5S in the Warehouse: Why It Makes Sense

warehouse aisle

What Does 5S Mean for Warehousing?

Lean warehousing is the way of the future. In an April 2014 report, the Council of Supply Management Professionals identified Lean as a projected characteristic for the supply chain by 2025. According to the report:

  • The pressure to do more with less will not subside. Lean and Continuous Improvement practices will be essential
  • Implementing 5S is a key step in establishing a Lean warehouse.

5S’s basic objective is to make problems visible. Having a clean and organized warehouse is about more than looking great. It’s about having an efficient fulfillment warehousing operation. A warehouse should be able to identify issues quickly. Then, address their root causes thereby preventing recurrences. If replenishment is needed, if something is out of place, or if tasks are being done incorrectly, 5S can identify these issues and highlight them for quicker resolution.

So what are the principles of 5S? 

1. Sort

As a first step in the 5S process, Sorting is key. Sorting out what’s not needed to operate the warehouse daily and to provide the team with a clean slate to organize. Dive into every corner, cabinet, pallet rack, or storage area in the warehouse. Look top-to-bottom and left-to-right. Leave no area unturned.

2. Set

This step is defined as straightening or streamlining. Traditional Lean practices encourage a streamlined warehouse setup. An optimal warehouse setup will have the shortest possible distance between movement and pick.

Warehouse managers often fall into the trap of using established categories when sorting, instead of thinking about a Lean warehouse. The warehouse can be organized by type of object, chronology of order cycle or most-to-least used. Lean warehousing requires a willingness to implement whatever system will result in the most efficient warehouse. Once you establish the right categories and sort criteria, it’s important to make sure that there is a place for everything. Everything should have an intentional place and a transaction, or a set method of use. This is part of the established process that must be followed.

3. Shine

When you walk into a Lean warehouse, the results of this step should be immediately visible. Warehouse operations suffer when cleanliness is considered an expendable element. A clean warehouse frees up space to be more productive and profitable and operates better. If warehouse managers skip this crucial step they will pay a price in efficiency, productivity and increased operating cost.

Cleanliness also contributes to an overall standard of behavior on the part of the employees. It signals that order is an expectation of the warehouse. Regular, daily, sweeping should be a part of this Lean warehouse process It should also include safety inspections (decreasing injury liability) and equipment maintenance checks (increasing equipment longevity).

4. Standardize

Standardizing is the hallmark of the Lean methodology. An example of this is the use of standardized labels. Labels that have all the information needed for any container or product in the warehouse will greatly increase storage and retrieval efficiencies. Eliminating waste is another Lean warehouse tenet. Standardized labels will get rid of wasteful or unnecessary information or clutter.

In Lean warehousing, standardization also applies to a values-driven culture. In it core values drive behavior. Top-down implementation of strong core values results in a consistent and model warehouse culture.

5. Sustain

The final step to any successful organization methodology is the sustaining step. A successful Lean warehouse will have implemented an efficient process, taken ownership of the Lean warehouse practice and have a transparent and visible way to record and measure every 5S activity.

Sustaining is also where regular analysis and reassessment occurs. A Lean warehouse prioritizes Continuous Improvement. Metrics must show results or the system must be reassessed. Practice and measurement will set the warehouse operations up for current and long-term success.

5S is sometimes called 6S, highlighting Safety as the 6th S. Whether you call your program 5S or 6S, safety should always be an overarching theme. Whatever work is done must ensure worker safety and proper ergonomics. Otherwise, the program is flawed and must be corrected immediately.

Utilizing Lean practices in your warehouse, beginning with 5S, will yield great results.

Making 5S a part of your warehouse culture will create an environment where problems are immediately visible, and every employee is engaged in solving them, for their own, as well as for the company’s benefit.

Warehousing 5S Resources: