The problem of errors in laboratory work is still a prevalent one in research fields, even though a lot of work is being done to address it. There are various steps that can be taken to minimize the risk of your data sets becoming polluted with incorrect results and other similar types of failure, and using lean methodologies is by far one of the best things you could do for your laboratory. Lean recognizes certain sets of issues which are integral to the work of a typical lab, and it can help you easily overcome those problems and stabilize the output of your research.
Anyone already familiar with lean can probably guess what the number one issue that you should be trying to avoid is waste. In the context of laboratory work, waste can be defined in various ways, but time wasted waiting around for inventory is perhaps the most common problem. Laboratories typically need to ensure the safety of their operating procedures, and sometimes this means requiring their workers to go through some complicated steps in order to get access to certain resources.
Recognizing these cases and eliminating the unnecessary steps in these procedures is a great way to boost productivity and ensure that less time is wasted idling around. Of course, make sure that you don’t go overboard and actually retain the aspects of these procedures which promote the safety of your workers. However, in many cases, these old processes can be revised and simplified, especially with the help of modern technology. It’s not rare that you might be operating on a checklist that was developed years ago when certain advancements didn’t exist yet.
More Efficient Inventory Organization
Another common problem that you will want to pay close attention to is overstocking. This is also somewhat relevant to the issue we described above, as it can lead to increased delays when a worker is trying to procure certain materials. But even without considering that aspect, it’s still a problematic situation because it can promote the generation of even more waste in the future. Being careful with the way you’re handling the storage of materials and ensuring that you don’t order too much is very important.
This relies on having a good overview of your current operations, and this is not always possible. If your lab is running on outdated practices for data collection and retention, it might be time to revise them and get some new systems in place. Without the ability to properly track your inventory and the flow of resources through the laboratory, you will not be able to handle restocking very efficiently. And that, in turn, will lead to a lot of waste being generated in the long run.
Overstocking can also be a problem from a safety standpoint, although this depends on what exactly your laboratory handles in the first place. When it comes to hazardous materials though, it’s obviously always better to be safe than sorry. In some cases, this might mean creating some extra waste in the form of waiting times, as we described earlier, but in this case it’s justified.
Reorganizing Your Physical Space
Another issue which many laboratories don’t pay attention to until it becomes too problematic is the physical layout of the working area. Unnecessary travel times and transportation delays can be a big source of issues in a normal laboratory, and you should pay attention to the way resources are moving through the place. This includes people as well, and it’s a good idea to consult the lab workers and get their opinion on the way they are able to navigate their working space. You will find that many guides related to lean focus a lot on the importance of a sensible physical layout, and for a good reason. Sometimes a simple change can lead to some unexpectedly pronounced results across the board you never know!
Lean has a huge potential to improve the work done by laboratory workers, and to ensure that the amount of errors that come up in their results is kept to an absolute minimum. There is a lot that can be done in the average laboratory to improve its performance, and lean is the perfect tool for that job.