Shadow Board For Tools: Utilizing The 5s Board System In Work Facilities

shadow board for tools 5s board

Imagine a workplace where there is little to no organizational policy implemented. Be it in the healthcare industry, food industry, or electronics industry, employers are working and they would have to stop to look for tools; or emergency situations arise and no one is ready because tools and equipment are nowhere to be found; or accidents happen because appropriate tools aren’t available. Or simply imagine a work desk where all your stuff is cluttered. Things would likely turn into a disaster when there is no proper organization implemented.

Establishing and maintaining an organization in a workplace is a necessity. It is beneficial both for the employer and the employee, ensuring that the business is highly efficient, employees are engaged, and no unnecessary waste. One of the most effective strategies to establish and maintain organization in an industrial workplace such as the electronics, construction, mining, and manufacturing industry, is using a shadow board system. Using a shadow board for tools isn't only for 5S compliance; there's more to its benefits than one believes.


What is a 5S Board Strategy?

what is 5s strategy for shadowboard

Developed in Japan by Toyota, 5S is an innovative management system for organizing workplaces. It aims to eliminate waste, improve flow, and reduce the number of processes if possible. This system applies 5 key principles - Sort, Set In order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. Implementing 5S is essential because it can lead to more efficient ways of operating the workplace.

  • Sort: Implies eliminating unnecessary tools, materials, and parts. In this step, only essential items are kept, and everything else is stored or discarded.
  • Set In Order: Focuses on arranging tools, materials, and parts in an order that the most used items are the easiest to locate. With this, you can eliminate time wasted in obtaining items for operation.
  • Shine: Involves cleaning the workspace and all equipment and keeping the workspace clean, tidy, and organized. With this, it is easier to know that everything is stored where it belongs.
  • Standardize: Ensures identity in workstations and that everyone knows exactly their responsibilities.
  • Sustain: Once the first 4 steps are established, the next step is to ensure that standards are maintained and reviewed. It is essential to conduct regular reviews of the procedures and tools for necessary changes and continuous improvement.


What is a Tool Shadow Board System?

A solution for tool management and control, the Tool Shadow Board System is a technique to enable an organized workplace. It is a form of storage board for tools, supplies, and equipment typically found in work facilities such as production, manufacturing, and service work environments. The Shadow Board System organizes and secures devices in a visually optimized way for easy retrieval and access.

Shadow boards system aims to achieve an organized workplace where pieces of equipment, tools, and supplies are stored in appropriate areas close to the work area or work stations. Often, shadow boards are used for grouping tools wherein their locations are marked. They can be of different sizes and should hold all the necessary tools for a specific work area.

Shadow board systems can be of two types - shadow board or shadow foam. Shadow boards for tools are usually in a vertical position and are made of wood, metal, or acrylic frames. Tools are hung and when a tool is taken from the board, an employee has to place his tag (name or number) on the pivot for identification and tracking of the tool’s location.
On the other hand, shadow foam is made of control foam, cut with the tool’s exact dimensions. Shadow foam is covered with a robust box for portability and protection. In comparison with shadow boards, shadow foam is used for more expensive and sensitive tools that require frequent calibration and thorough monitoring.

Shadow Boards For Tools: Key Elements

Employers can work productively by significantly reducing waste. An effective way to do that is to visually optimize your shadow boards. Here are three essential elements of a shadow board:

  • ID Tag - Labeling the tools on the board makes it easier even for people unfamiliar with the company’s system to locate and return items to their designated places. It also helps with sustaining organizational systems in the workplace on a daily basis. This way, even if the worker doesn’t know or forgets the location of the tool, the answer is visible.
  • Color Code - Enhancing the visual standards of the board helps overcome verbal and written communication barriers. Color coding in shadow boards promotes easier identification and grouping of tools.
  • Tool’s Shadow - Tool outlining is an effective way to make the organization of a tool shadow board more visual, making it easier for workers to observe organization procedures without too much thought. This way, workers can return tools to their proper place even if they forgot the color code or name of the tool.


