In a world of rapidly changing dynamics, any mechanism that can integrate QC laboratory operations with the manufacturing suite to increase efficiency will prove popular with site management.

Why is this, what are some of the drivers which might influence decision-makers?

Four prime drivers include; the potential for higher throughput, a reduction in cycle time, the opportunity to reduce waste in all its many forms and for the potential to streamline the overall process if it’s properly integrated with production, quality assurance and supply chain. Adding together the impact of these individual reasons produces a very significant benefit which can be immediately translated to the financial bottom line, as well as improving quality compliance.

Building a laboratory approach makes it easier to add in extra analysis capacity without the need for additional head count or equipment. The goal is to provide a better operational plan that avoids the peaks and troughs frequently seen as the norm using a conventional laboratory approach.

Planning for smooth flow also provides the potential for a significant reduction in deviations which impacts the reduction of waste. However, perhaps the most qualitative benefit is in the “culture effect” on the workforce, who will be happier, more engaged and will provide a more meaningful grassroots contribution to the running of the facility. This will have enormous long-lasting benefits related to culture change and new ideas integration and will lay the foundation for the success of a sustainable continuous improvement program.

As this mindset takes hold, there will be more opportunities to employ techniques such as value stream mapping to continuously eliminate waste and ramp up performance. Complementary to all this is the need to look at the spatial layouts of the facility. Important is the occupational health of the individuals operating the space, all tasks involving lifting, moving equipment and movement of samples. All these factors and features will play a prominent role and impact the success of the approach.

To obtain primary information about the needs of the space, it’s a good idea to perform spaghetti plots to highlight bottlenecks and needless repetitious movements which are wasteful.

This better use of resources enables the area management to program work functions which avoid the problems often seen with heavy and low demand situations. One way to help deliver this result is to organize the space into cells to provide regularity and duplication of work function, since this promotes both efficiency and better-quality compliance. Having a well-organized floor plan together with the use of these types of concepts, the space provides for a less chaotic environment with a greater degree of predictability. This is key.

To gain shop floor acceptance and improve culture change, this type of exercise is a great way to accomplish that by involving all the staff and stakeholders. It shows them that they can positively impact the workflow through the ideas using simple techniques such as 5s and kaizen events.

Taking ownership of their working space is integral with the overall success of the program, since it will reduce or even eliminate the resistance to change. Where management can assist with this process is by ensuring that there is effective interfacing and communications with both internal and any external customers. Frequently canvassing these groups in terms of what the concerns are and how the process could be improved will win lots of cooperation as well as potentially putting the best solutions in place, right first time.

In summary then; failing to adapt and add a lean laboratory program to your site’s operation will:

  1. Generate no added involvement by the analysts to improve their functional performance situation.
  2. Special cases and variable flow into the QC laboratory will cause a variable output, potential bottlenecks and customer frustration as a result of a lack of predictability of analyses and outcomes communication.
  3. Cause poor use of resources, particularly labor and materials movement as highlighted by spaghetti diagrams
  4. Increasingly add to the waste in the system which will further add to bottlenecks, delays, increased operating costs and the likelihood of compliance issues.

Note: All this can be analyzed and structured by an experienced laboratory consultant, where the savings and productivity boost will pay for the expertise many times over. Something to think about!