Lean manufacturing is nothing new to metal fabrication shops as they seek to improve their processes. Lean manufacturing improves productivity, limits waste, and can even improve safety. Recently, talk in the industry has turned to the 5s system as part of the lean manufacturing process.

The 5s process stems from five Japanese words. The Japanese words and their English translation are:

  • Seiri – (Sort)
  • Seiton – (Set in Order or Straightening)
  • Seiso – (Shine)
  • Seiketsu – (Standardize)
  • Sitsuke – (Sustain)

Following the 5s system takes a certain commitment and effort but can pay dividends in workflow and productivity. Here’s a closer look:


To efficiently sort properly, start by determining what tools and supplies are necessary for the current project that is being worked upon. While sorting ALL your tools and supplies are generally a good idea, to get the most out of the 5s system – focus on what is needed for the project at hand and sort those items.

Watch how we efficiently reorganized our utility bucket welding cell with sorting technique!

Set in Order or Straightening

This pertains to making sure each tool is set in a logical order based on size or order of use. Each tool should have a clearly marked space. We discussed shadow boards as part of the 5s system nearly two years ago and how the simple process of painting shadow boards in specific colors and in the shape of the tools allows almost anyone to determine where each tool should be placed.


This refers to not only keeping the work area clean but the equipment and tools as well. Tools should always be clean and ready for use. Keeping equipment and machinery clean helps extend their life and can better help determine when maintenance is necessary.


There should be a standard look and feel to an efficient work area and abnormalities that creep into workspace need to be monitored and limited. With that being said, if multiple workers start placing a tool or materials in a certain “undesignated” part of the work area, consideration should be given to the fact that perhaps that area may be the most efficient place for that tool or material.


To properly sustain the 5s system it should be monitored and employees properly trained in the process. Your system should be reviewed to maximize results and for continued effectiveness.

Creating a More Visual Work Place

The 5s, in essence, helps you create a more visual workplace. This can be important in metal fabrication as well as in any business – as the more time you put in sometimes leads to being a bit blind to what is really happening. It can help you question why things are placed there and how workers may be circumventing placement of tools or equipment to be more efficient on their own. When you look with fresh eyes on where and how tools are stored and materials moved around and handled, you’ll start to notice how things can be accomplished more effectively. Spend some time looking over the shop floor while noting how much time employees are searching for tools, instructions, materials or even perhaps even a superior.

If you are interested in improving processes that help you with the benefits of lean manufacturing, consider learning more about the 5s system.