Tool Shadow Board: Advantages and Benefits

advantages of using a shadow board

Shadow boards are an essential tool in organizing and managing tools in work environments, from manufacturing floors to auto repair shops. Here are the key benefits of implementing a shadow board system:

Systematic Storage

Given the number of padlocks, tags, lockout hasps, lockout devices, manufacturing tools, and all other production-related tools, it is not surprising to have them misplaced or worse, lost. It can be frustrating and can cause industry hazards. Hence, it is critical to guarantee that there's a place for everything, and everything should be in its place.

The tool shadow board system promotes an organized system making things easily accessible when needed. Utilizing this would also indicate visual identification of the status of the tools whether they are in use or missing, thus eliminating the need for workers to search around. Moreover, shadow boards promote organization and order in the workplace since each device can only be returned in its appropriate space.

Standardization and Effective Visual Solutions

Visual solutions are always more effective than any other medium when it comes to communication. The Shadow Board System's advantage is that it can utilize details such as branding, color, logo, visual instructions, names of workers, etc., making it more visually attractive and easy to understand.

Shadow boards help standardize your entire color-coding plan, making it easy for any worker to hop in at any station and understand the color codes and know what tools go where even if they aren’t familiar with that station or its tools. This also helps in recognizing the tools they need and easily finding where to return them based on the tool outline. Employees would also most likely respond quicker if their brains associate a color on the shadow board with a tool. This is great for new employees and even for a multilingual workforce. With this, you can display the quality of your standards and company message in a highly visible way. Shadow boards for tools often have usage instructions indicated alongside, which is another way to serve as a reminder when a device or tool is used.

Improved Employee Productivity

Cluttered manufacturing usually slows down production and leads to preventable mistakes, sometimes even accidents. It is often a waste of time to look for a needed tool when there's no particular place to locate them. Imagine if it happens once a day, consuming at least five minutes to look for the tool, over a month. Well, that time adds up and may result in additional operating costs. Using Tool Shadow Board can help workers track the whereabouts of particular tools and devices. This way, employees can save time and can work more productively.

Easy Traceability and Cost-Efficient

Finding a particular device or realizing that it has gone missing is never difficult when there is an assigned storage area for it. Keeping track of the whereabouts of workplace tools helps to quickly spot missing or broken devices, which eventually results in immediate repairs or replacement.

Aside from that, some workers could quickly recognize that an operation is taking place if there is an empty slot on the tool shadow board. With a Tool Shadow Board, companies can keep track of essential tools, ensuring there are backup solutions implemented in case a breakdown occurs or if tools are in use.

Shadow Board is also a great advantage in tool inventory. A clear inventory of tools means keeping track of the item and thus reducing duplication of tools and unnecessary constant replacement. Companies can eliminate unnecessary spending and enforce a more cost-efficient workplace.

Strengthened Accountability

Having a specific storage place would make workers feel accountable for the equipment. They will feel the need to clear the equipment or area for regular use and return the tools to where they are supposed to be. In this system, devices can be safely and securely kept without the constant reminders of supervisors.

Promote Safety

Another benefit of shadow boards is that it promotes safety both for the tools and employees. Tools should be stored in secure areas; otherwise, they can cause potential harm to workers. When workers are unable to find the appropriate tool for a task, they may resort to utilizing an alternative that is often inappropriate or not in good condition. This compromises the safety of workers as it can possibly lead to accidents.

Using a tool shadow board also means a more organized workstation thus lesser chances of running into, tripping over, grabbing the wrong item, catching on fire, or any other type of damage. Moreover, it also reduces the risk of slip-and-fall accidents, malfunctions, and other issues. This way, employees would feel more confident and safer.

Aside from the safety of employees, the tool shadow board also guarantees the safety of tools. Some tools items can be easily damaged when improperly stored which is problematic especially when the cost of the item is high.


