Everything your need to know about Lean Lab Practices

Kevin Hill of Quality Scales Unlimited shares the four cornerstones of building a lean lab

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The Lean Enterprise Institute defines lean as the effort to “maximize customer value while minimizing waste… creating more value with fewer resources”.

Lean principles became popularized in the manufacturing industry and following their success filtered to other sectors who were keen to benefit from efficiency gains.

One field which has been exploring how lean principles could deliver operational and productivity improvements is the analytical laboratory.


What is a Lean Lab?

A ‘lean lab’ focuses on process optimization to deliver results in the most efficient manner, in terms of speed, cost and resources.

The end goal is to drive efficiency across the entire lab, from reducing time deficits from inefficient processes to minimizing waste using improved weighing practices. 

There are four primary goals of a ‘lean lab’

  • Improving productivity within the QC lab: This can reduce the lead times for delivery to the customer and reduce the cost of operations. Consistency can also be maintained.
  • Enhancing first-time quality: This can reduce rework and investigations.
  • Building a culture of continuous improvements: This allows all employees to focus on fresh and innovative ideas that can improve the operation of the lab. Continuous improvement also brings sustainable benefits to the business, the team and the customer.
  • Developing standard yet flexible and holistic lab design: These practices can then be replicated across the global network



How can a Lab drive lean principles?

A ‘lean lab’ should focus on four key practices.


1. Value Stream Mapping

In order to identify waste is in your lab, organize a ‘kaizen event’. This is a well-defined and short-term project which focuses on improving the existing processes.

At the beginning of the event, create a map that outlines the current state of the process. This must include the task, duration and deliverable of each stage. When you have a clear vision of the entire workflow, it will get easy to identify the waste and bottleneck activities.

Next, create a future-state map which demonstrates the ideal specimen management process. Keep the fit, form or function as the key principles.

Once both maps are created, implement the improvements by modifying the facility’s layout, processes and workspaces as defined in the future state map. 


2. 5S Workplace Organization

5S is a lean method that improves safety and increases productivity. This concept is designed to reduce waste and optimize productivity by organizing the workplace in a better way.

The 5S lean approach includes:

  • Sort: Sort through all the items and mark the unnecessary items. Move these items into a temporary holding area. The management can then determine how to dispose of unnecessary items.
  • Set in Order: Choose the best location for the remaining items. Set triggers for reordering and inventory limits.
  • Shine: Clean the lab to eliminate contamination. Try to detect equipment abnormalities and potential failures while cleaning.
  • Standardize: Create procedures and guidelines to maintain the first 3 S’s. Use check sheets and schedules to provide daily, monthly or quarterly instructions on how to maintain order.
  • Sustain: Communicate and train your employees to maintain the lean lab’s adherence to 5S standards.


3. Visual Workplace

The main objective of a visual workplace is to eliminate information deficits and minimize wastage of time associated with asking, searching or waiting for resources.

Use visual cues like labels, colors and signs within the lab. A visual workplace ensures that the improvements are easily understood and clearly visible to all the employees.

Visual cues let you assess a designated workspace immediately and make the absence of any item obvious.


4. Work Cell Specimen Processing

This is the physical or logical layout of all the testing and processing equipment, machines, technicians and materials through which the specimen flows.

For creating work cells in your lab, determine what is needed – tools, tasks, materials and information. If you don’t have enough space, implement a 5S event to eliminate excess equipment and free up some space.

Work cells help in:

  • Minimizing movement
  • Decreasing set-up time
  • Reducing batch sizes
  • Improving lab safety
  • Standardizing work processes with visual cues

Lean laboratory management helps in organizing, cleaning, developing and sustaining an efficient and productive lab environment.