Curious about warehouse 5S?
Then you’re in the right place.
Because in this ultimate guide, you'll learn everything you need to know about the 5S warehouse system, including:
- What warehouse 5S is
- The 8 key benefits of 5S-ing your warehouse
- How to easily implement a warehouse 5S protocol
- And lots more!
Plus, we’ve created a FREE warehouse 5S checklist that you can download and put to use right away.
Let's dive in!
Let's first define the meaning of warehouse 5S.
Warehouse 5S is a lean management strategy that helps warehouses accomplish a basic objective: making problems visible. This creates a safer workplace. Warehouse "5S" is a Japanese lean philosophy based on 5 principles to create a "clean and organized" workplace/warehouse.
The 5 principles/steps in warehouse 5S are:
- Set (in order)
The 5S warehouse model is also an abbreviation of the first letters — "S" — that form the 5S model.
Implementing the 5S methods or practices is key to maintaining a lean and efficient warehouse, allowing businesses to do more with less. Under the ideal 5S warehouse setup, there is minimal resource consumption, despite operations remaining equally productive.
The 5S model is named for five Japanese terms that capture its core philosophy — waste reduction and improved efficiency. They're 5S disciplines for maintaining a clean and organized workplace.
1. Sort (Seiri)
The first S in 5S stands for Sieri in Japanese, which translates to Sort. It focuses on eliminating unnecessary clutter from the warehouse and only keeping what's necessary and regularly used. Ideally, the sorting effort removes distractions, eliminates obstacles in the working area, and maximizes usable space.
Sorting demands cleaning up work areas, freeways, and paths to make what you have or need more visible. For example, it avoids clutter, needless stock build-ups, tools and products on the way, wasted time looking for parts, and the creation of safety hazards.
Some common sorting strategies include:
- General cleaning of an area. By removing debris, dirt, broken tools, excess stock, scrap, etc., you can identify and return displaced items or uncover areas of usable space.
- Removing items/products in an area that is no longer used. For example, include outdated forms, broken equipment, boxes with old branding, obsolete products, etc.
- Green tag/red tag. A team goes through an area and tags items frequently used with green stickers and red tags for those not used regularly. All red-tagged items are removed from the area and reallocated or disposed of (if needed).
- Clear all paths. Is new inventory incoming? Does the forklift need service? Designate a space with floor marking tape to hold transitioning items and keep them from impeding traffic flow.
2. Set (Seiton)
Seiton is a Japanese word that means set (or set in order). It can also translate to straighten or stabilize. In 5S, 'Set' stands for creating useful, effective storage methods, i.e., 'A place for everything and everything in its place.'
The idea is that an organized warehouse clearly identifies spaces, floors, aisles, shelves, and items. This reduces the time needed to search for things. How you structure your warehouse will depend on how and what it's used for and how the overall warehouse processes flow.
Examples of sorting strategies are:
- Floor and aisle markers – Clearly mark paths, floors, and areas to improve foot traffic, eliminate confusion, and let workers know where they are.
- Warehouse signs – Raise reminders and instructions to alert and guide workers.
- Color-code all inventory — Use different colors for different types of inventory — fragile, heavy, light, or irregular — so workers can recognize the needed special handling.
- Labels and tags – Tag or barcode inventory with different labels to identify the content in each storage space and help reduce time wasted looking for tools and equipment.
- Changing inventory locations — When inventory areas frequently change, label/tag the shelves with magnetic, Dry Erase, or repositionable tapes to prevent confusion.
3. Shine (Seiso)
Seiso is a Japanese word that translates to “shine.” It's an active attempt to be tidy and safe in the warehouse or other work environments without litter or dirt.
In other words, maintain good housekeeping in your warehouse. This stage of the 5S model requires an overall clean-up and tidiness of the warehouse. It may involve:
- Cleaning the whole facility, including shelves and racking, tools, equipment, and machinery.
- Cleaning leaks and spills immediately because they're unnecessary hazards that may result in slips and falls. For this, you always need to have a professional spill kit ready.
