Though its origins date back to before the automobile was even created, the idea of “lean manufacturing,” or minimizing waste within a manufacturing process without sacrificing productivity, was generally brought into a modern business context by Toyota.

By breaking down the lean manufacturing process into a system called the “5S System,” Toyota brought a revolutionary concept to the manufacturing world as the 20th century progressed.

Briefly, the 5S method incorporates the following principles, translated from the original Japanese:

Seiri – Tidiness
Seiton – Orderliness
Seiso – Cleanliness
Seiketsu – Standardization
Shitsuke- Discipline

By keeping all of these ideas in mind during the automobile manufacturing process, Toyota showed that there is was a huge benefit in examining not just the amount of a product that can be manufactured, but HOW that product is manufactured.

Here are some ways that the 5S system can help a company’s manufacturing process.

Less waste means more efficiency

One of the key ideas behind 5S is getting rid of the things within a manufacturing process that are not used, and streamlining the ways a company uses materials, so they can better determine the things they DO need.

By adhering to a system of “waste not, want not,” a business can get rid of superfluous items around their manufacturing areas, focusing only on the ones they need for their respective processes. This translates to more efficiency in several areas, particularly time spent searching for the necessary items

There’s also an emphasis on positioning within the 5S system. Tools, machines and material are placed in carefully planned locations that promote easy access and reduce fatigue, again increasing efficiency.

Finally, the 5S system places a heavy emphasis on standardization. The least time-consuming and most productive work methods are determined and made the standard operating procedure, eliminating more wasteful procedures.

In short: If it doesn’t have clear, essential use, it’s not part of 5S.

Less space means reduced cost

There’s an emphasis on streamlined spacing in the 5S model, making sure that everything is in the most optimal place possible and there is little or no clutter in a manufacturing space.

It might seem like a minor concern, but it’s all part of a larger concept that focuses every single aspect of the manufacturing process on getting the best possible result in terms of both time and productivity.

The better laid-out and cleanly kept a manufacturing space is, the less storage it requires, and the less unused material there is in the process.

Cleaner equipment means better maintenance and less employee downtime

The cleaner and more well-kept a piece of machinery is, the less likely it is to break down. The less a piece of machinery breaks down or requires repair, the more products it can help to build.

Also, the cleaner a machine is, the easier it is to spot potential issues, from a fluid leak of some kind to a worn-out part. The more quickly a problem can be spotlighted and repaired, the more time your employees can put in working on that machine to manufacture your product.

The 5S System as a whole fosters more reliable employee safety

And here’s how:

A system that is fueled by cleanliness means that spills or potentially hazardous situations are cleaned up more quickly, drastically reducing the chance of an accident or injury.

In a manufacturing process with little or no clutter, any chemical, electrical or mechanical issues can be spotted quickly.

When an employee has materials, supplies and tools in the right place, close by, they have to travel a lot less. This reduces the chance of a fall or accident on the way to get what they need.

Standardization often eliminates processes that are patently unsafe in the process of discovering methods that are more efficient. This isn’t a coincidence.

The 5S system encourages employees to be on the lookout for ways to improve efficiency; the more aware an employee is of their surroundings, the more likely they are to avoid injury.

Manufacturing is a massive, global industry that every product designer will interact with at some point. To learn more about how to get your product made accurately and efficiently, read our post “The Advantages of Choosing a Single-Source Product Development Firm.”