Has your QC Lab grown naturally over a period of time from a small lab into a bigger lab due to a growth in business demand? Are your employees under a lot of stress with never ending emails and phone calls from production and supply chain looking for sample approval? This expansion in activity is great news for the business but is most likely causing operational problems in your lab.
A Laboratory is usually a busy environment with many different activities simultaneously in progress. Having a good understanding of what is happening with each sample and test, or at least having quick access to that information is essential to the smooth running of that lab. Consequently, the importance of good, effective and up to date Visual Management cannot be overstated.
One of the key goals of ‘Lean Lab’ is to create lab processes that operate and are resourced at the ‘levelled demand rate’. This enables the Lab to efficiently and productively meet the needs of the business.
Building (or refurbishing) laboratories is a costly and time-consuming activity for a company. Poorly designed spaces can be costly in terms of lost productivity, slower turn around times and higher inventory of equipment and consumables.
Laboratories with project based workloads often have greater volatility in both the volume and mix of work than other lab types. The work content of later steps may only be clear after the preceding step is complete. This all adds to an inherently unpredictable workload, both for the overall lab and for individual personnel. But there are some core strategies that you can deploy to make project labs more productive.
Raw Materials / Consumables Laboratories – Understanding the Nuances and a Strategy to Ensure Best in Class Performance
Raw materials / consumables labs are integral to the smooth and stable operation of a production plant and as such they perform a very important function. The cardinal sin for an incoming materials laboratory is to cause a change in the production schedule due to a material not being released on time. While most plants will try to have some sort of fixed production schedule, production environments are inherently fluidic and dynamic in nature. This fluidity can negatively impact the lab; often leading to constant prioritization and re-prioritization cycles of materials to be tested in the laboratory. This means that a lot of unnecessary non value-add effort is expended on scheduling. The net effect of all of this is a pressurized environment where analysts feel that they are in constant firefighting mode.
Laboratories are not the same as manufacturing environments so do the standard Lean ‘Wastes’ even apply in Labs?
Since the emergence of the Toyota Production System (TPS) in the early nineties there have been many successful introductions of Lean manufacturing to all types of differing industries from Healthcare to Retail. Providing Lean consulting services has become big business. But without understanding the deeper principles behind Lean, companies can be too focused on the application of Lean Tools instead of deploying Lean as a holistic system. “Managers are struggling to combine lean techniques into a coherent system.” (Womack & Jones, Beyond Toyota: How to Root Out Waste and Persue Perfection, 1996)
The concept of flow is a key element in achieving lean operations. This fact has not gone unnoticed by laboratories but many still struggle to achieve real flow and very often the final review and release of samples can prove to be somewhat of a bottle neck. The final review and release tasks should not be thought of as being autonomous or decoupled from the testing process and should be incorporated in the flowed process.
QC test methods and the overall testing approach employed in laboratories can themselves be inherently wasteful. What steps should be taken to identify and eliminate such waste?