- Shine makes warehouse management easier and creates a welcoming, safer place for workers.
4. Standardize (Seiketsu)
In any warehouse setup, you need to set standards and maintain them. The spirit of maintaining standards in daily operations is what the Japanese call Seiketsu or “standardizing.”
This fourth 'S' (standardize) is the hallmark of the 5S methodology because it considers the first three S's to establish standards. Standards — such as a daily working routine or a structured working method — can help create a more efficient and productive environment.
So, establish a set of schedules, procedures, and checklists and make them readily available, visible, and easily followed. This will help workers understand processes, procedures, and timing. Regular training is also important to help workers understand your 5S warehouse standards and what's expected of them to maintain the set standards.
Some standardization strategies include:
- Establish work posters or charts to provide a visual guide summarizing the workflow, floors, and warehouse plan.
- Training manuals (and videos), especially for new workers to understand the warehouse's standards. Regular refresher training can help workers assigned to new tasks.
- Encourage workers to be specialized and efficient by evaluating their routine to see how to simplify it and make it efficient.
- Establish a suggestion box to allow workers to propose improvements anonymously. Allow feedback and read meeting comments to help you initiate improvement.
5. Sustain (Shitsuke)
Shitsuke is a Japanese word that translates”to sustain”: The attempt to sustain the initial four S's in the 5S model using policies, innovation, and training.
This final S of the 5S system is about sustaining the standards, habits, or processes in the warehouse, entrenching them into the warehouse's policies, and seeking improvement. If not done carefully, you can easily slip back into old habits.
Some sustainability strategies include:
- Create a schedule for monitoring and evaluation of regular warehouse operations, including a clearing and cleaning rotation for staff.
- Ask workers to establish their training needs, what slows them down, and the services they're struggling to find.
- Make auditing a constant process. Consider places with inefficiencies and work to solve them.
By involving your workers in the sustainability process, you create a constant reminder of the value of the 5S model and your expected standards.
Safety: The Bonus "S"
Many people add "safety" to 5S to make it 5S+1 (or simply 6S).
Because every warehouse must be a safe and secure workplace. Not only is the human cost unacceptable, but so are the business costs. For example, injured workers and unsafe workplaces harm your efficiency.
How do you improve your warehouse safety with the 5S program? Here are some safety strategies:
- Provide safety PPE to workers and require their use for safety.
- Mark traffic lanes and aisles with floor marking tape to help keep pedestrians away from forklifts and other hazards.
- Use reflective tape on loading docks, posts, company vehicles, and machines to improve visibility.
- Use an anti-slip tape to keep workers upright in slippery conditions to improve their safety. Use different colors (color code) for different floor areas for improved visibility.
- Provide glow-in-the-dark tape to help keep workers safe. Move them around the warehouse areas if the power goes out.
Read our complete guide on warehouse safety: Warehouse Safety: OSHA Guidelines, Statistics & 10 Top Tips
The 5S model focuses on improving warehouse/workplace efficiency. But because different workplaces/warehouses may have little in common, it can be hard to predict the exact results.
However, there are some common benefits of 5S in warehousing. So, here are the top ones.
With 5S warehousing practices, all necessary materials, tools, supplies, machines, and equipment are placed in easily visible and well-arranged locations.
This avoids clutter, reduces time spent searching, and reduces fatigue. It quickens access to required materials/tools, resulting in a more efficient warehouse workplace.
Eliminating clutter and unused materials can free up a good amount of space. That space can be used to store other materials, reducing the cost of space, cleaning, heating/cooling, and maintaining it. In addition, the space becomes free for more efficient use.
Less Wasted Space
Removing unnecessary materials, stockpiles, and machines in the way and consolidating tool storage clears up floor space for more useful applications and storage.
Every square foot of warehouse floor space has a cost, and maximizing space use will maximize your facility's profitability.
Consistency and Quality
The 5S model improves standardizing work processes, which helps reduce variations and mistakes. You can dramatically improve overall productivity by eliminating common faults and failures. You will also improve the quality of your warehouse processes and sustain your efficiency.
