What are the origins of 5S?

The 5S methodologies have been around for quite some time now, helping millions of companies eliminate waste and improve efficiencies. In their current, more standardized, form, the systems got their beginning in the 1970s from the Toyota Motor Company.

At this time 5S was identified as one of the different systems that would enable ‘Just in Time’ manufacturing. Originally, 5S had ‘Seiton’ (set in order) and ‘Seiso’ (shine/sweep) combined, which made the system 4S. Over time, the two got separated due to the important differences between them. Today, many people are moving toward a 6S system with the addition of safety as the sixth S. This shows that while 5S has a long history, it is not set in stone. As new innovations are made, 5S can adapt to keep up with them.

Combination of Ideas & Concepts

While Toyota certainly gets a lot of well-deserved credit for formalizing the 5S concepts, they actually found many of their ideas with other companies of the time. Several representatives from Toyota observed how Ford Motor Company’s assembly lines worked, and used what they learned to build 5S. They also looked at the inventory management process of the Piggly Wiggly, a popular supermarket.

A Much Older History

While 5S in a formalized system that we see today has only been around since the 70s, the concepts behind it are actually ancient. There is evidence of 5S concepts going back as far as the 16th century in organized ways. Venice shipbuilders used these concepts to help streamline their production. History tells us that they were able to reduce the amount of time it would take to build a ship from days or weeks all the way down to just hours.

Throughout human history you can find examples where people would use strategies clearly seen in 5S to improve the way things were done. Whether it is standardizing processes, organizing things better, or any of the other concepts behind 5S it is clear that these strategies are essentially built into our DNA.


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