5S Program – Sort

5s-station-before (1)When learning about the 5S program most people can quickly see how it can be helpful and improve efficiency in the facility. The whole strategy is quite easy when looking at it at a high level. If you’re not careful, however, it can get confusing with the actual implementation. This is because some of the “S’s” in the strategy aren’t quite as clear as they seem at first.

For example, the idea of sorting is quite simple on its surface, but how can you really get as much out of it as possible. What should the facility really be doing to help put things in order, avoid clutter, and generally improve the way things are done? Learning about what sort really means and how it should be implemented is essential for getting the most out of any 5S program.

The sort step in 5S can typically be broken down into five different sections.   Cleaning, classifying, ownership, tagging, and recycling or reassignment. Learning how each of these concepts can be applied in a given facility can help ensure you get the most out of any 5S program.

Cleaning the Facility

The first thing that should be done as part of the sort process is to clean up the facility. More specifically, employees from each work station should be required to clean up that part of the facility. Getting rid of extra papers, putting away tools, clearing off dust and debris, removing oil or grease, properly disposing of scrap, and other similar things should all be considered part of the clean step in 5S.

Many people question this step because they feel that the workplace is always going to be dirty. Construction sites, for example, will have sawdust and other items spread out due to the work that is being done. While it is true that a construction site is never going to be as clean as a surgical suite, that doesn’t mean that cleaning and sorting the area doesn’t need to be done.

Removing sawdust from an area, for example, not only helps to keep the area looking nicer, but it also reduces the risk of fires, slips and falls, and much more. No matter the environment, cleaning and sorting is very important for improving safety and efficiency.

Classifying Each Item

Once everything is cleaned up, it is important to identify what each object is and where it should go. If you find that there are a number of different tools in a work area, for example, these should be classified by the type of tool they are, and then put away where they belong. Other items that need to be classified may include paperwork, scrap items (does it go to recycling or can it be reused?), electronics, and more.

Establishing Ownership

Identifying which department or individual owns each item is the next task at hand. While ownership likely doesn’t mean who actually owns it, since that would be the company itself, it does mean finding who ends up taking responsibility for it. Shipping containers, for example, will be ‘owned’ by the shipping department. Cleaning supplies are typically going to be owned by the maintenance or janitorial department.

For most items, it will be easy to identify which area owns it, but for others it may take some work. Once the ownership of each item has been established, make sure that the item is either returned to the owner, or else properly logged as being used at another specific workstation.

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Tagging Items

5s-station-after (2)There will almost always be items that can’t be identified, classified, or assigned ownership right away, but they also can’t simply be discarded. These items need to be tagged so that they can be organized and assigned to an individual or group for ownership. Tagging can be done anytime, but most facilities will have to do the most of this step the first time they go through the sorting process.

After the first sorting event, most things will have a proper ‘home’ and only new items will need to go through this process. New items should immediately go through the process of being identified and assigned to a specific group, however, so the tagging process will be very brief and may not even be a formal event for these items.

Recycling or Reassigning Items

Any trash or scrap items will be recycled, disposed of, or reassigned to another use right away. This type of thing will occur as a normal part of the cleaning and sorting process. Items that have been tagged, however, may have a delay before they can be recycled or reassigned.

After the initial sorting, many facilities will take all tagged items and allow groups to go through them for a period of thirty days (or less). If nobody has claimed them at that point, they will need to be recycled or reassigned to other uses.

Ongoing Sorting Program

When implementing 5S processes, the sorting will take quite a long time during the initial implementation. After that, however, it takes far less work to continue to keep things properly sorted going forward.

In order to avoid having to go through an extensive sorting process again in the future, however, the facility should stress the importance of proper ongoing sorting efforts. Requiring employees to clean up after they use a given area, or at least at the end of each shift, will help to avoid clutter from building up over time. While it may seem like an inconvenience at first, it actually makes getting work done much faster and easier for everyone involved.

While basic cleaning should be something everyone knows how to do, there will be some training necessary to ensure everyone is handling these steps properly. This will help ensure the sort process is conducted properly initially, and kept up with long down the road. While sort is just one part of the overall 5S process, it is a very important part and one on which the entire methodology can build from.

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