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4 Simple Actions to Improve Efficiency in R&D/Industrial Labs

Lean Articles

Speed. In most R&D laboratories, it’s critical to accelerate drug development, prototyping, and time to market. Speed can save lives. It can save companies. It can provide competitive advantage. What better reason for all organizations to engage in CI activities and accelerate R&D and Industrial labs?

However, applying process improvement principles in your R&D Lab doesn’t mean waiting for years or even months to see results. You can achieve impactful improvements by making reasonable changes to your current routines. Here are a few things, all related to Lean principles, you can do in your R&D and Industrial Labs that will bring quick returns and create the foundation for new work habits.

The Challenge: To respond better and more quickly to business and customers’ requirements, by working collaboratively to produce products right-the-first time.

    1. Create a well-organized, clean, and standardized workplace. Time wasted as a result of poor workplace organization can sometimes double the time required for your technicians to perform a value adding activity! Engage regular 5S’s activities with your teams to define clear locations for tools and materials. Separate those used frequently from those used often and in frequently then locate accordingly. Define and share visual standards for consumables management – changeover tools – equipment setup processes – maintenance standards, etc. These activities will prevent your R&D technicians from wasting a lot of time. With a baseline standard in place, meet regularly to review and improve upon the standard and soon, you will see people mindset’s changing.


    1. Establish a collaborative process that clarifies expected outcomes. Your R&D technicians work hard conducting trials and developing prototypes or samples but sometimes do so with incomplete or approximated inputs. This generates waste in the development process that can be easily avoided. Kick off development projects with cross functional team meetings, bringing sales, marketing, quality, manufacturing, and other stakeholders together to define the scope of the project, clarify customer needs, etc. Then, continue to do so throughout the development process. This maximizes the chance of creating products/prototypes/new material samples… which can easily be manufactured, correctly marketed, and best responds to your customers’ needs, the first time.


    1. Build a scheduling system. Your R&D labs need to perform many activities to deliver required outputs. Having a solid scheduling system allows you to manage equipment availability and activity/material flow to ensure things are being done on time. To begin, use a simple whiteboard to visualize the expected lab outputs, be sure to include due dates; this ensures everyone shares the same goals and understands what needs to be achieved. This is the starting point for the team to initiate discussion on the best way to define the “How” to reach your lab goals and agree on roles and responsibilities. It is a preliminary step before building a more robust, efficient scheduling system, including rapid two-week sprints, if necessary, to allow your laboratory to reach 98% on time delivery.


  1. Embed cross-training into lab scheduling to develop technicians’ skills and enhance innovation capabilities. Cross-skilling is essential for you to manage a variety of incoming requests, and to respond to business requirements. To ensure you have the right skill sets at the right times, create a critical skill matrix, and build a cross-skilling program tied to your lab scheduling system.

Because laboratories are a vital link in the value chain it is important to find ways to improve capacity and utilization, reduce lead-times and increase reliability. Applying Lean methods allows you to address these challenges and by starting with some simple changes, consistently applied, you can achieve some quick returns. An efficient R&D lab can bring value to your organization outside of testing and creating prototypes. Reducing waste from lab activities will leave more time for R&D teams to innovate, work on new products, materials, and process; thereby bringing more value to your organization.

Additional Resources:
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