Better Time Usage
A key principle of the 5S model is to eliminate unused items taking up space, eliminate clutter, and allow workers to find necessary items easily.
This requires you to eliminate clutter, scrap, unwanted items, and unused supplies. Workers spend less time and energy finding and retrieving what they need and can be more productive.
Heightened Employee Morale
When you apply the 5S principles effectively, workers will see and feel that their input is valued and that their performance is recognized.
You'll also create a safer, cleaner, and more efficient warehouse workplace, showing your employees that you care about them, their safety, and their working area. This makes workers feel pride in their work and boost their morale.
Workplace safety is one of the primary benefits of 5S warehousing. Some people add it as the “sixth S” to make the model 6S.
Removing clutter and routinely cleaning up spills eliminates trip hazards, and workers will experience fewer injuries and less fatigue. The sorting, cleanliness, organization, and standards ensure that the warehouse remains free of potential hazards, preventing disastrous situations.
Less Equipment Downtime
Preventive maintenance is made much easier by keeping equipment and tools clean and free of clutter, keeping them routinely inspected, and using them in a standardized way.
You can spot small defects, failures, and problems like oil leaks and easily prevent major failures and downtime.
Warehouses can apply the 5S model in different areas, such as floor markings, workplaces, labels, storage, etc. Here are some images for 5S warehouse examples:
5S Warehouse Before and After
Warehouse 5S Floor Marking Examples
5S Warehouse Layout
5S Forms Storage
The secret to sustaining 5S is to get your team ready through 5S training. There is no formal 5S training, but you can find courses online with 5S certification.
Here are 6 5S training courses that you can use to ensure teams and organizations are ready with knowledge about 5S, its importance, its implementation, and more.
Note: Prices below as of January 2023. Please check each site for the most current price.
5S Workplace Productivity (by EdApp)
This course is perfect for workers just learning about the 5S system. It introduces them to the model, steps, methodologies, and problems.
- Cost: Free
- Scope: Introduction to 5S, 5S pillars, benefits of 5S
- Created By: EdApp
- Length: 2-3 hours
5S Model Training (by QualityTrainingPortal)
This 5S training course aims to educate people about 5S fundamentals and how they can help propel productivity.
- Cost: $69
- Scope: 5S application, guidelines for achieving 5S, 5S success stories
- Created by: QualityTrainingPortal
- Length: 2-3 hours
The 5S System: Lean Methodology on Workplace Optimization (by Alison)
This is a free, online 5S training course on how to apply the 5S system at the workplace and how it relates to lean methodology and principles. But you must pay and get a score of 80% or higher to get a certificate.
- Cost: Free
- Scope: History of 5S, guidelines for initialization, lean methodology, value stream
- Created by Alison
- Length: 3 hours
5S Concept Certified (by MSI)
This course is ideal for people with little to no knowledge of the 5S system. You'll need at least 70% on its timed exam to get a certification.
- Cost: $99.95
- Scope: 5S definition, 5S design & implementation, 5S benefits
- Created by: MSI
- Length: 2-4 hours
The 5S (by ASQ)
This course is geared towards businesses that want to use 5S to organize their workplace and workers who need a refresher on 5S fundamentals. It's a self-paced course.
- Cost: $35
- Scope: workplace organization, 5S standards, 5S purpose and benefits
- Created by: ASQ
- Length: ½ -1 hour
5S Training (by The Knowledge Academy)
This course can be completed in an hour on any device and includes an online assessment. It is also available with a live instructor through the site's virtual learning platform.
- Cost: $795
- Scope: 5S benefits, 5S implementation plan development, 5S best practices
- Created by: The Knowledge Academy
- Length: 4-5 hours
Starting a project that potentially involves large changes can be daunting. This may be the case with establishing a 5S warehouse. Here are the 5S implementation best practices to get you started.
1. Create a Plan
Establish a 5S mindset before you start the process. Ask what is expected and who and what will benefit from the changes.
