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September 2013
Volume 4, Issue 9

Be More Productive

Remove “Waste” from your laboratory processes

By Bob Yenkner

I want my laboratory to be more productive!” is the typical response that I get when I ask laboratory owners or managers what they see as their greatest challenge. By productive, they mean they want to complete more cases on time with the current resources available. The ability to be more productive rests with the need to develop an ability to identify Waste in the process, then reduce or eliminate it, thus turning wasted time into productive time. Simple concept to present, much tougher to execute.

The 8 Wastes

Waste is defined as the “Elements of the process that require time, effort, and cost, but do not add Value.” Typically, 80-90% of total steps within any given process are Waste from the standpoint of the end customer. That translates into the fact that 92-95% of cycle time is wasted time.

There are 8 Wastes to be learned and recognized in both the laboratory and the office. For ease of remembering, we use the acronym “DOWNTIME.” The “D” is for Defects—product or information that does not meet the customer specifications and thus requires rework or even a remake to correct. The “O” is for Overproduction—producing more product than required. The “W” is Waiting, and includes the time spent waiting for resources, machines, material, or information. The “N” is for Not Utilizing Employees, which is failure to tap into the experience and collective knowledge acquired by performing the job over a long period of time. The “T” is for Transport—the movement of cases, paperwork, tooling, and materials throughout the lab. The “I” is for Inventory, which is excess raw material, work-in-process cases, and paperwork that are not being consumed or processed on a daily basis. The “M” is for Motion, which refers to excess walking, bending, reaching, and searching to perform the work. The “E” is for Excess Processing, which includes performing unnecessary steps such as remakes, multiple inspections, and repeated data entry.

Once the type of Waste has been identified, the underlying causes can be addressed. Root-causes for waste are many. At the top of the list in a laboratory environment are ineffective work practices, large batch production, poor communication, confusing workflow, and insufficient training programs. For example, the Waste of Defects is quite often rooted in incomplete or inaccurate laboratory slips, or too much subjectivity (ie, “bad impression,” “poor margin,” “darker shade”). Another root-cause example is the Waste of Transport, where poor laboratory layout forces the repeated handling and movement of trays. If technicians are moving cases (sorting, stacking, shuffling, moving from department to department), they are performing Non-Value Added work, which negatively impacts productivity.

A fundamental principle of “Lean” is the idea that “anything that does not add value to the product is Waste and must be reduced or eliminated.” The reader will note the principle states “reduced or eliminated” because there is a high probability that some type of Waste will exist despite our best efforts to eradicate it in its various forms. A serious effort to reduce or eliminate Waste begins with recognizing the 8 Wastes within your own laboratory, prioritizing the corrective actions to address the Waste, and learning the appropriate tools to ensure wasteful practices do not return.

Learn about the 8 Wastes, find them in your laboratory, and turn wasted time into productive time for an instant productivity gain.

The acronym, DOWNTIME, helps lab owners remember the 8 Wastes that can compromise productivity.




Not utilizing employees




Excess Processing

Bob Yenkner is the principal/owner of Practical Process Improvement | ryenkner3@comcast.net

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