Best Practices: 5S and Your Warehouse

The Japanese have long practiced an organizational method referred to as 5S for decades and implementing this methodology will help to create order and efficiency in your warehouse and busy shipping environments

Were you the messy kid in school? Are your parents still nagging you to pick up after yourself (and you already have a family of your own)?

For many, being clean and staying organized is part of every day life. But there are others (you know who you are!) that are organizationally-challenged where messy rooms have translated to messy workspaces which can lead to inefficiency and, potentially, safety issues for those working in a busy warehouse or shipping department.

The Japanese have practiced an organizational method called 5S for decades and focuses on five key areas:

Seiri (“Sort” in English)

Seiri (“Sort” in English) focuses on identifying the right materials, the right equipment and the right people for your warehouse.

If your warehouse is dusty, are you using the right label and adhesive that offers the right level of tackiness and adhesion? Not having the right materials for your environment or products may result in added waste or mislabeled products that may create negative customer perceptions.

Not having the right materials for your environment or products may result in added waste or mislabeled products that may create negative customer perceptions.

Do you have the right personnel working in your warehouse? Have they completed right back-safe and forklift training and had refresher courses to keep best practices fresh in their minds? Doing so will improve worker performance, accountability while ensuring a safer environment and minimize your lost time and employee injury claims for your organization.

Seiton (“Set in Order” or “Straighten” in English)

Seiton (“Set in Order” or “Straighten”) emphasizes the need to organize the workspace to streamline the process and to have all tools required to do a job available and ready at all times.

For many companies, this step may mean organizing the warehouse to keep work-in-process materials separate from finished goods. This could be accomplished through the use of color-coded labels or signs identifying WIP versus Finished Goods.

For the shipping room work area, this may mean having clearly marked areas for tape guns, box cutters and binders marking daily, weekly and monthly shipments.

Examples of Seiton concept depicting well organized and sorted tools, bins and warehouses

Seiso (“Shine” in English)

Seiso (“Shine”) emphasizes routine cleaning and inspection. Make your mother proud! Doing so will ensure that the work area shines and is ready for the next day with all tools in their proper place and ready for use. Regular inspection will help identify when important equipment needs to be serviced or updated.

Employees also tend to have a greater sense of ownership and accountability when they believe the way they leave their work space is viewed as a reflection of them.

Printhead needs to be replaced? It’s better to find that out during inspection and cleaning instead of when you’ve got a rush order for your largest customer that needs to ship today!

Seiketsu (“Standardize” in English)

Seiketsu (“Standardize”) focuses on simplifying as much as you can from processes to products.

Do you have two different brands of thermal  printers that use different size ribbons and different roll sizes? Buy two of the same printer make and model and simplify by buying one type of ribbon and one type of label.

Standardize processes by creating formalized work instructions and training employees to do everything the same way. From proper lifting techniques with back-safe training to a formalized pick and pack process, you can ensure that everyone does things the same way. This also empowers employees coach or correct fellow employees that are not adhering to the process.

Shitsuke (“Sustain” in English)

Shitsuke (“Sustain”) is the final step and arguable the most important step in 5S. This is a methodology that needs to be bought in at all levels of the company needs to be reinforced through audits and training to create a long-lasting culture change within your warehouse. 5S is not a flavor of the day!

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In Conclusion

5S is a methodology and needs everyone to buy in. To maintain the positive benefits, all 5 steps need to be done regularly. Make sure everyone understands that a clean and standardized warehouse will not only benefit the company but will also help to ensure everyone’s safety.

For further reading, please check out the following article from ASQ which highlights additional benefits with effective 5S implementation.

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