Start with an actual business case or reason for the changes. How will the change/improvement affect/benefit the bottom line? For example, do workers waste time searching for something? Or is there a lack of organization in the warehouse?
Pinpoint some of the most relevant needs in the warehouse environment and set them up for change. Don't just create Standard Operating Practices (SOPs) immediately.
2. Set Clear Objectives
What do you hope to accomplish with 5S warehousing? Identify clear objectives and write them down, examining each “S” term and how the objective fits within its practices.
Once you make the goals clear, share them with your workers. You can use the PDCA cycle (Standardize the work/Do the work to the standard/Check the work/Act to re-standardize). The team involved in the 5S tasks should include the members working in the specific area.
3. Establish Employee Buy-in
Once you share the 5S warehouse goals with your workers, you'll have to work on employee buy-in. Employee buy-in means that the employees accept, are open, willing, and committed to contributing to the 5S success in the warehouse.
Some helpful strategies to establish employee buy-in include:
- Educating employees on the intended changes.
- Providing framework and examples of success.
- Allowing employees to discuss the potential pitfalls and barriers of the system.
- Training employees on 5S best practices and insights.
4. Conduct 5S Training
Workers and staff at all levels of the organization — management, supervisors, maintenance staff, and floor workers — must receive sufficient training in the 5S system for it to be effective.
In 5S, everyone is responsible for doing their part to maintain the system. Training helps them understand the thinking behind 5S, buy it, and support its commitment. The training should explain the 5S pillars and how to achieve them in the warehouse.
5. Start Small
Adopting a new system or methodology may feel overwhelming for workers. So, you don't need to change everything all at once.
Start with small changes, perhaps per department, and expand slowly to make the biggest difference. As you make changes, track each change to determine its impact and see where implementation can be improved.
6. Use 5S Tools and Modifications
No two warehouses use the exact same 5S setup or tools. But the program generally relies on signage and some tools to keep management and workers aware of preferred locations for tools, equipment, and inventory. Here are some you can take advantage of:
- Shadow boards. Outline where tools belong for employees to identify which tools they need quickly or which are missing for tool organization and accountability.
- Floor markings. Use floor markings for various organizational purposes, from delineating a specific workspace to marking off pallet storage or helping pedestrians navigate traffic.
- Signs. You can use floor signs, wall signs, or standing signs for improved visual communication, increased safety, and create a visual environment for employees to thrive in. Safety signs come in various colors, shapes, and sizes, with different text combinations.
- Floor markings. Examples of floor markings are tapes and shapes for different work environments in the warehouse, such as offices, aisles, pallet areas, forklift storage, etc.
- 5S Tags. Also called "red tags," 5S tags are used during the Sort phase of 5S. They're attached to items that no longer add value to the warehouse and are not often needed or used. They make sorting through different tools, supplies, and equipment straightforward.
- Labeling. Labeling helps keep work areas organized, efficient, and visual to workers. It helps workers understand where things belong and easily identify when something is missing.
7. Report and Gather Feedback
Gathering and analyzing 5S data helps you determine which strategies are most effective and which may require adjustment.
Continuous improvement is the goal as you strive for greater precision and organization. Report the data and activities and allow feedback for better improvement. When possible, automate data collection and analysis.
After implementing and improving the 5S for your warehouse, it's time to standardize. This is where the last phase of the 5S comes in to help you entrench 5S into your organization's policies and regulations.
You can develop an SOP document for your processes and procedures to ensure everyone is on the right page. You can also create training materials for new employees to learn about the organization and for older workers to refresh their knowledge.
A 5S warehouse checklist helps improve adherence to 5S and safety in your warehouse. As a bonus, it can also help eliminate waste from your warehouse.
Use this 5S audit checklist for the warehouse to get you started. It covers each stage of the 5S model and is used to check if floors, loading docks, and storage areas are freed from obstacles or blockages. It also checks for proper storage and maintenance of forklifts, materials, supplies, and boxes.
Answer each: Excellent, Average, Poor, or N/A
- Are there any unused machines or other equipment lying around?
