5S and the warehouse: a practical 5S approach to deliver a best-in-class operating warehouse and workplace

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Taking the first step with 5S

The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has put significant pressure on supply chains – forcing organisations to reassess their warehouse and estate strategy to meet unprecedented demand. Ensuring a world class warehouse with highly skilled people, fully automated systems and lean processes is even more critical for ecommerce, retail and manufacturing companies to thrive and outpace competitors in this new landscape. How do you take the first steps? 

At Hatmill, we help leading brands deliver their warehouse automation vision and have extensive expertise in this field. Despite the recent surge in demand for Warehouse Automation (WA) most companies are still unsure where to start. We’re often asked by customers ‘how do you take the first steps towards becoming a world class operating warehouse?’ It may surprise you but with the right expert advice the answer is far more simple than you may realise. 


Efficiency is the cornerstone of success 

Improving efficiency, removing bottlenecks and reducing waste will lay the foundation for continuous improvement and future growth. It’s a vital first step towards achieving a world class warehouse and is as relevant to all warehouse operations whether large or small. Key to this approach is the methodology you apply.  


At Hatmill, we recommend the 5S approacha Japanese lean operating methodology applied to organising your workspace.  By making a process more effective and efficient, it will become easier to identify and expunge/eradicate the 7 types of waste, otherwise known as Muda (Over production, Waiting, Transportation, Over processing, Inventory, Movement and Defects).  

In its simplicity, 5S relies on visual prompts and a clean work area which in turn enhances workplace efficiencies, reduces unnecessary accidents, and standardise process workflows to reduce inefficiencies.  

The 5S method is based on five key steps: 

  1. Sort (Seiri)
  2. Straighten (Seiton)
  3. Shine (Seiso)
  4. Standardize (Seiketsu)
  5. Sustain (Shitsuke)

It is recommended that all 5 steps are applied in the warehouse environment and some phases may take more time and effort than others depending on the operations. 

Getting started with 5S to create a world class warehouse – 5S in action


5S Phase I: Sort 

During the Sort phase, all items or materials in a workspace are reviewed, removing unneeded items and keeping necessary resources. 

In a typical standard warehouse where Material Handling Equipment (MHE) is used routinely throughout, there can be neglect and disregard for MHE by their multiple users. It is common to see MHE either not on charge during down time or abandoned in the wrong location, or even worse, not operationally fit and potentially dangerous to its operator or others. This is a picture that can often be blamed on poor management from above, however, to improve this picture managers need to install some simple 5S processes for them as well as the operators to follow. 

In the example described above, a review should be carried out to identify the best charging location in the warehouse for each unit of MHE and instigate a pre-operation MHE check sheet to be filled out at the start of each shift. The aim of this approach is to aid operators, so they instantly know where their MHE is located even before they start their shift. It helps to reduce wasted time, logs any MHE operating concerns at the start of the shift ensuring they  are dealt with instantly and begins to create a sense of ownership and responsibility across the warehouse team. 

The Sort step lets you take inventory of an area, discover unused or wasted resources, and make room for reorganisation. Sort can also be applied with computerised processes. 

5S Phase 2: Straighten 

Once unnecessary items are removed from the work area, teams must provide a streamlined and easy-to-use location for everything necessary to the workspace. During the straighten phase, every item, tool, or material is given a home. To facilitate this ongoing organisation, the location of resources should be labelled clearly, e.g., a shadow board for cleaning apparatus. The idea is to create a workspace that anyone could use, with the continuous goal to provide the visual controls that allow for common-sense operation.  

Continuing the MHE example, in the Straighten phase, once all the MHE has been assigned a specific charging area the 5S methodology really comes to light. Each unit of MHE can have its own charging bay by clearly numbering the MHE and matching this with the numbering on the MHE charger unit. The charging bay can then be clearly identified with floor marking, as well as hanging the MHE pre-operation check sheet on a metal clip board in the charging bay (with a pen!). 

The Straighten phase also works well in a digital environment, especially when computers or systems are used by a variety of operators. 


5S Phase 3: Shine 

The third phase in the 5S methodology is aimed at keeping the workplace clean and organised. ‘Seiso’ can also be translated to “sweep, sanitise, or scrub.” The goal is to shine the work space by cleaning it, maintaining equipment, and returning items to their proper place after use.  

However, it is often difficult in a busy warehouse environment to maintain a ‘clean’ workspace all the time. Initiatives like ‘start of shift checks’ and ‘end of shift handovers’ that include visual standards of cleanliness can drive the right behaviours to follow this step and encourage better working conditions. Cleaning cabins in a forklift and uncluttering VNA (Very Narrow Aisle) trucks at the end of the shift, ready for the next user are just a couple of simple examples that can help tasks get started more quickly and promote a culture of safety. 

In a computerised environment, the Shine phase can be accomplished by naming files in a manner that makes them easy to locate, keeping folder structures intact, and deleting or archiving files that are no longer necessary. 

Shine can be applied to any environment, physical or digital. 


5S Phase 4: Standardise 

The Standardise phase is used to maintain the progress achieved in all the previous phases. By maintaining high standards of organisation, the benefits of the 5S methodology can bear fruit for the long-term. The stress and speed of an average workday can make it hard to keep up with the 5S standards but if everyone is committed to working together, the benefits can be rewarding. 

The use of lane markings, designated locations for MHE and a standardised look and feel of all systems and documents, helps increase interoperability as well as achieving a seamless transition from one shift to the next. In a large organisation for example, knowing that the ‘goods-in’ processes and documents are the same across all warehouses is a huge advantage. We often see the benefits of standardisation in multiple leading 3PL companies especially when there is a continuous transition of operators between sites. 


5S Phase 5: Sustain 

5S only works if everyone on the team or within the organisation commits to the process. Employees must follow the rules that are set up for standardising and sustaining the newly implemented lean methodologies, otherwise, the team enters a cycle of cleaning up after a period of failing to keep up with the standards of 5S. 


Key Benefits of a 5S approach to improving your warehouse and workplace:

The overall benefits of the 5S method include: 

  • Reduced risk of accidents and safety issues
  • Increased compliance with regulations from organisations 
  • A foundation that makes additional improvements easier to implement
  • Waste or ‘Muda’ is easier to identify and eliminate
  • Productivity and flow of goods are generally improved

All these benefits often translate into increased profits and customer satisfaction. 

Implementing 5S across the warehouse is the first step to helping you identify bottlenecks that need further work to resolve and highlight opportunities for continuous improvement. Even smaller organisations can benefit significantly from using this methodology – it helps to lay the vital groundwork for future growth! 


Read more about warehouse automation (here)


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