There can't be too many who would oppose this type of war.

Kinetics-Southwest Region has waged a "War on Waste" by adapting a manufacturing philosophy first developed in Japan. Kinetics' 5S's method of improving productivity has engaged its employees and brought quick results in reducing wasted time and materials on the job. The company has also secured itself the 2001 MCAA E. Robert Kent Award for management innovation, and raised the bar in its industry for efficiency.

In The Beginning

In early 2000, Kinetics-Southwest of Tempe, Ariz., a regional office of Kinetics Systems, was shooting around the idea of moving into larger facilities. It seemed the business of producing a successful mechanical construction company was taking up more and more space: there were tools to gather, inventory to file, machines to store (and don't even get started about the paperwork).

But a combination of opportunities presented themselves for improvement in the way this company operates. First the company began benchmarking other regional companies using the "Robin Hood" approach to glean ideas and other success stories for improving shop productivity.

These companies included Boeing, General Motors, Honeywell and TRW, which all took part in a method of operations called the 5S's. Their original meaning is Japanese, but an American interpretation has been adopted:

  • Sorting -- separating out the needed from the unneeded;

  • Simplifying -- putting things in their place;

  • Sweeping -- keeping things clean and in their place;

  • Standardizing -- organize a consistent way to do things;

  • Self-Discipline -- making a commitment and keeping it.
A regional consultant was completing a college course on "Lean Thinking," an idea first developed in Japan's Toyota manufacturing plant, the father of the 5S's. By offering themselves up as guinea pigs, Kinetics-Southwest took advantage of a lesson in organization.

The 5S's were brought to the first Kinetics shop and presented to its management team. You can imagine it wasn't the warmest of welcomes.

"It was a good and productive shop to begin with, so there was an initial attitude by the shop's superintendent of 'Why am I singled out?' 'Why do I need to change?'" said Dennis Sowards, manager of communications and continuous improvement for Kinetic Systems. Sowards expected this reaction from the shop; no one likes change.

"But the manager over the shops, Kathy Kingsland, really took on the 5S's, she became its champion," Sowards said. "And through her efforts the shop exceeded expectations."

Let There Be Space

In fact, the team of management and craft employees showed great enough results that shop space increased by about 1,000 square feet -- enough to eliminate the decision of an expensive shop expansion. The shop returned unused material valued at more than $5,000. It created an improved materials flow and reduced its cycle time, and created an overall safer and cleaner shop environment.

So how did Kinetics make this new program so appealing? To make even the veteran employees believe the 5S's were "not the enemy, but an opportunity?"

"Discussion is critical while teaching the 5S's," Sowards explained. "The people you're training do the work every day. They can see changes to be made and offer solutions on ways to improve."

For example, during a feedback session while training the five principles, an apprentice questioned an unused machine in the shop. It had been sitting there idle, even in the way at times, and no one before had bothered to evaluate its usefulness and placement. It was eventually removed from its location and sent where it could be more productive.

This type of open discussion of waste snowballed. The pilot shop became a tighter, more efficient working environment. And one that the employees were in charge of.

"The craft employees were the ones sharing ideas, it was their voice," Sowards said. And the backbone of the 5S's has continued to be these employees. "The 5S's has never been mandated by management," Sowards adds. While some things became required -- like safety issues -- most of the time the attitude of upper management has been more of a reminder than a carrot on a stick. "It's more 'Here's the ideas, work with them.' Not a rigorous checklist to be completed after each job is performed."

Meaning Of The 5S's: With each "S" there is a specific action to take to improve the work area. When these actions are applied, results are realized. There is reduced time looking for tools, materials and information, and an overall increase in productivity.


Removing clutter from the work environment was a major issue to begin implementing the 5S's. Organizing Kinetics' shop took some time, but getting the employees to respect the system eventually made keeping things neat much easier.

Sorting is the need to separate the necessary from the unnecessary items. It is complete when you have a list of what you need -- and have removed what you don't.

