In the framework of Lean Six Sigma process excellence in the laboratory, every activity performed on the bench, on an instrument, or digitally is subject to a strict definition categorizing it as Value-Add, Incidental, or Wasteful (click here to read more about this...
). A wasteful activity is something that does not add any value to your operation and falls into one of the 7 categories below. You’d be surprised at how many wasteful activities you will find in your lab, and pleasantly surprised at the positive impact you can have on your business by tackling and eliminating them.
1. Redo’s & Quality Errors
The biggest waste in most laboratories is the need to rework/redo tests. If you charge a fixed price per test, and then need to redo that test for whatever reason, you are essentially providing the result to your customer for free! That’s no way to make a profit. By building in highly capable error proofing systems and automation into your processes, you can dramatically reduce the number of quality errors you encounter.
We often don’t think about how many steps or motions we make in a day, especially in a fast paced laboratory environment. By simply taking a look at your bench and lab layout, you can dramatically reduce the amount of time and energy spent carrying out physical processes. Move the computer closer to the instrument? Move the printer closer to the computer? Automate a task that doesn’t fit into your physical layout? By doing a few simple things you can save hundreds of kilometres of cumulative unnecessary walking by your lab staff.
Far too often we have encountered labs that complete so many redundant checks and verifications in the name of quality or accreditation. The reality is that most laboratory accreditation’s have significant flexibility built in, and as long as you can clearly demonstrate to an auditor how you fulfill the requirement, you will meet your requirements. Make sure you are providing the quality that your client is paying for, but don’t go overboard- it will have dramatic implications to your operational efficiency. Extra-processing can also refer to the unnecessary pointing and clicking and flipping between applications that often accompanies complex lab processes. Do yourself a favour and build in some automation to get rid of this!
Identifying bottlenecks in the lab is a critical component in improving your operational efficiency. Sometimes this can be your sample entry point, sometimes it can be a physical prep process, and sometime it’s an instrument run-time holding things up. By honing in and improving the efficiency of the processes that hold up the rest of your lab, you can have a major impact on multiple aspects of your operation.
How do your samples physically flow through your lab? Whether you’re dealing with massive gas cylinders or tiny centrifuge tubes, every time you move your samples from place to place is a waste that your client isn’t paying you for. The heavier or more cumbersome the sample, the more significant the cost to your business. Give the physical flow of your samples some thought and see if it makes sense to move them around so much.
6. Work in Progress & Extra Inventory
Extra inventory can refer to two things in a laboratory context. The first is when samples are piled up and waiting to move on to the next step in the process and is called ‘Work in Progress’ (this is a bit different from #4 where you would be waiting FOR the samples). This problem can be addressed the same way as #4 however by looking at the bottleneck that is causing the extra inventory (samples) to be piling up and improving it. The second is extra inventory of supplies, materials, spare parts that are collected around your laboratory. By keeping a clutter free environment, you can dramatically improve your working environment, as well as improve your process efficiency by spending less time looking for materials or equipment. Decide on the amount of inventory you NEED to keep in the lab (based on delivery lead time and frequency of use) and then use the Lean Six Sigma principle of 5S to help reduce the extras!
Overproduction can come in many forms in a laboratory context. Are you providing more information than you customer actually needs on the final report? Are you doing more QA/QC checks than are necessary? Are you performing extra steps in your testing that aren’t actually needed? The only way to tackle this problem is by having a really true and solid understanding of what your client actually requires and are willing to pay for (not what you think they want).