual controls
  • Andon system

Real-Life Examples of This Principle

  • Emptying boxes in a back storeroom
  • Organizing all incoming raw materials
  • Throwing away or recycling all broken or unused items


  • Can be overwhelming know where to begin the process
  • Can be difficult to understand exactly what is necessary and what is waste
  • Often requires shutdown or reallocated staffing to accomplish


  • Reduces the amount of waste sitting on the production floor
  • Helps you account for every item in the factory
  • Stops the clutter that comes from unused materials

2) Straighten

The next lean manufacturing technique is “straighten”—also referred to as "set in order." This step in the process ensures that each and every item on your factory floor has a place and is organized in a logical way that makes sense for the production flow. You want things to be easily accessible, with the materials and tools needed most often being put in more prominent places. You also want to make sure that your employees aren’t picking heavy things off the floor or making extra movements to get materials.

When your products and materials are easily accessible, the overall efficiency of your production process increases as your team members reduce the time spent tracking down tools and other items that aren't on the right shelves or in the correct storage bin. Instead, they can quickly locate and collect what they need without expending extra effort that could slow things down or endanger their safety.

Essential Tools for This Principle

  • Kanban
  • Demand management
  • Gemba

Real-Life Examples of This Principle

  • Color-coding all storage bins and shelving units
  • Separating everyday items from "once-in-a-while" items
  • Assigning designated areas of the factory to a specific purpose


  • Requires advanced technology and tools to organize inventory
  • Often requires shutdowns to reorganize the factory floor
  • Can be undone if employees don't adhere to new systems


  • Eliminates downtime from searching for items that are hard to find
  • Ensures that the team knows where materials and equipment are located
  • Declutters the factory floor and creates a safer environment

3) Shine

The next lean manufacturing principle is “shine.” This principle refers to the active efforts needed to maintain a clean and organized work environment. Your newly organized workspace needs to be kept clean at all times and maintained to ensure that the work you did earlier in the process can continue going forward. "Shine" activities include mopping, sweeping, dusting and routine equipment and machine maintenance.

Keeping things clean is important for several reasons, such as improving your entire team’s morale. After all, working in a clean environment is better for health reasons and allows your employees to take pride in their workplace. It's also essential to optimize the quality of your products and ensure that dirty machines and faulty equipment don't slow down your processes.

Essential Tools for This Principle

Real-Life Examples of This Principle

  • Wiping down equipment after use
  • Creating a cleaning schedule for dusting and mopping
  • Disassembling machines or equipment to inspect the parts
  • Planning a maintenance schedule based on usage of the machine (vs calendar-based)


  • Not a priority for many workers
  • Requires a high level of visual management
  • Can slow down production during scheduled cleaning


  • Creates a clean, healthy working environment
  • Identifies potential equipment errors and breakdowns before they occur
  • Finds the root cause of process and machinery issues

4) Standardize

The next step in the lean manufacturing process is “standardize.” There are many ways to standardize your processes and create a clear set of standards that can be implemented every day by everyone on your team. This is how you create a system for moving forward that will make sure your efforts are maintained and kept up to standard with things like charts, lists, schedules and plans.

Standardization and documentation are important in 5S implementation so your team knows exactly what they need to do to keep the factory functioning optimally. Without written and recorded standards in place, there is no consistency. A lack of consistency can lead to bigger problems down the line and ruin the efficiency that you have built into your systems and processes.

Essential Tools for This Principle

  • One-piece flow
  • Jidoka
  • Heijunka

Real-Life Examples of This Principle

  • Developing implementation and audit checklists to roll out lean initiatives more smoothly
  • Building a training program and an onboarding program for new employees
  • Creating dynamic work instructions for all processes and tasks to make the most of every employee's time


  • Requires technology and tools in order to maintain order
  • Needs to be constantly reviewed to ensure that processes are optimized
  • Uses significant man-hours to create schedules and document processes


  • Ensures that everyone is aware of what their responsibilities are
  • Brings new team members up to speed quickly
  • Creates simple systems in the workplace that are easy to follow

5) Sustain

The final principle of lean manufacturing is “sustain.” The sustain step is where you take the planning and strategizing you did in the standardizing step and maintain it. This is often the most difficult of the steps as it involves self-discipline from managers, owners and team members. If your team and leaders don't commit to lean manufacturing principles, it will be hard to continue working in a lean environment without restarting the process from scratch. When done correctly, however, this is the step that keeps your success going.

The core methodology of the 5S system centers around the mindset of continually improving your efforts and finding new and better ways to address your production processes. By putting in the effort to create this workplace atmosphere, you can ensure you are getting the true value out of your 5S program and that the systems you have put into place will last.

Essential Tools for This Principle

  • Kaizen
  • Just-in-time production scheduling
  • Takt time

Real-Life Examples of This Principle

  • Performing periodic check-ins to make sure team members are keeping up with goals
  • Having plans in place to retrain and address issues in case of any mistakes
  • Encouraging open communication between team members and supervisors


  • Requires buy-in from all leaders and team members
  • Depends on everyone working towards the same goals
  • Proves hard to maintain with employee and leadership turnover


  • Creates a workplace that rewards communication and honesty
  • Keeps everyone on the same page and focused on the same goals
  • Helps maintain lean manufacturing principles for the future

What Is the 5S Process?

The lean manufacturing process, including the 5S process, requires involvement in all levels of your organization, from management to employees. To implement lean principles in your factory, start by addressing the entire organization as a whole. Introduce the different steps of the 5S process before taking any action so that no one is caught off guard by seemingly sudden changes.

From there, you need to follow the 5S processes in the established order. Begin by sorting through all of your materials, equipment, tools and other items and figuring out what is necessary for your business and what is unnecessary waste. Then you take the remaining items you have not discarded, straighten them out, and make sure that they are organized and set in place so that you have a clear organizational system for your workplace.

Once you accomplish those steps, you need to figure out exactly how you want to shine and clean your factory to avoid unnecessary equipment failure and maintain an environment that supports lean manufacturing principles. After this, you can establish standardized practices to apply across the rest of your processes. This step focuses heavily on the documentation of your processes and ensures that there is training or tools in place to help you accomplish your goals.

The final step of the process is to ensure that you sustain these lean manufacturing principles and move toward your established goals as a group. You want every team member to have a lean mindset and be able to accomplish the tasks needed to maintain the systems you have put in place.

Improve Your Lean Manufacturing Process With Amper

While lean manufacturing principles may have started in Japan, the 5S system now helps businesses across the globe benefit from lean tools. 5S lean manufacturing strategies ensure that your organization is optimized for efficient, orderly work—without the mess and chaos so commonly associated with the manufacturing floor. By having a structure and system in place, your team can work more productively and produce more efficiently.

At Amper, our factory operating system helps manufacturers roll out more successful 5S initiatives and other lean manufacturing processes. With tools like andon communication, maintenance and machine monitoring, Amper can help you organize your workplace and create a safer, more efficient factory environment.

Get the details on our machine monitoring tools and learn how we can support your 5S and lean manufacturing efforts today.


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