The 5 Pillars to a Good Lean Foundation Print E-mail
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Written by Edward Basconi   
Friday, 03 May 2013 01:47

Strategies for leveraging the basic concepts of resource efficiency.

The 5S or Five Pillars system is a Japanese concept related to Lean philosophy that provides a strong foundation for implementing a holistic Lean system. Translated to English, the 5S pillars are sorting, set in order, sweeping or shining, standardize, and sustain.

There is a high degree of interrelationship between each category. Efficiencies gained in one area make it easier to achieve objectives in the next. This month we look at each of these areas and strategies for maximizing their effectiveness.

Sorting focuses on the elimination of unnecessary materials, tools, equipment and furniture from the workplace. This fundamental concept was at the heart of EPIC Technologies’ original Lean implementation in the 1990s. The company was running out of factory space in its Norwalk, OH, facility. The choice was either expand the facility or implement manufacturing procedures that freed up floor space. The combination of work-in-process reduction and a more efficient factory layout resulted in reduction in floor space requirement of about 30%. In the process, we liquidated unneeded production equipment and space-eating accessories, such as metro carts no longer needed to hold WIP. The overarching objective of this process was to structure production flow using as few elements as possible so that product flows quickly through production. More important, EPIC has used this concept in integrating acquisitions. This focus on immediately analyzing the production flow for unnecessary items has helped generate equipment sales revenue that offsets acquisition expense, while improving production throughput.

Set-in-order focuses on the arrangement, placement and sequence of items remaining after the sort process. Elimination of unnecessary items simplifies this process. This addresses both the visual aspects of workplace by defining kanban squares and tool placement, and also defines the amount of material in the workplace. Clutter breeds inefficiency and makes it difficult to identify issues that cause bottlenecks. A good set-in-order strategy defines raw material pull signals, optimum lot sizes and places for all tooling. It improves efficiency during shift changes and makes it easy for new employees to minimize their job-related learning curves. And we use workforce cross-training to create an environment where workers can be shifted between operations as demand shifts. An organized factory works well with this philosophy.

Sweeping or shining focuses on the concept of keeping the workplace swept and clean. Tools are returned to their defined places after use. There are a number of advantages to this step, including workplace pride, efficiency and safety. It can also be a point of differentiation. A clean factory shows better than one that seems poorly maintained.

Standardizing focuses on minimizing variation. Ideally, everyone in the factory knows who is responsible for these tasks in their areas, what tasks will be performed and how often, and what tools are needed to perform the task. In our case, these job descriptions are accessible online from the factory floor. Equipment and asset tracking software are standardized internally and among sites as much as allowable. This permits products and equipment to be seamlessly transferred between lines and sites when needed.  In some cases, custom workcells are needed for specific projects. However, overall, through-hole production, SMT production and functional test have been standardized with the addition of carriers, broader process windows and common test platforms to minimize changeover time, space utilized and maintenance requirements.

Sustain focuses on the follow-up appraisal. It is difficult to achieve goals that are not measured. We have internal audits, monitor key metrics and measure customer satisfaction. Lean Sigma methodologies are used to drive continuous improvement over time.

Relatively simple concepts can be used to accomplish significant goals. The strength of the foundation that 5S provides is directly proportional to a company’s commitment to developing a holistic Lean process.

Edward Basconi is director of engineering at EPIC Technologies (, and can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated on Friday, 03 May 2013 13:12


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