DIY Shadow Board For Tools: How To Make A Proper Tool Shadow Board

shadow board for tools
Creating a shadow board that works well isn't hard. Before diving into how to build your own, you might first consider if a pre-made option suits your needs. Here’s a quick look at some top-rated shadow boards available on the market:

Best Shadow Boards on the Market

Uline Steel Frame Tool Shadow Board

  • Key Features: Constructed with a robust steel frame; features high-contrast color coding and clear tool outlines; comes with hardware for wall mounting
  • Best For: Best suited for environments that demand heavy-duty tool storage solutions, such as automotive workshops, manufacturing facilities, and maintenance areas.

ComplianceSigns Customizable Tool Shadow Board

  • Key Features: Offers fully customizable layouts to perfectly fit specific tool sets, features high-contrast colors and clear, precise tool shadows for quick identification and organization; available in various sizes.
  • Best For: Ideal for environments that require strict organization and quick tool access, such as medical facilities, electronics manufacturing, and aviation maintenance shops.

Grainger Industrial Shadow Board

  • Key Features: Constructed with industrial-grade materials; can be tailored to fit specific tools and workplace needs; offers options for wall mounting or mobile setups with casters.
  • Best For: Suitable for heavy industrial settings like factories, garages, and construction sites where tool durability and easy access are critical.

If these products don't quite meet your specific needs or if you're up for a DIY project, you can certainly create your own shadow board. Here’s a guide to help you do just that:

Step 1: Identify the tools you need

A shadow board should not have more than what is required in a specific workstation nor have less than what is needed. Gather all your tools and hardware first so you can decide which will go on the shadow board. Choose only the essential ones and make sure to position your tools as close as possible to the workstation.

Step 2: Choose your shadowboard materials

When designing a shadow board, selecting the right materials is crucial for ensuring durability and effectiveness. There are various options you can consider for the base of the board, as well as the key elements of the shadow board for tools - labeling and color-coding:

Board Material

The material you choose for your shadow board should withstand the daily wear and tear of your work environment. Here are some common options:

  • Metal: Ideal for heavy-duty industrial settings, metal boards are highly durable and can support heavier tools without bending or breaking. They are easy to clean and resist oil, grease, and chemical spills. Stainless steel and aluminum are popular choices due to their strength and rust resistance.
  • Wood: Wood boards offer a sturdy base and can be a more cost-effective option. They are suitable for environments where aesthetic appeal is also a consideration. However, wood requires more maintenance as it can absorb oils and is susceptible to warping in humid conditions.
  • High-Density Foam: Foam boards are lightweight and versatile. They can be easily cut and shaped to fit any tool outline, making them ideal for detailed custom shadow boards. Foam is also great for environments where noise reduction is important, as it doesn't clank or echo when tools are replaced.


Effective labeling is key to maintaining the organization of a shadow board. Plastic labels are durable and resistant to environmental factors such as moisture and chemicals. Plastic labels can be color-coded and come in various shapes and sizes, which is great for categorization. For a more permanent solution, engraved tags can be used. These are usually made from metal or hard plastic and can withstand a lot of abuse without fading or wearing off. Direct printing can be achieved using a UV printer. This method prints the labels directly onto the board and ensures that labels do not peel off over time and remain clear and readable.

Color Coding

Color coding enhances the visual management of tools and can significantly speed up the identification process. There are several options as to how you can integrate colors into your tool shadow board effectively:

  • Use Contrast: Choose high-contrast colors for the background of the board and the outlines of the tools. This makes each tool’s silhouette stand out clearly, making it easy to identify missing tools at a glance.
  • Categorize with Color: Assign specific colors to different types of tools. For example, all cutting tools might have red outlines while measuring tools could have blue. This not only beautifies the board but also aids in quick tool identification and return.
  • Safety Signaling: Utilize colors that are commonly associated with safety and instructions in your industry. For example, bright yellow is often used for caution, which could be used to outline tools that require extra careful handling.

