Increasing Laboratory Capacity & Throughput

Overview

  • Decreased Laboratory testing lead time by 86%.
  • Reduced operational costs by 20% year on year, 3 years consecutively.
  • Increased testing capacity by 80% without additional resources.
  • Levelled experimental process flow eliminating major bottlenecks.

Background

The company was developing a novel and disruptive process for the production of speciality metal powders. The Research & Development arm of the business played a vital role in supporting both process development and feasibility testing for new products. Each R&D test was conducted by a small team of highly skilled technicians, carrying out around 300 tests each year.

Mike was instrumental in producitonising the Metalysis R&D facility. He was able to identify weakness in the system and successfully put practices in place to solve them.

Nick Van Dijk R&D Manager

Challenges

Inconsistent quality: Experiments carried out within a sequence of trials yielded highly variable results. This meant that it was almost impossible to make reasonable comparisons or draw meaningful conclusions.

Non-standard reporting & communication channels: There was no formal or standardised system for reporting of both experimental information and analytical data. This led to frequent experimental errors, lost or missing data and loss of important learning.

Lengthy experimental lead times: Each test took at least three weeks to complete, from design to delivery of results. It was often the case that by the time the results were made available the purpose for the tests had been forgotten or was no longer relevant to the project.

Root Causes

The initial assessment found that the laboratories had no standardised procedures or systems in place. Staff tended to organise their own tools, equipment and materials. The analysis identified the following issues:

  • There were no set standards for experimental methods, materials, equipment design, training, or reporting structure.
  • Clear work specifications and work instructions for technicians was absent.
  • There were no controls to prevent modifications or changes whilst the experiment was taking place.
  • Experimental record keeping was inadequate or absent.
  • Tools and materials were often unavailable or missing.

Objectives

  • To deliver Lean Six Sigma training across the company.
  • To increase the understanding of the main concepts and techniques of Lean Six Sigma.
  • Provide staff with a common language so they can understand and engage with current process improvement activities.
  • Give the staff the skills to identify opportunities for improvements and to make a business case using data.

A series of kaizen events were carried out to define, agree and implement the new working standards and practices. Once this was achieved, further process improvement projects were implemented as discrete stand-alone events. This meant that the immediate benefit of each could be validated and quantified to measure the success. The improvement events carried out were:

  • Standardising the format for requesting of laboratory experiments.
  • Staff training on the principles and tools of Lean process improvement.
  • Implementation of Lean workplace organisation (5S).
  • Implementation of Lean rapid turnaround methods. (SMED
  • Development and implementation of process monitoring for process control and identification of future improvements.

The Solution

  • Process mapping of laboratory testing from the requirements and specifications of the scientists to the delivery of results.
  • Identification of best laboratory practice through consultation with stakeholders, scientists, analysts and technicians.
  • Identification of key input and output data in terms of detailing the critical information needed to perform the tests together with the types of data and information required from the test results.
  • Laboratory standardisation of equipment, tools and materials required for all preparative and in-process activities.
  • Balancing the process by uncovering areas across all experimental activities where bottlenecks or barriers exist. Identification of solutions to remove them to provide a smooth and balanced process flow.

The Benefits

Faster Experimental Turnaround

The time it took to prepare, perform and analyse the experiments was reduced from 3 weeks to 3 days.

Reduced Costs

Operational costs were reduced by more than 20% for three consecutive years.

Smoothed Process Flow

Reduced overburdening both equipment and staff by levelling the daily workload facilitating smoother laboratory process flow.

Improved Quality

Laboratory standardisation of work practices increased both the accuracy and repeatability of the test results, reducing the statistical relative standard deviation from 30% to 3%.

Increased Capacity

Increased the capacity of the laboratory to complete 80% more experiments, without requiring any additional resources.

Increased Confidence

Increased the capacity of the laboratory to complete 80% more experiments, without requiring any additional resources.

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