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Association Insights: The 5-S Process for Printers

Printers constantly deal with wasted time and materials. All production and activities time falls under two categories: value-added and non-value-added. Value-added activities change the form, fit, and/or function of information and materials in the process of becoming final printed product for sale to the customer. The customer pays for the value-added tasks and activities. Non-value-added tasks and activities do not change the form, fit, or function of parts, materials, or anything—they just consume resources through excessive movement of people, machines, and product. Customers do not pay for non-value-added tasks and activities, so they become what’s referred to as “The Hidden Factory of Waste.”

The hidden factory of waste is where people are moving far more than product is moving. The lack of understanding process capabilities, poor communications, activities improperly done, inefficient techniques, and mistakes all result in longer production workflow and people moving far more than the product. The typical response to people lacking experience is they need more training. Although training may very well be needed—people must know what to do and how to do it—the answer lies within the processes themselves.

The 5-S Process, or simply “5-S,” is a structured systematic focus on eliminating waste, achieving total organizational cleanliness, and activity standardization throughout a printer’s work processes. A clean and well organized workplace results in safer and more productive processes. 5-S process environments typically boost people’s morale, promote a sense of pride in their process, and heighten ownership of their responsibilities.

In English, the 5-S’s typically stand for: Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.


The first “S” of the 5-S process is Sort. Sort is the act of examining a process area and getting rid of all unwanted, unnecessary, and unrelated items, tools, and materials. Sort says people must remove everything not needed or necessary to perform frequent tasks and ensure everything left is necessary to performing daily required tasks and activities. The number of necessary items must be kept to an absolute minimum. Because of Sort, simplification of tasks, more effective use of space, and careful procurement of items normally follows.

Sort through all items on or in the process and remove all unnecessary items. Sort initially begins by removing and red-tagging everything from a process that is not nailed down and placing them on skids in a “Sort Red Tag” location. Then people must determine what stays and what goes. The key: “When in doubt, get it out.”

Experience has shown time and again that when everything is removed and analyzed, fewer than 25 percent of the removed items are returned to the process for use. Sort attempts to bring organization to a processes area, gain more space, and reduce wasted motion. It is one of the most important steps of the 5-S process and must be completed first.


The next “S” is Straighten and make orderly, and is about process efficiency. Straighten consists of putting all the necessary items in specifically assigned and visually identified places for ease of accessibility and the ability to quickly return them to the same place: “A place for everything and everything in its place.”

With quick access to items, process workflow becomes efficient and more productive. The correct place, position, or holder for everything must be chosen carefully in relation to how and where the work will be performed and who will use them. Every single item must be allocated its own place for safekeeping, and each location must be visibly labeled for easy identification.


The third “S” in 5-S, Shine, directs that everyone is a custodian. Shine consists of cleaning up the process equipment and area, giving it a shine. Cleaning must be done by everyone from operators to managers, etc. Every process and area in the facility should shine, and cleaning responsibilities should be part of standard operating procedures. Everyone should see the facility through the eyes of a visitor—always thinking, “Are the processes clean enough to impress customers?”

Shine and clean process equipment and area. Whenever equipment is in production mode or down, wipe and clean it and the area.


The fourth step of 5-S is Standardize. It consists of defining the doctrine by which all people will maintain orderly and clean processes. People need to play a major role in the development of the standards. Their feedback helps define the best way to balance employee 5-S activities with production concerns. Keep employees informed by making the standards visible. Cleaning and organization standards based on 5-S need to be clearly displayed around the workplace.


The last step of 5-S, Sustain, truly means “discipline.” To Sustain is to commit to maintain cleanliness and orderliness in all process areas and to practice the first four “S’s” as a way of daily life in the facility. This is by far the most difficult of the 5-S’s to implement and achieve. We all tend to resist change, and even the most well-structured 5-S plan will fail if not constantly reinforced. Fortunately, there are effective methods of sustaining positive growth. Begin by asking relevant questions: Are 5-S goals measurable?

Such a goal may be to “pass inspections five months in a row.” It is important to find visible ways to measure the progress, perhaps by printing posters or signs as important quotas are met. Typically, employees benefit by easy access to label and sign-making systems.

Finally, ways must be found to emphasize the positive results. Make sure no one forgets the significance of the goals. Sustaining newly changed behavior isn’t easy. As associates grow into the 5-S system, they will find it energizing and fulfilling. Go the extra mile to make sure the facility is prepared to continually observe 5-S standards.

5-S Success will depend on implementation throughout the entire facility. All employees must become involved and participate. 5-S transformation becomes established routines. 5-S implementation beginning in one process will typically cause people working in other processes to ask, “When are we going to do that?”

Lean Manufacturing Assessment Tool

To get insight into the state of Lean implementation and to allow companies to compare their progress to other companies, we’ve developed the industry’s first Lean Manufacturing Assessment Tool. The assessment is comprised of 13 areas, from a company’s culture to its approach to makeready reduction. In each area, company executives choose the statement that best describes their company. Upon completion, companies can view how all other companies have responded. While simple in nature, the assessment will cause companies to think about their operation and its potential for improvement in ways they probably haven’t before. Visit to take the online assessment.

Continuous Improvement Conference

Printing Industries of America, in partnership with Flexographic Technical Association, conducts the yearly Continuous Improvement Conference, dedicated to showing executives and managers how to achieve operational excellence through Lean Manufacturing and other improvement systems. The 2012 Continuous Improvement Conference will be held April 1-4, in St. Louis, MO. To learn more about the Continuous Improvement Conference, visit

Jim Workman is the assistant vice president, Technology and Research, for Printing Industries of America. Contact him at Learn more about Printing Industries of America at