What is 5S? Elements of the 5S for Lean

5S Lean ManufacturingFor manufacturers and shipping carriers, activating a lean manufacturing or lean management program is becoming quite common. This proven operational philosophy places an emphasis on efficiency, by structuring the operations in such ways as to reduce resources used, improve the efficiency of the operation, save money on operational costs, and improve quality of the service offered. It seems like an impossible challenge but using the 5S of five steps for lean manufacturing has been shown to be quite successful.

In the information below, we’ll describe what the 5S program is, what each aspect means, and how smart manufacturers are implementing this proven operational philosophy.

What is 5S?

Acronyms are quite popular in the logistics and supply chain world. However, the 5S concept is incredibly simple to comprehend once you understand what each “S” stands for – and how it is activated. Essentially, the 5S concept is intended to establish an orderly workflow, eliminate waste, and organize the workplace for optimal performance, safety, and improved efficiency.


The first part of the 5S program is SORT. In this area, items in the warehouse are divided in the workplace into three unique categories, retain, return, and rid. This permits an organization to identify materials that are being held, where they are being held, and whether or not it’s a needed material. This section is activated with every aspect of manufacturing including:

Raw Materials: Ensuring you have the right materials, in the right condition, in the right quantities is essential for lean manufacturing.
Tools: All resources used in manufacturing or the operation of your business should be in the right condition (including being calibrated or maintained as needed to ensure they don’t break down), in the right location (so they are easy to access) and used correctly (to reduce mistakes or injuries).

Set in Order

There is a place for everything – and everything has a place. It’s not just a clever saying parents teach their children. In fact, setting items in order is a critical component of lean manufacturing. In this step, companies will locate a place for everything and ensure they are kept in the primary position. Specifically, a manufacturing or shipping company should complete three individual “SETS” including:

Organization: Creating a process for organizing your supplies, raw materials, tools, computers, resources, equipment, and everything needed to run your business is the first step. The organization should be optimized for efficiency.
Arranging: Keeping your materials organized in one thing – arranging them for optimal efficiency is next-level. However, this a critical step for the SET in ORDER step.
Storing: Maintaining an effective but not wasteful inventory of materials keeps the business running smooth and efficient. It can also help a company save money by purchasing materials in volume.


Cleanliness is next to Godliness – or so the saying goes. But there is merit to this in lean manufacturing. Making sure all equipment is properly maintained, serviced, and repaired if damaged is a vital cog to the 5S lean manufacturing concept. However, SHINE goes much further than just keeping equipment in tip-top shape. It’s a proven fact that people work harder and happier when in a clean and bright environment. This is why making sure to keep the entire facility clean, neat, and straight is included in the 5S.


The key to maintaining an effective program is making each component standardized. This is why standardization of the entire 5S concept is included within the program. Standardization of sorting means you should create programs or controls to ensure employees, supervisors, and managers all ensure sorting becomes part of the normal operation. This same methodology applies to set in place, shine, and even the final S; which is sustain.


The final component of the 5S philosophy is SUSTAIN. This step is achieved by creating a rigorous and thorough review program that monitors and fine-tunes each step of the 5S program. The reality of any program is that it must be constantly monitored for in-efficiency and revised to increase success.

The best attribute of the 5S is the flexibility to integrate this philosophy into multiple industries. Shippers including retailers can benefit from each aspect of the 5S program, as can carriers, manufacturers, distribution hubs and everybody within the supply chain. Working with a professional and experienced 3PL can help you learn more about the 5S’s – and how to fine-tune a solution to fit your specific needs.