Don’t wait for the usual “Spring Cleaning” time of year to get your shop organized.  Every day, your staff has to slog through their duties to get work handled.  Their efficiency with that work could depend on how organized and streamlined your shop is maintained.

In Lean Six Sigma circles the “Lean and Clean” process is called 5S.  Acronyms are popular to use, but what does that really mean?

This article will explore this concept and how you can deploy this thinking make your shop run faster.  Here’s what we are going to discuss in getting your shop organized:

  • Sort
  • Straighten
  • Shine
  • Standardize
  • Sustain

Start Getting Your Shop Organized with Sort

Have you ever had to spend ten or fifteen minutes looking for something?  Maybe a Work Order or particular bucket of ink?  Just exactly where is that last hat clamp for the embroidery machine?  Geez.

That’s time you won’t get back.  Multiply that amount of time with the frequency and the total amount of staff you employ and this could be an even bigger problem than you realize.

Sorting throughout your shop is the answer.  This simply means having a method of organizing things.

Here are some ideas:

First, get things off the floor or out of the way.  Your production area should only have production items there.  I’ve been to several shops that believe it or not store office files in the middle of the production floor.  The accounting or sales department doesn’t want them in the way.  So guess where they go?  That’s right, where the shop makes their money.

Your crews have to walk around that all day.  It might not seem like much, but this is causing you to not produce as much.  That is a bottom line impact as this affects productivity.


Shelving works great when you want your shop organized.  You can get some that are permanent on the wall, or buy some with casters so they can roll around.  Imagine how easy it will be to bring screens to reclaiming when you just have roll the rack over to that area.  One trip.  Done.

Ink or Thread

Next up, what crazy mess is the ink room or where you store your embroidery thread?  Why is it that the things we use the most in the shops are always the most disorganized?  Do yourself a favor and clean this up.  

Organize by ink or thread number chronologically.  Then, keep it that way.  How much faster will your work be when you can just instantly grab what you need?

Screen Rack

For screens, organize these when they come out of the screen room by the total amount of screens needed for jobs.  

Screens for one color jobs are here, while two-color jobs are in another place.  Three, four, five, and six color jobs all have their own areas.  Group multi-color job screens together with a strip of masking tape.  Label the group with the Work Order number, ship date, and job name.  

If you ever have rifled through thirty screens to find the one you need you’ll thank me for this tip.

Sort everything you can.  Make a home for things.  Use labels.

Get Rid of Stuff

Anything that you don’t need throw away, sell or donate to charity.  

If you have supplies or equipment gathering dust in the corner, consider donating these to a local high school art department that is doing screen-printing.  

In fact, you should be sponsoring one anyway as you could build a relationship with them and get your future crop of workers with kids that are interested.  There is also a program that SGIA sponsors called SkillsUSA that is instrumental in developing these students.  They are offering $30,000 this year in scholarship money.


When things are kept neat and clean they tend to stay that way.  It is up to you as a leader to insist that this happens.

Put the items that you use the most frequently up front or easier to grab, that the items that you only touch once a year or so.  In fact, if you have multiple presses you should consider buying multiple versions of common items and have that stock available closer on the production floor to the crews using it.

Use concrete floor tape and demarcate where boxes, skids, and items should go.  Insist on this being lined up with by the tape.  Haphazard doesn’t cut it.

Remove the Clutter

When you have removed the clutter with the Sort action, the Straighten work is much easier.

Another great tip is to count and inventory what you have.  Just how many screens do you have with each mesh count?  Do you know?  Does that align with what’s being used for orders?

After you have straightened the floor don’t forget to look up.  Is that a stalactite of shirt lint hanging down from the ceiling?  This may need some attention too.


Yep. I’m serious.  

Clean so things sparkle.  Floors, walls, the ceiling…everything.

One tip I heard a long time ago seems to ring true.  “You can tell a lot about a company by how they keep their employee bathrooms.”  How do yours look?  

Make an assessment on the level of neatness of your shop in every department, and in every room.

This isn’t just inside your building.  Look outside too.

You Only Get One Chance to Make a First Impression

What do you think people think when they drive by?  Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

That’s the payoff with getting your shop organized.

When new or potential customers pull up to your shop, what the first thing they see?  What do you want them to know about you?  Have you ever given this much thought?

How you keep your shop on any given day reflects the attitude of the owner and management.  You might have a lot of employees, but it’s the leadership that sets the tone.

Elvis’ motto what on the money.  “TCB – Takin’ Care of Business”.


I discuss standardization a lot.  There is a great reason.  When you standardize your workflow you make things easier for the people that have to do the tasks.  

It becomes easier to teach.  When things go wrong, it’s easier to track what happened too.

So, while you are in your 5S mode, take some time and consider how you could standardize something so it works better.  This is in every department, not just production.

Can You Remove a Step?

Also, don’t forget that when you standardize a process you might find out that you can remove a step or two along the way.  This can make a big impact on smaller shops that don’t have a lot of square footage to start with.

Invest the time and think things through as to what is the best way for something to happen.  Watch your people work.  If you moved a table or another piece of equipment closer to the work how many actual footsteps could you save a worker?

This is the action thinking that pays off with happier employees and more output in production.

Get on it.


This is the hardest step.

If you have ever changed something for the better and two weeks later it was back to the way it worked before, you know what I’m talking about.

Sustaining something means accountability.

Think about your new rule that your ink buckets have to always have lids and be kept clean and neat.  For a few weeks everything is great and then you notice that one of your printers has reverted back to being a slob.  What do you do?

Work Clean

Remember, it is always easier to maintain a neat and orderly shop if you keep it that way.  

Insist that your crews pick up after themselves as they work.  Clean as you go.

“It isn’t what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.”  

If you want a neat, clean and efficiently run shop you have to push those expectations.

This is your leadership challenge.


“The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper and reimagines the world.” – Malcolm Gladwell

“Deadlines aren’t bad. They help you organize your time. They help you set priorities. They help you get going when you might not feel like it.”  – Harvey Mackay

“Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.” – Ben Franklin


Production Manager Tool

From day one, we’ve been devoted to making InkSoft the most useful tool for printing and customization professionals across the industry. While thousands of users are growing their businesses with InkSoft Stores and the Design Studio, we know we still have a lot of work to do to help print shops run more efficiently.

The next big step is a production management tool. We want to bring InkSoft full circle by providing a powerful way for you to streamline production and communication, ultimately boosting profitability and reducing costly mistakes. Not to mention, solving the challenges outlined in this article.