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5S Can Be the Pits

By Graphic Products Editorial Staff

5S is the most popular of the Lean Manufacturing practices. It’s relatively easy to implement and it can be managed without sending staff off for months of training. Because 5S grew from the Lean family it is most closely associated with industrial workplaces. But 5S has broadened its influence beyond typical tool crib and equipment labeling, and workplace order.

The simple laws of sorting, setting in order, shining, standardizing and sustaining can be used to manage any system or process. The 5S Program has even made its way into households. 5S for kitchens or playrooms is not unheard of. That got us to thinking; where would we find the most buttoned down 5S system? What commercial enterprise had taken the organizational horsepower of 5S and raised its level of performance to that of a finely-tuned machine? Then we watched the Indianapolis 500.

The automobile racing industry has raised the discipline of 5S to a high-performance art form. Racing teams may not refer to their shop layouts in the language of 5S, but anyone who has observed or ventured into a professional racing work area can’t help but notice the high degree of order, structure, detail and cleanliness.

Here are a few of the more common layout strategies high performance garages use.

a 5S themed racecar

GET IN THE ZONE: S1, Sort and S2, Set in Order

Any auto racing shop worth its stripes is broken into zones. Depending on the square footage and the scale of the operation, a shop will include a clean zone for assembly or rebuilding, a cleaning zone for washers and blowers, a shop area for machine work, a highly-organized tool storage area, and a zone where lubricants, chemicals and solvents are safely identified and stored.

These zones may be grouped into sections for safety and efficiency. For instance, the assembly zone shouldn’t be near the machine zone where shavings and dust can migrate into assembly parts and cause damage. Tools, on the other hand should be located close to assembly for quick and easy access. In larger shops these zones and sections may be identified and separated with floor marking supply and color-coded labels and signs.


Racing team workspaces are equipped with high-powered ventilation, vacuum, filtration and air compression systems to clean, capture and contain any unwanted pieces and particles. A well-equipped shop keeps dust, dirt, and grime out. A stall on pit row can be so clean you could almost eat off the floor.

SAME TOOL, SAME PLACE: S4, Standardize

You never hear a mechanic ask, “Where’s that 10 millimeter socket…” in a high-performance shop. He knows exactly where it is… in the drawer in-between the 9 millimeter and the 11 millimeter sockets, where it belongs. An auto shop cannot operate effectively without disciplined tool management. Without the tools, what can you accomplish in a shop? Not much.


To get to the winner’s circle, a successful performance shop depends on discipline and consistency. When you’re replacing all four tires, adjusting the hydraulics and topping off the tank in less than ten seconds with the 700-horsepower engine running, discipline is absolutely necessary.

The driver has to overcome the nerves-on-edge pressure of being on the track lap after lap, but the 5S-inspired performance of every member of the team is what wins the race.