Some things to look for when sorting:

  • Materials stacked around a site;
  • Boxes not labeled;
  • Rusted, broken or deteriorated objects;
  • Excess parts or inventory;
  • Disorganized paper piles;
  • Outdated posters, notices and memos.
Sort these items into three groups: using or will be used; not using or will not be used; and unlikely to be used. Of the items "in use," sort those into another three groups: rarely used (one to two times a year); occasionally used (one to two times a month); and frequently used (daily or weekly use).

Throw out everything else.

The Kinetics shop had to realize that you can't save everything. Pack rats have no place in the 5S's. The shop found that it was holding on to parts with no further use. One tool they couldn't even remember how it was used in the first place. They were just taking up space and gathering dust, all the while making it harder to find the useful parts and tools needed on a daily basis.


Next on the list is to create a designated place for everything in use. Putting the items used most often within easy access will reduce time spent trying to find them. Clearly mark and label the storage bins in which these frequently used items are placed.

The environment at the Kinetics shop is much more open now. The yard work area is cleaner, more orderly. Where before valves, parts and machines would be stashed in cubbyholes, now a systematic approach to putting things in their place has made them more efficient.

Its prefab shop is also cleaner with color-coded tool stations and stripes on the floor keeping workstations organized. In the office, too, the 5S's appeared. There is now a central location for vendor manuals.

Other ways for easy access to needed items:

  • Shadow boarding;
  • Outlining;
  • Color-coded storage bins;
  • Labeled drawers with a list of contents.
"Anyone -- even someone who doesn't work in the area -- could put everything back to where it belongs by the way things are marked," reads the Kinetics training instructions.


This is one of the more difficult tasks, as it needs attention on a regular basis. But a clean environment is a safe environment. And sweeping doesn't end with a broom and dustpan. It is the visual and physical reviewing of an area to put items where they belong.

Employees should make sure that tools and machines are in good repair. Safety inspections keep work areas clear of hazards. And an orderly break room and conference area makes it a more inviting space.

Some things to consider:

  • Prepare a regular schedule for cleaning work and break areas; post area cleaning guidelines and schedules to follow.

  • Orient employees with daily 5S activity responsibilities and expectations (remember "Your Mother Doesn't Work Here").

  • Perform safety inspections on a regular basis.
Kinetics was an overall safe environment to begin with. But after 5S's training, the shop's safety record did slightly improve. Having set schedules and expectations for clean-up prevents many minor injuries that regularly occur in a work area -- trips, falls and slips.


For this portion of the 5S's to work, employees must understand the value of using and maintaining standard methods. A decision must be made on how work functions will be performed, and then an effort must be made to keep them regulated. These processes must be documented and kept labeled for ease of communication (message boards, binders, etc.).

The 5S's can be used in all aspects of the business: jobsites, work yards, purchasing, accounting. Kinetics developed a standard form of labeling and outlining methods of organization for each area. The 5S's improved the shops work processes, cutting time to find something to almost zero.

"An interesting offshoot of implementing the 5S's has been our employees taking their work home with them, so to speak," Sowards said. "Some employees' own workshops have undergone a 5S transformation, making many spouses very happy, I'm sure." The standardized process and set rules to follow got employees motivated at the Kinetics shop. "They said, 'Yeah, we can do this, this is exciting,'" said Sowards.


Once all the beginning stages of organization, labeling and clearing have occurred, the last part is the self-mastery. With self-discipline, a team makes a commitment to honor the 5S's as a way to do business. Any adaptations or changes to the method have been documented, and an activity list is followed.

A team dedicated to improving productivity will not have a problem with this last "S." It is the culmination of probably months of hard effort to make their daily environment a cleaner, more organized and efficient place to work.

Conclusion: The 5S's is, at its soul, a war on waste: wasted time, wasted processing, wasted inventory and wasted production. There will always be an opposition to change.

But to change for the better -- who can argue with a proposal like that when the procedure is one as simple (and practical) as the 5S's?

Since Kinetics-Southwest has received the coveted E. Robert Kent Award for quality, it has shared its success with other Kinetics shops, as well as fellow MCAA members.

"The 5S's is something that doesn't take a lot of money to implement," concludes Sowards. "But the question becomes, where do I find the time and effort to do it right?"

Kinetics has developed a PowerPoint presentation to teach the 5S's. To request further information for your company, contact Dennis Sowards at 602/740-7271 or