The 5S Approach To A Lean Lab

What is Lean?

Lean production (lean) is a popular quality improvement methodology that can be traced back to manufacturing and technology. Lean manufacturing principles can be used to improve efficiency in the laboratory environment. Lean has been adopted by many health care organizations and laboratories to help eliminate waste, organize the workplace, streamline procedures and establish clear, visual standards.

According to a 2007 white paper written by the Mayo Clinic Mayo Medical Laboratories “Innovations in the Clinical Laboratory – An Overview of Lean Principles in the Laboratory,” Lean is a based on eliminating waste and continuous improvement: “This is done while intently concentrating on eliminating redundant motion, recognizing waste, and identifying what creates value from the client’s perspective. Lean is a continuous process improvement initiative and not an end destination.”

What is 5S Lean?

The disciplined approach of the lean methodology provides many benefits:

  • Reduces waste/clutter
  • Creates a culture of responsibility
  • Increased lab safety
  • Enhance employee morale and involvement
  • Organization
  • Cleanliness
  • Space savings
  • Increases inventory control
  • More consistent experiments
  • Increases productivity
  • Faster onboarding of new employees
  • Timely delivery of supplies

Simply put, 5S Lean is an enabler of waste-free production that supports an operating philosophy that emphasizes discipline, efficiency, and attention to detail. In the modern lab, where many labs have faced reduced budgets and fewer staff members, adopting the lean methodology can result in a more cost-effective and safer way to manage processes. Applying the 5S lean methodology in the laboratory environment will improve efficiencies and lab safety for current and future employees.

What are the 5 S’s?

There are five phases of the 5S Lean methodology, you may be familiar with the Japanese names, here are the five phases translated into English. It is important to note that you will want to establish a baseline for the target work areas before you begin the implementation process. This way you are able to document your baseline “before” condition with pictures and a description of the original work area configuration to use as a comparison during future audits.

  • Sort
  • Set in Order
  • Shine
  • Standardize
  • Sustain

Sort (Seri) is based on removing unnecessary items and disposing of them properly. Work is made easier by eliminating obstacles and you will reduce the chance of being disturbed by unnecessary items in the lab. This phase will also help prevent the accumulation of unnecessary items and it will also assist in the evaluation of necessary items with regard to debt, cost, and other important factors.

Key steps

  • Establish a holding area for items (e.g. red tag area)
  • Identify items not required at the current location
  • Organize team members to evaluate items in the holding area
  • Dispose of items with team approval

Set in Order (Seiton) is where you arrange all necessary items in order so they can be easily picked up for use. This phase focuses on preventing loss and wasting time, making it easy to find and identify the necessary tools, equipment, and supplies. You will want to identify sources of waste and rearrange items.

Key Steps

  • Identify necessary tools, equipment, and supplies
  • Determine location for necessary items
    • Item location considerations (pipettes will be used daily)
      • Daily use (lab bench) e.g. Pipettes
      • Weekly use (common storage area) e.g. buffer solutions
      • Monthly use (remote storage area) e.g. highly specialized lab items
  • Designate and outline permanent locations for items
    • How to set in order
      • Define the major processes performed
      • For each process, draw a map of the locations of each activity
      • Identify sources of waste and develop corrective measures
      • Position items where they are needed based on frequency
  • Organization of supplies
    • Determine address system with part number and address
    • Label container with part number
    • Note minimum and maximum quantity if appropriate
      • Inventory bins and shelves (holding product)
        • 2 bin system (2 bins for each product and once 1 bin is empty you will want to refill the bin)
        • Min/Max (max red line and minimum green line)
      • Relocating laboratory equipment such as digital dry baths, mini water baths, microscopes that are located throughout the laboratory into a more convenient location that is within reach and an open workspace.

Shine (Seiso) or clean is an important phase, especially while working in the laboratory environment. By thoroughly cleaning your work areas in the laboratory, you use cleaning as a means of inspection, you can keep your lab area safe from hazards and clutter which can result in inefficiencies. Getting in the habit of cleaning and inspecting your laboratory work space you will be able to identify leaks, spills, potential contamination, or any other minor problems that could turn into larger problems down the road.

Key Steps

  • Clean thoroughly – really make it shine!
  • Clean and inspect lab work areas daily to identify any potential issues or problems

Standardize (Seiketsu) phase is focused on maintaining order and adhering to a set standard. This is where you or your team will develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) which help in the in the on-boarding of new employees, saves time for routine tasks and improves overall efficiency. You will also want to document equipment and processes while developing an audit schedule and assigning specific tasks to individuals. Establishing a methodology to ensure a consistent strategy for successful 5S implementation is an important consideration and will impact the overall effectiveness of the initiative.

Key Steps

  • Develop SOPs (standard operating procedures) Helpful for new employees, saves time and improves efficiency
  • Document equipment and processes
  • Develop and audit schedule and assign tasks to individuals
  • Establish a methodology to ensure consistent strategy for 5S implementation
    • 5S taping standard
      • MIcroscope room (blue and yellow tape)
      • Standardize a bench (each bench has a standard layout)
        • Storage area for chemicals and solutions
          • Pipettes, sharps containers and tips
          • Biological cabinet (no tape) post a picture instead

Sustain (Shitsuke) is the most challenging and difficult stage for most organizations. Although this may be the most trying of phases, it is also the one with the largest payoff. You will want to regularly communicate and train employees to adopt the 5S methodology and adhere to the 5 phases to keep your lab running smoothly and efficiently. This portion of the 5S will have the highest level of variability since every lab and organization is different. It is important to define your measures of performance (MOPs) early, doing so will allow you to begin tracking your results immediately.

Key Takeaways

  1. Sort, separate what is unnecessary
  2. Set in Order, organize
  3. Shine, clean up
  4. Standardize, establish standard operating procedures
  5. Sustain, develop long-lasting habits

“The main objective of Lean, when applied in the laboratory, is to deliver quality patient laboratory results, at the lowest cost, within the shortest time frame while maintaining client satisfaction.” -Mayo Clinic Mayo Medical Laboratories

The Lean methodology is an extremely powerful tool when used properly. Every organization is different and this methodology will have to be adapted to your organizations unique needs and requirements. Remember, driving lean improvements can seem challenging at times, but when you utilize the proper tools, approach, and support, you can make a difference in your organization.

References

Amirahmadi, Fazi, Al Dalbello, Dan Gronseth, and Jean McCarthy. “Innovations in the Clinical Laboratory: An Overview of Lean Principles in the Laboratory.” (2007): 2. Mayo Medical Laboratories. Aug. 2007. Web. 28 Oct. 2009.

Ball, Dr. David [Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech]. (2014, July 24). 5S Organization in the Peccoud Lab Retrived from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_gmFiXgFY

Hirano, Hiroyuki (1995). 5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace. Cambridge, MA: Productivity Press. ISBN 978-1-56327-047-5.

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