The First Pillar of 5S: Sort

Kicking off a 5S program begins with Seiri, or the Sorting step.

5S SortUnused or little-used inventory and tools hamper productivity, create hazards, and hinder job performance. Industrial facilities and offices alike can get used to clutter and not see the wastes of a disorganized space. In reality, excessive tools and materials can impede workflow as employees have to spend more time looking for the item they need, and safety is compromised as a result of clutter. Removing unneeded inventory and tools from work areas will have a positive impact not only on employee safety and morale, but it will also elevate efficiency and product quality.

You will want to sort through the space to eliminate all obvious clutter, the items you know for sure are no longer used in the space. A simple way to do this is by creating three separate piles or bins: keep, remove, and probation.  Tools and materials that are absolutely necessary to the operation of the workplace are placed in the keep pile. These are items typically used on a daily basis and will be returned to the space. The next pile consists of what will be completely removed from the workplace. This can be broken tools, outdated equipment, expired chemicals, etc.

The first two bins are relatively easy to fill up, you know what is used every day and can identify items that are just taking up space. You will most likely end up with a bin of tools whose necessity or value is unknown.  The items in the probation pile will need to be evaluated and “red tagging” is a simple but effective strategy to aid in evaluation.

5S Red Tags

Red tags provide a simple solution to questions about what should be done with an object.

When you are unsure whether to keep or discard an item, you literally put a “5S red tag” on it. This is tag that lets everyone know that it needs to be evaluated. Red tags allow the worker to mark the date the red tag was attached to the item, the name of the item, who it was tagged by, why it’s being tagged, and how long the item should be held for.

Typically, this item is then moved to what is known as the Red Tag Holding Area. This is a central storage area where tools, materials, and equipment are kept while the necessity is evaluated. If the item isn’t retrieved in the designated time frame, it is probably safe to dispose of the item. If a department claims a tool that was previously kept elsewhere, it will be their responsibility to find a home for it. You may also find you can repurpose items or recycle, and that some of these items will be returned to its original home.

It is important to be diligent and thorough during the sorting phase of 5S, as it can make or break the rest of the system. Organizing, cleaning, and sustaining progress can only be done in a space free from clutter. Employees should be heavily involved in this process and are a valuable resource to identify unneeded items.

Additional Resources