Tales from the Trenches – 5: 5S and SPC Projects

Ian Farrell
By Ian Farrell | June 1, 2021
Lead Consultant, Key Performance Quality Consulting, LLC

Fact checked by Stephen O'Reilly

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this blog series. In the first four blogs, we discussed reducing customer complaints, using assignable cause and corrective action codes, data entry errors, and overfill and giveaway, respectively.
For today’s article, I’ll be looking at how I applied 5S principles of organization to my company’s statistical process control (SPC) program. The result was a better program for everyone.
Maybe you’ve heard the term “5S” before. In essence, it deals with the idea that it’s best to have a clean, organized workspace in order to improve efficiency. Well, that same principle can apply to your SPC program. Let’s dive in.
Principles of 5S

About 5S

An organized quality monitoring program is always more effective. When you take the time to 5S your SPC workspace, I think you’re going to find that everyone benefits. Operators are happier and managers can more easily find the data they’re looking for.
The principles of 5S, you may recall, are as follows:
  • Sort – Identify the tools required to perform work in the location
  • Set – Place tools and items in their optimal locations
  • Shine – Declutter and clean the space
  • Standardize – Develop work instructions, resources, and expectations so the use of the workspace is consistent across the organization
  • Sustain – Commit to continuing to maintain the location’s optimized configuration
Like many Lean and Quality principles, 5S started in Japan and was embraced by Toyota as part of their drive to improve manufacturing quality and efficiency.
By using these principles, manufacturers would establish a defined set of expectations for the workspace, reorganize and improve workspaces (eliminating clutter), and provide the resources to maintain the workspace in the new and improved configuration.
Japanese ManufacturingThe origin of 5S is the individual workstation—a brake rotor assembly station on a production line or a testing and inspection area on the plant floor. In areas like these, especially when 24/7 manufacturing results in multiple operators sharing a workspace, the tendency for customization and clutter grows unchecked.
While the methodology started at the workstation level, the principles of 5S can be applied across an organization with the same resulting benefits.

Evil Forces at Work

Staff turnover, scope creep, new market segments. All across the manufacturing sector there are forces at work to reduce order and replace it with chaos.
These degenerating forces are inevitable; there will always be a potential new product or emerging technology that you have to incorporate into an existing process. Couple that with the never-ending push to do more with less, and processes and systems start to become a Frankenstein’s monster of components and routines that fail to meet expectations and requirements.
Instead of being a boon, these processes are complex, labor-intensive endeavors that don’t provide the value they were intended to create. What we need are processes that have a strong foundation yet remain flexible enough to accommodate these sources of uncertainty and complexity.
Simplifying Processes


Many of you have most likely experienced a situation like this. To better understand how we can fight entropy in your manufacturing operations, I want to walk through an example of one of the experiences I had—I’ll show you what I did, why I did it, and how I designed the process to both fit my current needs and establish built-in flexibility and expansion capabilities to allow it to continue to be effective many business cycles later.
I inherited an SPC program that was used primarily for data retention. It had been created about four years prior to my joining the company.
The team that had implemented the program was a group of well-intentioned pros; they trained, and certainly qualified, but the program they designed was static. It accounted for everything that was happening at the time they implemented, but it didn’t have the flexibility to account for new products, packages, or processing steps.
In the years between the initialization and my arrival, the program remained static while the company evolved around it. What I inherited was a system with a base functionality, but also with seemingly random additions and permutations bolted onto that base. Compound that with staff turnover (which gave me no opportunity to directly query the implementation team), and I was left feeling like I was a cold-case detective left to sort through clues and evidence to discern the events of the past.

Adopting 5S

I was responsible for incorporating into our SPC program. I took action and was determined to not just bolt another component onto the system, but to improve it using the “5S” method.
With the principles of 5S firmly in hand, I got to work redeveloping and redeploying my company’s InfinityQS software implementation.
A few of the key goals and requirements I had for my improvement project were:
  • Develop a naming convention that would accommodate all existing parts, processes, and tests (and also standardize them in a way that would allow for new items to be seamlessly added in the future). 
  • Redesign the user interface to be consistent across all workstations and processes in the facility.
To accomplish my goals, I used a combination of tools, tips, and tricks—including a homegrown “program planner” spreadsheet I designed, InfinityQS’ Database Manager, and a host of other ProFicient features and utilities. For more detailed information, and a copy of the spreadsheet, check out the webinar I did on the topic! (It’s the one entitled, “Is Your SPC Program on Life Support?”)
Clean, Organized Workspace

