Western society may finally be catching up with the principles behind the 5S organization system, but the history of the practice goes far beyond even the 20th century. It has been a long standing tradition, as far back as the 16th century, to streamline one's workspace in order to create an environment built on maximum efficiency.
The first mentions of 5S in history begin in Venice, Italy, at the Arsenal of Venice. It was there that thousands of Venetian shipbuilders used quality inspection and an assembly line approach to manufacturing ships for the royal navy in order to create the highest quality product possible. This was the first documented manufacturing facility that would assemble different parts of the ship in different areas of the workshop, then bring the pieces together to complete the final product.
In 1574, King Henry III of France visited Venice and attended a banquet in the Arsenal's Great Hall – with the meal made from a galley which was entirely built within two hours.
Assembly lines and quality assurance became a staple in large scale manufacturing, however, it was in post-World War II Japan that the real beginning of the traditional 5S organizational system took shape. Toyota's founder, Sakichi Toyoda, alongside both his son and his chief engineer for Toyota, created the Toyota Total Production System. This system is still used in Japanese auto facilities today.
This variation of modern 5S was introduced to the United States during a visit from Toyoda and his partners to the Ford auto plant. While their American counterparts were using assembly lines to get their work done, there was a lot of improvement to be made. Many workers were left waiting for other parts to be manufactured before they were able to complete work, and then the pile up of completed work would create a space and organizational problem. At this time, it was routine for Ford to do mass layoffs and rehires as the necessity for labor would spike.
On the same visit to the United States, Toyoda was able to see the possibilities for improvements to his own system of efficiency during a trip to a grocery store. He was impressed with their inventory strategies – a system of reordering and restocking as items were purchased from the store. This became his foundation for “just in time” inventory.
Taking this methodology home to the Toyota manufacturing facilities, Toyoda reduced the facility inventory and set in place a re-ordering system to reduce the amount of clutter and excess materials on the floor. This is where the real modern 5S system was born.
Putting different facets of the manufacturing and maintenance process in the hands of your employees on the floor will empower them to feel like they are owning the process of efficiency. Each pillar of the 5S system rests in the hands of individuals and in the hands of managers on the warehouse floor.
How are you implementing the 5S pillars in your workspace?
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