Spinning Your Wheels
Motion Waste Rolls over Lab Productivity
Scientists spend a surprising amount of time tracking down the reagents they need for experiments, adding hours of tedious labor to an already demanding schedule and causing major loss of productivity. But digital solutions can help them stay squarely focused on their research.
What You’ll Learn
- How the concept of “motion waste” applies to the lab as well as to the production floor
- How traditional inventory management practices such as manual jnventory counts bog lab workflows down
- How the LANEXO® Inventory Manager streamlines chemical inventory management to save time and effort
Many experiments inherently take up a good chunk of the workday. But a surprising amount of additional time is spent tracking down the necessary reagents, transferring experimental data from the instruments to your workstation computer, and perhaps even converting that data to other formats to facilitate analysis. This can add hours of tedious labor to an already demanding set of tasks—but digital solutions are coming online that can help lab personnel stay squarely focused on their research.
The loss of productivity due to unnecessary expenditure of energy and effort is known generally as “motion waste.” When Japanese engineer Taiichi Ohno first described this concept in the mid-20th century, his focus was on industrial manufacturing, where needless movement on the assembly line could slow production or put workers at risk of fatigue or injury. Ohno’s ideas on efficiency have since become a core component of automaker Toyota’s famed efficiency practices, and many other industries have subse¬quently drawn inspiration from what has subsequently come to be known as ‘the Toyota Way.’
The concept of motion waste is directly relevant to the laboratory world as well, but it assumes different forms than on a factory floor. “One such motion waste is performing unnecessary tasks, so that there is this unused talent,” says Roja Azees, product manager at Merck KGaA Darmstadt Germany Connected Lab. “They are losing their time over repetitive admin tasks rather than focusing on innovative, scientific experiments.”
And whereas each station on an assembly line can be retooled to minimize motion waste for the particular task being performed there, this is usually not an option in the research world. “Lab activities evolve over time, and you can’t spend money on redoing and restyling your labs every couple of years because you want to decrease motion waste—so you need to adapt,” says Alessandra Pepe, chemistry, manufacturing, and controls technology and innovation lead at Merck KGaA Darmstadt Germany.
SAVING A TRIP
The solution to streamlining a laboratory’s workflow is sometimes straightforward. For instance, Pepe notes that many labs have cell culture or animal facilities that are strictly maintained under sterile conditions, requiring staff to change in and out of protective gear as they enter and leave. By ensuring that those sterile rooms have dedicated stockpiles of reagents and securely networked computers, managers can spare their teams the effort of going through unnec¬essary rounds of gowning up and stripping down to fetch chemicals or relay instrumental data collected in the facility back to their desktop workstations.
Addressing other forms of motion waste requires more extensive effort. Inventory management is one example; even cutting-edge research labs continue to rely on outdated, manual solutions for tracking their reagent stocks. “We used to perform all inventory counts by manually writing down what is in the cabinets and rewriting it in Excel,” says Sarah Waldenmaier, a quality control technician at Merck KGaA Darmstadt Germany. This laborious process can be done only so many times in the space of a week and creates ample opportunities for recording errors. As a result, researchers may find themselves going on a wild-goose chase, hunting throughout the lab for chemicals that don’t exist.
Merck KGaA Darmstadt Germany Connected Lab aims to help researchers cut down on unnecessary activities that waste time and resources. The division’s LANEXO Inventory Manager streamlines chemi¬cal inventory management by using reagent bottles that are tagged with radio-frequency identification and can be scanned with a smartphone-based app. This scanning process creates a real-time digital inventory of current chemical stocks, along with where those compounds are physically stored and when they expire. “With LANEXO, we could lower the time we use for inventory counts from about 32 h a year to maybe 4 h,” Waldenmaier says. “We also reduced our chemical waste and improved the timeline of the reorder process.” More importantly, the research staff could put greater trust in their recorded inventory and spend less time wandering around the laboratory and stockroom searching the shelves.