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Applying Lean in the Lab – the role of Automated Rapid Methods

Written by Deborah Brusini | Jul 19, 2010 1:32:00 PM

Applying Lean in the Lab – the role of Automated Rapid Methods

I recently listened to the webcast, “Applying Lean in the Lab”, hosted through Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and featuring speakers from BSM Consulting, Allergan, and Pharmatech Associates.  For anyone who thinks lean is just for manufacturing, this webcast builds a compelling argument that lean works for the lab as well.

Tom Reynolds of BSM opened noting that while the Toyota production system was designed for a short cycle environment, very different from a lab, there is application of lean principals for the lab, even if in slightly different ways.

Tom pointed out that lean is not simply elimination of waste.  The real intent is the complete and thorough elimination of wasteful practices.  For the lab, the biggest opportunity is in leveling workloads.  Without leveled workloads, lab staff exists in a constant cycle of either running behind with too much work, then catching up when the work disappears.

It is easy to see how automation, used correctly, can support the lean lab concept.  If lean is the elimination of wasteful practices and unnecessary steps, automation can be a key to eliminating steps that are unnecessary in the modern QC lab.

Consider any micro testing scenario. The test is generally split into two repetitive actions, sample prep and colony enumeration.  Of the two, the enumeration step is more prone to errors and can benefit the most from automation.  Eliminating the manual steps in colony enumeration, along with the errors which come with highly manual operations and the subsequent required investigations into the error source creates time savings and removes wasteful steps.

With regard to workload leveling, scheduling of samples, incubation time and tests helps to create a uniform workflow.   Automated movement of the sample from incubator to read without human intervention eliminates time consuming manual steps.

Margaret Wyche of Allergan noted one of the benefits of lean in her HPLC lab was improved work/life balance for her team. It is easy to see how the elimination of wasteful processes can open time for the QC staff to perform more value-added activities.

Bikash Chatterjee of Pharmatech Associates mentioned that the basic principals of process analysis and efficiency that are core to lean principals can apply to any process.  This is certainly the case in the area of rapid detection, and more specifically automated rapid detection.

Successful Pharmaceutical Manufacturers will be ahead of the curve in the application of lean best practices and practical automation to QC operations. Testing organizations can expect the demand on them to increase while available resources decrease.

If you have not listened to this webcast, you can find it at the following link

Mark Severns
Marketing Manager
Rapid Micro Biosystems