- Is the floor free of all tools, parts, and supplies?
- Are all waste supplies in the right skips?
- Is unnecessary/unused equipment, tools, and machinery excluded from the area?
- Are common areas clear of trash and debris?
- Are old inventory and raw materials excluded from the used floor areas?
- Are tripping hazards and barriers excluded from the area?
- Are shelves and other storage areas clearly labeled with location?
- Are finished goods and tools stacked to the correct number of boxes?
- Are warehouse workplaces for work in progress designated and registered?
- Are all unused forklifts and vehicles parked in designated areas?
- Does the warehouse adhere to stock rotation (FIFO)?
- Are warehouse-designated places for tools and equipment storage registered and marked?
- Are notice boards current and in good order?
- Are warehouse work surfaces clean and orderly?
- Is there a person responsible for allocating cleaning duties?
- Are warehouse machines and forklifts clean, neat, and in good repair?
- Does the warehouse have a set standard being sustained?
- Are the area's tools, machines, and floors free of dirt, grease, and/or fluids?
- Are slot places and shelves free of empty pallets and trash? Are they in a pick-ready state?
- Are workers' concerns being reacted to?
- Are floor markings and visual safety signs used to identify danger in the area?
- Are equipment/tools labeled and in place?
- Have operations standards been established and documented?
- Are boxes/items or property labeled and recognized?
- Is everyone in the warehouse sufficiently trained in 5S procedures?
- Are set times and schedules being adhered to?
- Is there a cleaning routine available?
- Are all safety checks taken and documented?
- Is everyone in the work area wearing proper personal protection equipment?
- Are emergency labels, maps, and equipment visible and belongings stored in the area?
- Is there proof of the 5S daily checklist being used and refreshed 5S audit scores on the team board?
What Is 5S?
5S is a Japanese lean concept of warehouse organization and improvement based on 5 principles — sort, set, shine, standardize, and sustain — to create a "clean and organized" workplace/warehouse. The concepts help create a more organized and clean workspace for efficiency.
Who Invented 5S?
5S originated in Japan with the Japanese inventor Sakichi Toyoda — the founder of Toyota and the "father of the Japanese Industrial Revolution." Toyoda identified the phases naming them each with a letter starting with “S.” But no one knows who started using the 5S acronym.
What Are the 5 Parts of 5S?
The 5 parts of 5S are:
- Set in order
What Is the Most Important 5S?
All parts of 5S are important. But Set appears to be very important because it sets the stage for the success of the first and remaining S's.
The idea of Set is that an organized warehouse identifies spaces, floors, aisles, shelves, and items. This reduces clutter and sets the stage for shining, standardization, and sustenance.
Is 5S the Same as Six Sigma?
5S is different from Six Sigma.
5S helps in optimizing work and eliminating waste and inefficiencies in the workplace. Six Sigma is a process improvement method via finding problems and reducing mistakes. Six Sigma eliminates defects by implementing standard processes, identifying problem areas, and more.
How Is 5S Different From Six Sigma?
5S is focused on reducing inefficiency and waste. Six Sigma is focused on eliminating defects by standardizing processes and identifying problem areas. The two concepts overlap but can be used to complement and improve each other.
What Is the Difference Between Lean and 5S?
The short answer is that 5S is more focused on workspace optimization while Lean is more focused on reducing waste.
5S is a key component of the Kaizen principle of Lean manufacturing. 5S is concerned more with cleaning and organizing workspaces than it is focused on finding operational waste. But just as in life, you can't clean up your workspace without eliminating waste in the process.
So, what is lean warehousing?
Lean warehousing is a warehouse management method that limits resource consumption without sacrificing productivity and quality. Lean warehousing strives to do more with less while streamlining warehouse operations. This makes 5S part of lean warehousing.
What Is the Difference Between Kaizen and 5S?
Many people wonder: “what is kaizen in warehousing”?
Kaizen is a Japanese word that translates to "continuous improvement." It helps improve productivity, eliminates waste, and improves processes and activities.
