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5S: The baseline for quality

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    “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.” - William A. Foster

    Did you know that the world’s leading aerospace company, Boeing, pursues 5S as a world class strategy to improve efficiency?

    And so do many others who have embarked on the quest for excellence! 5S is amongst the first fundamental steps implemented by an enterprise towards Total Quality Management, pursuing continual improvement.

    5S stands for five Japanese words that represent steps in a systematic technique to implement good housekeeping and achieve lean processes. These are:

    • “Seiri” (Sort)
    • “Seiton” (Set in order)
    • “Seiso”(Shine)
    • “Seiketsu” (Standardize)
    • “Shitsuke” (Sustain).

    5S reduces waste and optimizes quality

    5S is a system to reduce waste that optimizes productivity and quality by maintaining an orderly workplace and using visual cues to achieve more consistent operational results. This practice embeds the values of organization, neatness, cleanliness, standardization and discipline in the workplace and it is typically the first lean method implemented by firms. ITC’s export quality bulletin no. 89 provides practical information and hints to implement 5S.

    Most enterprises are often surprised to learn that only a fraction of all its processes actually add value for customers. This limited value-addition is a result of “Muda” (Waste) related to the following:

    • Correction and rework
    • Waiting
    • Unnecessary action/motion
    • Over-processing
    • Equipment downtime
    • Inventory and storage
    • Unnecessary inspection

    5S paves the way to improved competitiveness

    Competitiveness is the ability of an enterprise to offer a unique mix of values for which the client is willing to pay. These value propositions often translate into favourable attributes related to:

    • Quality
    • Cost
    • Customization
    • Delivery speed
    • Flexibility
    • Reliability

    When valuable time and effort are wasted in searching, waiting, retrieving, reworking, it leads to decreased efficiency and effectiveness of the enterprise, thereby reducing its competitiveness.

    To be able participate in international trade, enterprises need to be internationally competitive. They must meet technical standards and comply with regulations, for which they require to implement processes according to for example, Lean management, Total Quality Management, 6 Sigma, ISO 9001. 5S is the point of departure; the baseline for improvement measures.

    5S is specially relevant to SMEs

    5S is specially relevant and an attractive technique for SMEs because it is:

    • It is practical, with a “5% learning — 95% doing” mix;
    • It is possible to initiate immediately;
    • It produces tangible results in a relatively short time frame;
    • It is low on financial investment; and
    • It is relevant to functions across the enterprise and can engage all staff.

    Among the main benefits of implementing 5S are:

    • Improved productivity
    • Improved customer satisfaction
    • Lower costs
    • Minimized waste and errors
    • Defect-free products
    • Smoother work-flow
    • Shorter cycle times
    • Decrease in/elimination of non-value added activities
    • Reduced downtime and extended equipment life
    • Cleaner, well-organized and enjoyable workplace.

    Despite its simplicity and numerous benefits, SMEs lag behind in applying 5S

    Surprisingly, studies reveal a higher uptake of 5S (and other quality improvement techniques) among larger enterprises. Due to lack of information on benefits, and perceived conflicts with short-term production schedules, SMEs refrain from implementing this simple quality improvement method that has demonstrated big results and monetary gains.

    To sensitize SMEs about 5S, to disseminate information on its benefits and present practical hints to implement this technique, ITC has developed a brief guide which may be freely downloaded from our website.