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Applying Lean in the QC Lab Part 2: Identifying Types of Waste

POSTED BY Rapid Micro Biosystems | 5 minute read

identifying_waste_fasterIn the first part of our series on applying lean in the quality control (QC) lab, we discussed the key principles of lean manufacturing. Today, we’ll discuss the steps to identify waste that exist in the current process.  These are the areas that typically provide the most opportunity to save time and resources.

It is generally known that the concept of lean manufacturing was introduced by Toyota back in the 1980s. Toyota brought the concept of lean manufacturing to the forefront; categorizing waste into 3 types: 

  • Muda— often called the “seven forms of waste,” includes waste in areas such as transportation, over-production, defects, inventory, motion, excessive processing and waiting
  • Muri—waste as a result of burdensome pressure on employees and equipment
  • Mura—waste due to variation in processes

Much like Toyota and most modern manufacturers, the QC lab can benefit by reviewing their processes to identify areas of waste. Not all of the seven forms of waste may apply for the lab, but it is worth a deep analysis to find the opportunities for improvement. In addition, process improvement alone may not eliminate waste. Automation, which will be discussed in the next blog post, can also have an impact on waste.

Perhaps the largest area of waste for the QC lab, is waiting for samples as they incubate. Microbiology requires growth and growth takes time. Newer, rapid technologies may be able to reduce the waiting time. 


Transportation deals with the movement of personnel, resources or information from one point to another. Typically, this would refer to materials that are not actually needed to perform the work. For the lab, this could be excess materials taken to testing areas that were not needed.


Not to be confused with transportation, motion refers to the movement of people required to do the process is a form of transportation that could result in waste. For the QC lab, this could be as simple as traveling across the lab for a petri plate or across the campus of a major manufacturing facility to gather samples and transport them back. Looking at the location of materials in the lab could hold the key to reducing the amount of motion. 

Defects or Errors

In manufacturing, this typically means that a product or sample fails to meet specifications.  For the lab, this could be any issue or error that drives an additional investigation. If those errors are the result of data transcription, for example, there is an opportunity for improvement through automation. 


More typical to manufacturing, this is the production of materials when they are not needed (in our last post, we referred to this as a push-driven environment). For the QC lab, this could be interpreted as the need to perform a retest. In both scenarios, it is potentially wasted time and materials.  


More focused on manufacturing, this goes hand-in-hand with overproduction. When manufacturers produce too much material, it ends up sitting in inventory unused. A lab could look at the testing material as an area to eliminate inventory waste. 


For the lab, this could be the need for more resources than required for testing. Essentially, this occurs when too much work is put into the process and no value is added.

As you think about your laboratory environment, there are likely a few areas of waste where the adoption of lean principles can help. And due to the complexity and highly regulated nature of pharmaceutical manufacturing, the more waste that can be eliminated, the better the business’ ability to bring quality products to market faster and more efficiently.

In the final edition of this series, we will touch on the key benefits QC labs can realize with the use of automation. 

To learn more about implementing lean initiatives, register for this on-demand webinar hosted by Kevin Walsh, Technical Services Manager at Rapid Micro Biosystems. 

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