Choosing the right materials for your shadow board is about balancing functionality, durability, and visual management. Consider the specific needs of your workspace, the type of tools you use, and the environmental conditions to select the best materials for your shadow board.

Step 3. Plan and create shadow board layout

Designing the layout of a shadow board is essential for maximizing its efficiency and utility. Begin by evaluating which tools are used most frequently. These should be placed in the most accessible areas of the shadow board to minimize effort and time in retrieving and returning them.

Organizing tools in logical groups can greatly enhance the usability of the shadow board. Here are some strategies to use in grouping tools logically in your shadow board.

  • By Function: Arrange tools that perform similar functions together. For example, all screwdrivers, wrenches, or cutting tools should be grouped to allow for quick selection without confusion.
  • By Project: If tools are often used together for specific tasks or projects, consider grouping them accordingly. This can be especially useful in settings where workers switch between different types of tasks regularly.
  • By Frequency of Use: Group tools by how often they are used. Frequently used tools should be at the center or lower part of the board for easy access, while seldom-used tools can be placed higher up or on the periphery.

When laying out tools on the board, ensure there is sufficient space around each tool. This spacing helps prevent accidents and damage to tools as they are removed or replaced. It also reduces the likelihood of grabbing the wrong tool in a hurry. To do this, maintain uniform gaps and give enough space for tools of various shapes and sizes. Also, ensure that every tool on the board is clearly visible and easily accessible. Avoid overcrowding, and use adequate lighting to enhance visibility if the board is positioned in a dimly lit area.

Once you have your layout planned, the next step is to create outlines for each tool. This is what makes it a "shadow" board. Trace each tool with a marker or paint and include details like handles or any other parts that might need extra space around them for easy handling.

Step 4: Install the shadow board

Choose a location for your shadow board that is both convenient and visible. It should be easily accessible to all who need the tools and in a spot that doesn’t interrupt the workflow. You can mount the tool board by securing it firmly to a wall or a mobile stand. It is important to ensure that the shadow board is placed at eye level or slightly lower to make it easy to scan and access.


Tools and devices are assets of the company, and it's necessary they are properly stored and maintained. Every workplace industry is unique with its own distinct requirements and demands in every aspect, such as tool management. In this area, the most effective solution for most companies involves the use of shadow boards.

Implementation of shadow boards is an innovative, cost-effective, and time-saving investment. It delivers efficiencies that can benefit everyone. Moreover, with the strong requirement of the government for a safer workplace, one can never afford to be complacent when it comes to organization. No matter how big or small the company is, properly implementing the shadow board system is a huge advantage.



What is the difference between shadow board and tool box?

A shadow board displays tools on a flat board with marked outlines showing where each tool fits, making it easy to see what's missing at a glance. A toolbox, on the other hand, is a container where tools are stored together, usually in compartments, which can make it harder to quickly identify if a tool is missing.

What is the best material for shadow board?

The best material for a shadow board depends on the work environment. For most industrial settings, metal (like aluminum or stainless steel) is preferred for its durability and ease of cleaning. High-density foam is also popular for its lightweight and ability to be customized easily.

What is the benefit of using a shadow board to store tools and equipment?

Using a shadow board helps in organizing tools visibly and accessibly, reducing the time spent searching for them. It enhances efficiency, prevents tool loss, and improves safety by reducing workplace clutter. It also helps in quickly identifying missing tools, thus maintaining accountability.

How do you make a shadow board for tools?

To make a shadow board, start by selecting a durable material suitable for your environment. Arrange your tools on the board to determine an efficient layout. Trace the outlines of each tool onto the board, then cut these shapes out if using foam, or mark them clearly. Install the board in an accessible area and use labels and color coding for better organization. Ensure regular maintenance to keep it functional.

The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.


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Author: Herbert Post

Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.