5S Principles: Our Commitment to Continuous Improvement

If you are familiar with the 5S methodology, you’ll know how useful it is in manufacturing. And if you know how truly useful it is, you’ll understand how pleased we are at Universal Polymer & Rubber to be implementing the 5S principles, and to be seeing it all come together so well for us.

5S is a Japanese workplace organizational discipline that specifically stands for 5 words—seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke. They refer to neatness, sorting, and disciplined organization, and the principle was first brought to the U.S. in the 1980s when Japanese automakers began establishing a presence in America. Since then, 5S has spread beyond automaking to encompass all of manufacturing, and it has become part of the mantra of successful manufacturing.

In essence, the idea of 5S is continuous improvement through a disciplined way of organizing and keeping order. Everything has a place, and there is a place for everything. Nothing should be carelessly or haphazardly thrown or stored anywhere; everything should be kept neatly in its proper area.

In this way, everyone within the organization gets into a routine, and things are kept neat. But beyond that, when everything is kept neat and the clutter is gone, it becomes easier for each person to look clearly at his or her work zone and see the areas for improvement. It ensures a clear picture and, in the end, a quality of work.

Additionally, maintaining the 5S method presents the right picture to customers who visit a facility; when clients visit suppliers whose warehouses are exceptionally organized and efficient, they feel assured that everything is in order and quality is consistently achieved.

For a long time, we have been very interested in implementing 5S practices, but weren’t physically able to given the lack of space at our facilities. Now, having recently finished our warehouse upgrades/renovations, we have been able to accomplish this, and we’re very pleased with the results already.

Of course, 5S is a work in progress, a never-ending quest for improvement; our facilities look significantly better than they did six weeks ago, and not as good as they will look six weeks from now. It’s all part of our plan to continue delivering the quality we always have, but never being satisfied with “good enough.”

The Unpredictability of Manufacturing

In many ways, manufacturing is the art of managing the unpredictable. In order to take a product or part from initial idea to completion, skill, hard work, and just a bit of luck are needed. There are a variety of things that can go astray during the manufacturing process; here are some of the more common ones:

Material Inconsistency

When working with a variety of suppliers, it’s difficult to sometimes keep track of all of the different parts and materials, and where they are coming from. When it comes to materials, they must be consistent to work; coordination with suppliers and ensuring the materials are of the same compound is essential and doesn’t always work out.


If the past winter has taught us anything, it is that weather cannot be counted on. Day after day of snow and frozen roads have stopped manufacturers in their tracks. In fact, U.S. manufacturing output fell sharply in January 2014 almost exclusively because of the cold weather, as seen in this article.

The Human Element

People do manufacturing, and people are not perfect. We all have bad days. While this variable is hard to control, you must take it into account in everything you do.

So, what is the answer? How can you avoid having your production lines come to a screeching halt? As we mentioned before, the key is preparation. You must do everything in your power to reduce the impact of these variables. It helps to have a couple of things locked down.

Preventative and Predictive Maintenance

If you keep your machinery in top shape at all times, you instantly lower the likelihood of a sudden breakdown. It really is that simple.

Proper coordination with suppliers

If you trust your supplier, it takes away a giant worry. If you know they are putting their reputation behind everything they send your way, it makes life so much easier. Plus, you also know they will go out of their way to make it right if something does go wrong.

At Universal Polymer, we believe that we fall into this category. We are the kind of company that will make every effort possible to eliminate worry from the equation. Our rubber and plastic extrusions and rubber moldings are of the highest quality and we stand behind everything we make. We can’t solve all your problems, but at least you will be able to trust your rubber and plastic gaskets, straps, and tubes!