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5S. What is it? Is it for me? And what can it do for my company?

These are great questions to ask. Simply put, 5S is a mentality, a system, an organized way to operate your facility. Japanese in origin, 5S helps you operate your facility in a more efficient, orderly, and safe manner. It could be described as, “a place for everything and everything has its place.” But it is much more than that.

What are the 5Ss? They are Sort, Set, Standardize, Shine, and Sustain.


Just like cleaning around your house, 5S starts with removing items from workspaces that are not important to the process. This is difficult for many because humans tend to be pack rats. We feel that we will use that item at some point in time, but when? No one knows. Removing clutter removes the risk of doing a task that is not related to the required work at the workstation. This is one of the more difficult steps of the process and requires management support for effective execution.


This is where that initial phrase about items having a place comes into play. If an item is important to the process, place it in a location that is close by and within easy reach of the operator. Do not make them spend excess energy getting an item since we want them executing value-added operations.


This is the start of a new way of operating. With clutter removed and workspaces orderly, standard operating procedures can be developed and instituted that will enable operators to develop proper work habits going forward.


Sweep up the area. Repair broken or damaged items. Paint shadow boards. Be an active participant in this activity and show associates you are all in on this. They will appreciate it. Make the workspace so nice that you would want it on the front of a magazine. This step should also include reviewing maintenance planning and support. Shine is not a one-time activity, it is repeated and never-ending. And let’s not forget to ensure that proper brooms, buckets, etc. are provided to enable operators to continue the good habits.


Another difficult area for operations is keeping what is clean, neat, and orderly in that manner after each shift. Encourage associates to keep their workspaces in great condition, and do not accept a junky workspace, ever. A periodic review of the operating procedures and systems will ensure continuation of the best practices. The last piece of Sustain is training all new employees on the expectations and duties from day one.


Why should we partake in this 5S effort? Well, it’s quite simple. 5S will help reduce operating costs (inventory and waste reduction), improve quality (removal of all non-essential items and potential for damage), increase employee productivity (remove non-value-added activities), increase employee satisfaction (a clean workspace is a happy workspace), create a safer work environment (less clutter, less chance for accidents), and transform your facility into one where your customers will be proud to visit.

The sixth S, Safety, can be achieved more efficiently if the 5S methodology is already in place. The Safety element is directly driven from the previous 5S activities but expands into areas such as aisles, pedestrian areas, powered equipment areas, and general workspaces. These activities can include marking and delineating traffic and travel areas, proper mirrors, lights, visual cues, etc.

So where do you start? Select an area with a lot of perceived opportunities. Form a team of direct and indirect associates, as well as supervisory personnel.  Determine what training is needed and provide the necessary tools. And finally, hire a professional to guide the execution of the first 5S effort. Having a seasoned guide to facilitate activities will ensure a positive result. St. Onge Company has several seasoned and experienced engineers that would love to facilitate and guide you in this process.

–Mike Noll, St. Onge Company

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St. Onge Company is Proud to Have Been Ranked Among the Highest-Scoring Businesses on Inc. Magazine’s Annual List of Best Workplaces for 2023

We have been named to Inc. Magazine’s annual Best Workplaces list! Featured in the May/June 2023 issue, the list is the result of a comprehensive measurement of American companies that have excelled in creating exceptional workplaces and company culture, whether operating in a physical or a virtual facility.

From thousands of entries, we are one of only 591 companies honored.

Click here to see our listing!