From creating a culture of innovation to maintaining your lab equipment, this article sets out 10 simple tips on how to make your facility more efficient today and more importantly, well into the future!
There are three variables that determine the efficiency of any laboratory: The people, the processes, and the equipment.
- Right people in the right seats – Your people are the most valuable asset in your laboratory. Ensure you have the right people in the right seat. Laboratory teams normally require strong leadership, be a strong leader that provides continuing education and training. Set clear achievable objectives for your laboratory staff.
- Create a culture of innovation and continuous improvement – Great ideas come forward in blue-sky* sessions, encourage input from all staff. It is often a good idea to review spaghetti diagrams of individuals to detect and eliminate potential inefficiencies (e.g. moving the centrifuge to a more central location or closer to the regular user/s). It is also helpful to encourage staff to challenge methods (i.e. is there a better way we can do this?) but is important to structure this process to ensure it doesn’t cause downtime in the laboratory.
- Review the bench space – Being lean does not involve anything too complex. Sketch your process on paper and review the spaghetti diagram. Ensure your equipment layout is in series to minimise overlap and inefficiencies. Consider the purchase of more equipment to fill the gaps, look at cost of equipment versus return on investment through the saving of downtime.
- Share responsibilities – Make individuals responsible for their space. You should photograph the expected standard and ensure staff adhere to this standard. Making this visual allows staff to understand what is expected of them. Cross-training of laboratory staff is vital for an efficient laboratory. If key staff are away, ensure there are others with the skill set and experience to step in and fill the void.
- Start with the end in mind – Knowing what you want to achieve will help you plan and reach your objective in the shortest possible time without doing it at the expense of accuracy and quality. A job well planned is a job half done.
- Manage inventory levels and make visible – Manage your inventory so you don’t run out of basics in times of demand. Automated systems or even simple KanBan* systems can be set up with little effort to help manage stock levels. Ensure all laboratory staff are aware of the triggers and the go-to person/s for purchasing. Have a dedicated storage area with labelled inventory space to ensure no downtime in finding the right consumables.
- Plan your equipment requirements in advance – Make an equipment calendar if necessary, having an equipment calendar makes it much easier to ensure that everyone has what they need when they need it. There are plenty of free shared online calendars that can be accessed by everyone in real-time.
- Watch the market for new products that can increase throughput – There are plenty of new laboratory products available every year that seek to increase sample throughput and make protocols more efficient. Look at the most suitable exhibitions for your laboratory type. Many new ideas and concepts are available at exhibitions that will help you maintain a competitive edge.
- Look at the long-term investment of equipment when purchasing – Don’t make price the pivot point of every purchase, quality and brand are an essential contributor to a long term quality investment. Find out who has purchased the same equipment and contact them directly to obtain a first-hand testimonial. Cross-pollinate with similar laboratories that are doing well and see what they are using. Request demonstrations to ensure professional staff are comfortable with items prior to purchase. Look at warranties and service back up from companies offering the products.
- Maintain your equipment – Generally, you will get much more life out of equipment that has been maintained. Have a maintenance schedule to ensure consistency of maintenance ensuring nothing is overlooked. Key equipment could have disastrous consequences for your throughput if it fails in use. Maintained equipment typically yields higher resale value.
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