Depending on how your laboratory interfaces with the manufacturing world, you may or may not have heard of “lean.” Originating in Japan decades ago, “lean management” is an ongoing, holistic approach to workflow management that eliminates waste and unnecessary steps in the workflow process. The elimination of waste speeds up production, improves quality, reduces mistakes, and lowers overall costs. Lean principles have been used for decades in manufacturing operations around the world, especially the automotive industry. If implemented correctly, lean can become a vital part of the corporate culture and can transform a company’s profitability and productivity.
Although revered in the manufacturing world, lean is less well-known among non-manufacturing industries. Lean can benefit any industry or business. After all, workflow is workflow, whether it is a manufacturing operation, a testing lab, or a headquarters on the thirtieth floor. An example of a non-manufacturing industry that has embraced lean is health care, which has become highly focused on improving quality of care and reducing costs by identifying and eliminating waste.
The goal of lean is to remove waste from any work process (and just about every process contains waste).
Value stream mapping is one of the most effective lean tools that can be implemented easily. This is a highly visual, pencil-and-paper exercise that maps out, on a single piece of paper, a "current state map" which consists of every step in a process or operation. This is generally an eye-opening exercise, even for those who are highly experienced in the process being mapped. Once the map (essentially a flow chart) is completed, the “bottlenecks” and non-value-added steps are identified. Participants brainstorm the best ways to eliminate these wasteful steps to better utilize time, talent, and equipment. Sometimes a solution is as simple as re-arranging work stations for better work flow.
For a laboratory, the value stream map will show a stream coming in from the side that consists of the steps that comprise the acquisition of high purity gases such as hydrogen, nitrogen, and zero air which are commonly used for a broad range of instrumental methods including Gas Chromatography (GC) with Flame Ionization Detector (FID), Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (LCMS), and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR). The steps involved in the process include placing the order, receiving the order, storing the tanks, and transporting tanks to and from the laboratory as needed.
Factors that affect the gas acquisition process that don’t show up in the value stream map include possible delivery delays, unplanned downtime due to running out of gas, inflexible delivery schedules, accidents with the tanks, and the extra administrative costs of dealing with vendors and contracts. These inconveniences can create extra steps in the value stream process. The bottom line is that more steps result in added complexity and risk, which translates into higher costs.
The entire gas-delivery arm of the value stream map can be eliminated by installing an in-house gas generator that can be connected directly to the instrument to provide the necessary gas at the pressure and flow required by the application on a continuous basis with minimum user interaction. Parker offers a variety of gas generators including hydrogen generators, nitrogen generators, zero air generators, and FT-IR purge gas generators.
The final step of value stream mapping is implementing the process improvements the team has identified. Even small changes can bring big results that improve efficiency, productivity, and worker satisfaction. It is critical for management to commit the necessary resources to make these changes happen, including capital improvements such as an in-house gas generator. The cost of purchasing and operating a gas generator is attractive when compared to the use of high pressure cylinders. The payback period is usually calculated at less than one year depending on the specific usage and required purity. Most importantly, the cost to operate and maintain an in-house gas generator is very low, when compared to the cost of ordering, transporting, storing, and handling high pressure gas cylinders.
Installing an in-house gas generator is one of the best ways to start the lean transformation of an analytical laboratory. It eliminates the extra steps and costs that are associated with gas tanks.
Watch this video to learn more about in-house laboratory gas generators:
Once it becomes part of the company culture, lean never ends; in fact, a process must go through multiple periods of value stream mapping before it is really considered lean. To learn more about lean, visit the Lean Enterprise Institute at http://www.lean.org/.
This post was contributed by the Gas Generation Technology Blog Team, Parker Hannifin.