5S with ProFicient

Applying the 5S methodology in InfinityQS software couldn’t be easier. With built-in customization of toolbars, the use of templates for control charts, and easy-to-use import utilities, Sorting, Setting, Shining, Standardizing, and Sustaining were effortless!
The first thing I tackled in my project was naming conventions. I wanted to build a naming system that was intuitive and expandable. For things like finished products, I formalized a structure around the UPC, Product, Size, and Destination Country. Where I originally found things like:
  • MEXICO Large Cheese Popcorn – NEW


  • 96oz Popcorn, Buttered, Domestic 11710-208
I changed them to:
  • 11710 – Buttered Popcorn – 96oz – DOM


  • 11718 – Cheese Popcorn – 96oz – MEX
Just a simple naming adjustment like that made every subsequent change easier and more impactful.
And I didn’t stop with product naming. Process naming had become a word jumble as well. Words like cooking, popping, and heating had become interchangeable. I picked one, named all related processes the same, and moved on to the next jumble.
With the part, process, and test naming conventions formalized, I was ready for the next step, rebuilding the relationships between them.
Operator Efficiency 
I made the decision to walk away from my old database and start from scratch. It was difficult, and full of uncertainty, but I will tell you that it was the right decision. There were only a few months during which I was working out of both the old and new databases; the benefits of starting fresh far outweighed the losses. I would recommend to anyone who needs a fresh start to seriously consider a new database and new project files, rather than fighting to shoehorn your redeployment into an existing system.
Using my program planner spreadsheet, I laid out all of the data entry configurations ‘on paper’ before we even opened ProFicient to start building. This allowed us to see all the steps at once and confirm that they truly matched our production processes and product tests exactly.
Once that was complete, it was time to build.

Final Touches

In the previous steps, the 5S was certainly useful: the naming convention work was filled with Setting and Standardizing, and the program planner was all about Sorting and Shining. It was in the actual creation of the new project files, though, where all five principles came together.
It was important to me that each of the projects I created had a consistent look and feel to them. When you’re going for consistency, 5S is a great tool. Here are some of the key steps we took and their corresponding 5S principles:
  • 5SSort – I took the time to select which types of control charts I wanted for each project. Some test results needed the standard X-bar & R pair of charts, but others only needed an IX, with no MR chart.  Sorting out the extraneous charts allowed the remaining charts to be larger on the screen, making it easier to view the data. I also sorted the toolbar buttons, selecting a suite of buttons that operators used frequently, and eliminating those that were not necessary for our process.
  • Set – In many ways, the pre-existing order of our process made it easy to set projects in order. Within the projects, the charts were set into the order in which we commonly referred to data. You probably have a similar situation at your facilities where you give product data in an unofficial, but predetermined order— Length-Width-Height, for example. Setting the charts into that order was a natural reflection of the culture of the company, so it made using the software seamless. Toolbar buttons were also set in order. On every project, the suite of toolbar buttons was in exactly the same order. Add Data was always furthest left, with a consistent progression through change part, change date, edit data, copy data, change user, and exit. Because every chart’s toolbar was the same, operators were comfortable entering data at every workstation and for every part/process/test combination.
  • Shine – As mentioned in Sort, those items that were superfluous were simply eliminated or hidden from view. InfinityQS software allows you to show only the relevant pieces of a project, even to the degree that different user levels can see only the portions that are applicable to them.
  • Standardize – Using templates for the control charts was the easiest way to standardize the look of the projects. Rather than taking the time to meticulously build each chart to your exact specifications, you can build the base model, create a template of it, and then each new chart is 90% complete as soon as you create it.
  • Sustain – The last, and most difficult of the 5 S’s, I can’t really tell you how to sustain your SPC program; it’s something you and your company’s culture have to commit to. What I can say is that if you follow the steps I’ve shown in this episode, you’ll be set up to sustain with minimal effort. No longer will it be an insurmountable task to add a new part or test.  It will be easy, and if you’re like me, even a little bit fun.
X Bar Chart 
Standardizing the right control chart and tool bar buttons mades things easier for everyone to use.
ProFicient Toolbar

It Worked!

I’m happy to say that all the hard work paid off. We saw improvements in our SPC program across the board. From operator entry errors to SPC alarm responses, and even to management involvement and interest in the program, we succeeded in creating a program that was a perfect combination of ease of use and power. 
Thanks for joining me for this series of (I hope) helpful blogs about practical solutions to common manufacturing issues.
For the purposes of this blog, we did not go into details regarding the software. To see step-by-step details of the ProFicient software in action, please check out the Tales from the Trenches video series here.

Feel free to check out the other blogs in this series:  
Take advantage of the technology at your fingertips today: contact one of our account managers (1.800.772.7978 or via our website) for more information.

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