Seiri "Sort" in 5S

Seiri is the first step of the 5S method. It means "to sort" or organize.

This article introduces Seiri; two more articles follow with more details on "how to" and "what benefits to expect".

Red tagging

The 5S Seiri Goals

Seiri has two main goals:

  • Remove unnecessary objects
  • Reduce waste

What "objects" are we talking about? Why remove objects that are not needed?

Redundant objects may range from empty boxes through bins of rejected parts to obsolete machinery. Some objects might have some value but are simply inappropriate, such as a jerry-rigged tool that substitutes for a proper equipment repair.

Too many workplaces are cluttered with things that are no longer required. This does not just apply inside a factory. Offices may have "libraries" of obsolete manuals or binders, or filing cabinets with outdated records that should be archived offsite. Warehouses or repair shops may contain obsolete raw materials, inventory or spare parts. Even bulletin boards can be clogged with outdated notices. Computer systems may also get cluttered with obsolete programs or data that should be archived – although you want your Information Technology department to tackle this area, and to do so carefully.

Here are several good reasons for disposing of unnecessary objects:

  • Free up production space for new business
  • Sell materials to realize the scrap value (normally not very profitable, but it is unlikely to appreciate in value over time)
  • Free up office or warehouse space, to reduce rental costs
  • Save time when taking inventory
  • Save time when looking for an item that is actually needed
  • Save time moving goods because there is less clutter in the way

Finally, if something is broken or poorly-repaired, either fix it properly or replace it. Jerry-rigged tools tend to be inefficient and hazardous. On the "soft" side, consider the effect on morale and on quality goals if sub-standard tools are acceptable.

What does it mean to "reduce waste"?

This goes beyond simply "reducing waste material" by identifying all hindrances and generating ideas for improvements. Here are some sample questions:

  • Are work instructions available, accurate, and used?
    • Work instructions can help improve quality, reduce reject rates and increase productivity
  • What safety hazards exist: cluttered floors; missing safety guards on machinery; electrical faults; broken steps on ladders?
    • Injuries reduce productivity!
  • Do we endanger the environment? Do we spill liquids, vent gasses, work in billowing dust, or produce hazardous solid waste?
    • Are materials being wasted? Will employees become ill?
  • Do we have the right tools, in the right places, in good condition?
    • Searching for tools reduces productivity. Damaged tools may cause re-work.
  • Does the workplace enable or hinder us? Are workbenches at the right height? Are chairs too low or too high for some workers? Have back injuries occurred because people have to lift and twist?
    • Injuries reduce productivity! So do awkward work processes, like stooping and twisting.
  • Is maintenance up to date? Has machinery been patched, rather than repaired properly? Are electric cables properly installed, or are we using "extension cords"? Are the buildings well-maintained, or is the paint peeling?
    • Problems in these areas suggest problems with quality control.
  • Do we have an inventory of suggestions or reviews that have never been implemented?
    • Following-up on suggestions leads to improvements, and keeps the employees engaged so they will make more suggestions which lead to further improvements...

Lean 5S - How to "sort" it out

Management must commit employee time and effort to this task, including time to plan and train.

The Seiri step requires teams. The smallest team should have a representative line worker from the production side, as well as a maintenance technician. This gives a more well-rounded perspective during the review. As well, the actual task of logging problems is performed more quickly and more thoroughly by at least two people, rather than by just one.  

Supervisors should be included in the teams. If every team has a foreperson or manager, then the team size may be as large as five or eight employees in total. Remember to involve night shift personnel too – either as separate teams or integrating them for the duration of the Seiri step.

The planning step has four outcomes:

  • A list of questions to guide each team
  • An area for each team to cover, so the whole factory or workplace will be reviewed
  • A time frame for this stage
  • A training plan so the teams will know what to do

The previous article had suggested some questions. Some new ones include:

  • Do we still have the machine that these spare parts fix?
  • Do we still manufacture (or supply parts) that this raw material is for?
  • Will we ever re-work these rejected pieces?
  • Is this documentation out of date?
  • Are all the tools needed at this workstation actually stored here? Neatly?
  • Is everything stored at this workstation really needed here?

It is important to cover the whole workplace.

5S Red Tags and Sort Lists

Red tag

Red Tags and Sort Lists are the primary tools for the Seiri step.

It is best to buy or make pre-numbered red tags, since the numbers allow the issues to be tracked.

The Red Tag needs to have the following information:

  • Tag number
  • Item description
  • Reason (why was the item tagged)
  • Date when the tag was applied
  • Name or employee number of the person who applied the tag

Record the same information on the team's Sort List.

Using the Red Tag to "remove unnecessary items" is fairly straightforward. Here is the process.

Each Red Tag gives other workers an opportunity to pass along comments. Typically, a long-time employee might note that "Every four or five years, we have to pick out a few of these parts for customer X who still has an old ZYXW model". So that might reprieve this one bin of spare parts.

After thirty days, each Seiri team retraces their steps to review each Red Tag. If no-one has suggested why an item should be saved rather than discarded, then deal with it. Items that are needed less frequently should be moved to a proper storage area rather than cluttering the shop floor. (Questionable items may go into a "quarantined storage" area. The idea is to log when a quarantined item actually is used. Otherwise, it should eventually be discarded).

Keep the Sort List up-to-date with the same information. Eventually, the team must track down any Red Tags that the Sort List still shows as outstanding – as "not yet handled".

Using the Red Tag to "reduce waste" is similar. The time frame might be longer than the month allocated for discarding unnecessary items. However, the efforts should begin and be continuous. Management support and commitment are critical over the long term.

In this case, the Red Tag shows a suggestion for improvement, such as "Need (updated) work instructions" or "Need tool ABC at this workstation" or "Repair this (broken or jerry-rigged) item". It is unlikely that a worker will comment "No – don't fix it". However, these issues must be copied from the Sort List to the appropriate work order so the improvement will actually be made.

Once the improvement happens, add the information to the Red Tag and return it to the Seiri team. They will check off the Sort List. Again, the team will eventually pursue outstanding Red Tags and ensure that the improvements really occur.

The next article will discuss the benefits of the Seiri step.

The Benefits of Sorting ("Seiri") in 5S

The Seiri step is only the start of the 5S process, but some benefits should be felt immediately.

  • Finding lost or forgotten materials – whether spare parts, raw materials or work-in-progress – may save on re-ordering costs
  • It will be quicker and safer to move goods after clutter has been removed
  • It will be quicker to find tools if they are stored where they are needed
  • It will be quicker to find tools if they are not hidden by piles of clutter
    • The same goes for documents and binders: find the current information more quickly, and avoid using outdated material
    • Similarly, bulletin boards are more useful when only relevant materials are posted
  • Adjustments and repairs will be quicker and more effective when the right tools – in a state of good repair – are used
  • A worker is more productive with enough elbow room
    • Whether it is a workbench or a desk, a tidy and well-organized workplace enhances productivity
  • Reduced likelihood of injuries because:
    • Seats and work surfaces are at the right heights for the workers
    • Less stooping, bending, lifting and twisting if items are stored conveniently
    • Safety devices are installed properly
    • Electric wiring (and hydraulic or pneumatic hoses) are installed properly
    • Ladders are in good repair
    • Less clutter underfoot leads to fewer slips or falls
  • Improved quality thanks to clear, simple instructions posted at work stations
  • Improved morale because:
    • Management has demonstrated concern by starting the clean-up, replacing worn tools, and addressing safety concerns
    • Renewed attention to previous suggestions for improvements

By Oskar Olofsson, author of the book "Succeeding with 5S"

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