5S stands for sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain

Jan. 1, 2020
5S describes how to organize and layout a space for maximum efficiency and effectiveness by identifying, sorting and storing the items used, and maintaining the area and items to help sustain the newly organized areas.

This article was originally published Sept. 1, 2011. Some of the information may no longer be relevant, so please use it at your discretion.

When I was in my twenties I saw American Graffiti. After seeing that classic movie, I had to have a coupe, similar to the one that Harrison Ford drove in the film. I knew where there was one for sale, and that night after seeing the movie, I drove past the house of the owner. There the car sat, glistening under a street lamp. I ended up buying the car, but in the daylight it didn't glisten so much. It was very rough and needed lots of work.

My next several years were spent working on that car daily, trying to make it into a show piece. I don't believe I ever got it to that stature, but it was pretty darn nice.

I was thinking about that car the other day, as I prepared to help a shop begin the journey into 5S/lean. I realized that the processes I followed in rebuilding the transmission were very much like 5S in a shop environment.

If you are in the dark and apprehensive about 5S, don't be. It's easy to understand. Here's a simple breakdown.

What is it?

It is generally accepted that the principles of 5S were developed by the Japanese. I believe man has used the basic principles of 5S for centuries to build and expand his reach in many cultures. Basically, 5S describes how to organize and lay out a space for maximum efficiency and effectiveness by identifying, sorting and storing the items used, and maintaining the area and items to help sustain the newly organized areas. The basis for 5S lies in Kaizen, or the process of continuous improvement. Every process you perform can be improved upon, and the resulting gains will translate into the end product.

Central to its success is the focus placed on waste, in all its forms. By minimizing wasted movements, wasted space, wasted time, waste in general, quality and efficiency will improve. Most of us understand this principle and follow it daily without even knowing it. From the minute you wake up every morning, you begin a process – your daily routine – that you follow almost every day. Without even realizing it, you are following a standardized process.

What does 5S stand for?

  • Sort- Get rid of clutter. Separate out what is needed for the operations and remove the unneeded components.
  • Set- Set in order, or organize the work area. Make it easy to find what is needed. A place for everything, and everything in its place.
  • Shine- Clean the work area. Make it shine.
  • Standardize- Establish schedules and methods of performing the normal tasks of the operation in general, and the process of cleaning and sorting.
  • Sustain- Implement programs to sustain the gains through involvement of all employees from every level.

There has been some debate regarding several other categories that might be added to these 5, so you might have 7S. These are not generally accepted and in most cases less is more. Let's break down each of these 5S basics and get an idea of what they mean in a collision shop setting.


Try to look around your shop with new and open eyes. Do you have a lot of junk cluttering up floor space? Do you have a few extra sheet metal pieces lying around that you know as soon as you toss them you will need them? The same ones you have thought that same thing about for the past five years? Most shops do.

Get rid of all that junk. Go through your entire shop, and get rid of all the stuff that you don't need and don't use. Sell it, give it away, or throw it away. Look at what you need to perform your service.

You are going to gain lots of extra room by doing this without adding on to your building. You might make a few extra bucks as well. Take this step seriously because it will affect all the others that follow. Keep only what you truly need and use.


In this step, you will begin to organize the shop for maximum workflow. You need to organize the entire shop area and put it in its proper place. Think about your best tech: Is his or her toolbox a jumbled mess where the sockets are mixed in with the screwdrivers, and everything is just stuck in the toolbox at random or is it a highly organized, clean toolbox, where every socket and wrench is in order and can be easily found when needed?

Your shop has to be set up in the same manner. Work stalls, departmental areas, tool storage areas, even where the brooms are kept, should all be designated and marked. This step will take a little time and a lot of involvement by your people. When equipment is used, it needs to be returned to the proper place and be in the same condition it was found in before being used.

Simply lining the floor to clearly delineate work space will create less chaos and improve workflow. You can take this step to the extreme if you want. I have seen some shops go as far as outlining a spot for a pencil on the estimator's desk. That might be a little overkill, but you can start with the basics and get as detailed with it as you want as you grow. Remember, these methods are not only for the shop but for the office as well.


You have to get that shop clean and keep it that way. The floors, walls, equipment, spray booth, virtually everything must be cleaned and maintained on a regular basis. I know many shops do a mass cleanup once a week or maybe once a month, but that is not enough. You have to initiate a culture of clean that everyone in the shop is involved in and buys into. The shop should be reasonably clean on any given day, not just special occasions, or when owners are visiting.

It is a body shop, and body shops generate dirt. It is possible, however, to minimize the mess by being aware of your surroundings and by making an effort to keep things clean. Initially, you may have to keep on top of the worst offenders, but with some words of encouragement, you can generally make sure every one knows what you want and expect them to respect the shop and keep it clean. If needed, set up a reward system to get everybody to buy in.


From the front office, to the wash bay, every process you do in every department and facet of your shop should be outlined and written on paper. Create a standard inventory list for your allied materials, your sandpaper, glues, primers, masking papers, etc, so that everyone is using the same products to repair your customer's cars. Your quality will be much easier to maintain if everyone is using the same repair process and same set of materials. Dropped-off vehicles should have a standard process that is followed by the office staff on every occasion.

Paperwork should be stored in clearly delineated spots. Every person in the repair process should have a job. Again, you can take this step as far as your imagination can take you by outlining even the smallest and seemingly most insignificant process. I would suggest at the very least you:

  • Outline the standard paper workflow in your office from estimate to repair completion.
  • Outline the workflow in the shop, from the way work is handed out , to the final clean up, including quality control inspections at regular intervals.

If you have any direct repair program relationships, you should include their processes in your outlines as well. I think this is central to 5S. Well thought out and clearly defined processes will produce measurable results.

On a local level, your paint suppliers should be able to provide a great deal of support in this area. Many jobbers or manufacturers reps have some experience in setting up standard operating procedures and will be a great help in getting this critical step right. Consider hiring a consultant to help with this step. I am willing to help with this and am available by email.


Once all of your improvements have been put into place, they have to be maintained and stay in place. This part of the process is probably the most trying, but it also is the most important. You or someone in the organization has to champion all of the changes that have been made and must stay on top of keeping them going. Buy in by all your staff is critical. Anyone can set up a process that will work, but maintaining it is more difficult.

The key to success here is to take small steps in several of the other processes and add to them once they have become part of the daily routine for your people. Tackling this in small chunks will make it easier for you to be successful. Remember, most people do not react well to change, so smaller bites will be easier to digest.

Working on a car is similar to 5S. You have to use all five of the basic principles: sort, set, shine, sustain and standardize when doing intricate restoration work. A neat, well-organized environment is more conducive to performing quality work than a sloppy unorganized one. It also is better for morale and will net you higher CSI scores, and ultimately higher profitability.

Don't be afraid of 5S, embrace it. Your business, and your customers will be much better off for doing so.

About the Author

Kevin Mehok

Kevin M Mehok is the CEO of Crashcosts.com and a current board member for several other companies. In his nearly 30 years of experience in the collision industry, he was Operations Director for CARCARE Collision Centers, and Collision Centers of America. He also served as Regional VP for Collision Team of America, and has worked in similar roles with several other Chicago area consolidators, Gerber, (Boyd) and Cars. He can be reached through e mail at: [email protected].

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