5S is a method for improvement. As such, it’s consistent with the principles of kaizen. The methods of 5S – sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain - are used to improve and maintain an organized environment. In warehousing, kaizen also involves thinking with your team and finding creative ideas to solve problems.
To understand why 5S, you must first understand its benefits. 5S helps to streamline processes/production, eliminate waste, and optimize efficiencies.
When you adopt the 5S, you commit to putting organization, efficiency, and safety ahead of process/production deadlines, output, and profits. The result is an increase in productivity, efficiency, and overall success in your warehouse.
What Are the Key Benefits of 5S?
The key benefits of 5S include:
- Reduced space used for storage
- Less waste
- Improved efficiency
- Improved maintenance
- Improved safety
- Improved quality
- Happier, more committed employees
How Does 5S Help a Business Grow?
5S can help businesses grow in various ways.
Eliminating waste helps reduce expenses, allowing you to reinvest the resources in other productive areas. It helps workers feel empowered and cared for, which increases employee morale and improves employee retention.
You create a safe and considerate workspace and improve efficiency through safety improvements.
What Are the Challenges of 5S?
There are various challenges to implementing and sustaining 5S. Some are:
- Lack of employee buy-in
- Failure to start small and maintain top management support
- Not ensuring that workers have the knowledge and resources to implement 5S
- Lack of worker training on 5S
- Quick or fast implementation without audit
- Lack of a 5S audit to find out pitfalls
- Failure to keep track of the 5S impact/benefits
How Do I Get Started With 5S?
There are different steps to implement 5S:
- Assemble an implementation team of members from all management levels and front-line workers. The team will identify ways 5S can improve the workplace.
- Establish a baseline of how your company is doing right now. You will use these metrics to gauge how effective your 5S implementation is later.
- Start with small changes. Amidst the excitement of implementing 5S, start small. Identify small projects that will produce measurable gains within a short time. This allows you to ease into the process and build confidence as you go.
- Keep the ball rolling. Maintain a list of some projects to be completed and push your work to check items off that list. You'll use this to establish 5S long-term and transform your company culture.
- Track changes. Make sure you track the changes within the company and note improvements or failures.
- Develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the different projects for new and current employees to refer to.
Once you're done with the SOP, continue implementing 5S and making important organizational changes and to improve efficiency.
How Much Time Does It Take To Implement 5S?
According to the 5S Institute, the minimum time taken to implement 5S in any assignment is 4 calendar months up to 12 calendar months for larger units.
The 5S implementation timeframe is a function of different factors, including:
- The warehouse or physical area
- The current condition of the warehouse
- The number of senior managers the organization can deploy to implement 5S
- How much time the internal team can devote to 5S implementation
How Do I Sustain 5S?
Many companies excited to try new things implement 5S standards but struggle to sustain the system due to a lack of focus. To be successful with 5S and sustain it:
- Make 5S a long-term strategy and commitment.
- Ensure you get full buy-in and backing from key stakeholders, including warehouse workers.
- If you encounter resistance, consider training the stakeholders to demonstrate the benefits of 5S.
- During the implementation of 5S, track the metrics you hope to improve and seek feedback about their changes.
- Provide concrete examples of how 5S is impacting/benefiting the company to have an easier time keeping your workers focused on maintaining the standards.
- Develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) for new and ongoing employees to refer to.
- Train your team regularly on 5S concepts and improvements.
- Celebrate your success with your team.
When Is 5S Implementation Complete?
5S is never complete. 5S is a lean process and continuous input that the organization continues to carry on. If it stops due to a "sense of having achieved it," things will slide back to their initial condition.
Remember, as you continue with 5S, you identify new possibilities for improvement every day. This enables you to improve your organization and efficiency.
That's it: Your ultimate guide to warehouse 5S.
Now, we’d like to hear from you.
Are you just starting to look into using 5S in your warehouse? Or have you long been using/maintaining a 5S process in your facility?
What do you like about the 5S system? What do you struggle with?
Let us know in the comments below!