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?
In operations where the short interval (e.g. daily or weekly) workload varies, the most common method of distributing the work is to share it equally between the available people. We call this method “available work through available people”. The consequence of this approach is that even low daily workloads expand to fill the day resulting in poor productivity. Carefully designed standard work can improve your department’s performance by consistently making the most out of people’s time.
Lean originated in the automotive industry and it’s easy to see how the tools and concepts are a good fit for that type of manufacturing. It’s much less obvious however that Lean can and should be applied in Labs. In recent times Lean Lab projects have become quite common but…
Is Lean really an appropriate strategy in the Lab environment or are labs just blindly following trends?