Getting the most out of a laboratory can be a complex task – with more than 300 tests, specialised equipment, technicians and samples left, right and centre. We’ve applied the best of management thinking to ensure that our testing labs offer the best value for our clients.
Traditionally construction material testing laboratories focus on an end result – defining success as the ability to deliver high quality data safely, on-time and under budget.
While this is the perfect outcome, there’s a tendency for each test to be conducted independently with little thought to its interaction with the overall myriad of laboratory processes.
This independent, silo thinking can produce inefficiency – with more human effort required to produce a result. And this costs money.
So, we looked outside our industries to see how the world’s best delivery models achieve greater value for their clients.
What we found is lean methodology – a methodology initially borne out of the automotive production line.
What is lean methodology?
The lean methodology focuses on creating value for our clients through continual process improvement – exploring client needs and business goals, evaluating current processes and then introducing efficiency into these processes – minimising the time and cost of delivery.
It takes away silo views and integrates processes, focusing more on an overall flow, rather than the utilisation of individual machinery.
If you picture a production line it’s possible to see how this works in its simplest form – materials in, conveyor belt, product completed and then delivered. The space between a hypothetical point A and B are reduced leaving less room for lost time and materials wastage.
But how would this work when applied to a raft of different tests, all produced using the same equipment, within the same space?
This methodology had been applied to microbiology and pharmaceutical labs – but never to an Australian construction materials testing lab.
Coffey’s labs get lean
At Coffey we conduct 375 different tests, with about 80% of our work centred on five tests – field density testing, compaction testing, grading, plasticity index and concrete compression testing.
These are the five tests where we can absolutely maximise value for our clients – and this is where we focused our attention.
We also optimised the internal, non-value add processes. These are things that must be done – like equipment calibration – that aren’t part of a chargeable testing service. We still needed to achieve quality, while also freeing up time to allow a greater volume of testing.
Applying lean methodology to our labs was a four stage process:
The improvement in flow can be seen in this simplified diagram which shows the start to finish of
a single test.
Our first lean lab
We were moving into a smaller lab and employees believed there was no way their operations could fit into the new space.
An analysis of lab processes identified wasted time and space. So, we redesigned the space, carefully ensuring there were less overlaps and that refreshed guidelines were clear and established.
And it worked. We were able to get more samples out in a shorter time frame, from a smaller space. Providing our clients an optimised service – in turn increasing our profile.
Getting lean to deliver big
It worked so well we began assessing a second lab – Warabrook, New South Wales.
This lab had won a large project that would put pressure on the existing space.
With lean methodology applied, the facility successfully supported the growth in output from the project, as well as an expanded overall scope – maintaining high quality and increasing efficiency to meet client needs.
The future of efficient testing labs
The lean labs program has been so successful that it’s become the norm for all our labs. It’s an ongoing process reviewed and implemented by all levels of employees – delivering high quality, cost effective samples on-time.
Our project labs are established with a uniform lean setup – meaning wherever we go, we know exactly what’s expected to deliver high quality service.
It’s also proved that a lab doesn’t need to sit on a massive site, in an industrial area – it can be just as efficient in a smaller space, or on-site. This is a key consideration as the cost of land hits a premium.
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