What is 5S and 6S? A Simple Reference List of 5S or 6S Principles

5S/6S is a methodology devoted to maximizing efficiency. It originally included five basic principles (or practices) that encourage continual improvement and are applied to organizing in the workplace, but has expanded to include a sixth principle.

It is called 5S (or 6S) because each of the practices within the system begin with the letter S: 1) Sort, 2) Set in Order, 3) Shine, 4) Standardize, 5) Sustain, 6) Safety.

Lean manufacturing (or lean production), which focuses on eliminating waste while maximizing productivity, is closely associated with and commonly includes the 5S/6S principles. Here’s the basic definition/benefit of each principle in the 5S/6S methodology:

Sort (5S principle #1)

Sort through all items in an area. Tag damaged tools or equipment for repair and remove from the area. Remove or dispose of unused or broken tools, equipment and supplies.

  • Reduce time spent looking for items
  • Makes visual inspection easier
  • Increases working space

Set in Order (5S principle #2)

Put necessary items in the best place for their function and use. Assign clearly labeled fixed locations so items are easy to return and note when missing.

  • Reduces unnecessary time and energy spent in workflow
  • Reduces time and money spent replacing misplaced items

Shine (5S principle #3)

Clean and inspect workstations, tools and equipment on a regular basis.

  • Encourages better equipment maintenance
  • Easier to detect safety issues earlier

Standardize (5S principle #4)

Outline the procedures and schedules to accomplish the first three practices (Sort, Set in Order, Shine).

  • Makes it easy to work into the daily routine
  • Establishes everyone’s roles/duties in the practice

Sustain (5S principle #5)

Take steps to keep the process functioning. 5S “Sustain” methods can include training sessions to prepare self-disciplined workers and regular audits to ensure standards are met and identify areas for improvements.

  • Keeps the process going
  • Encourages continual improvement
  • Increases efficiency over time

Safety (The 6th S)

Ensure that safety is never sacrificed for productivity. Setting aside the inherent duty of employers to ensure the safety of their workers, accidents and injuries also reduce efficiency. Time lost, medical costs and possible legal ramifications are never worth the tradeoff for seemingly “faster” work.