Skip to content

Whip Mix Blog

5 Easy Steps to Begin a LEAN Transformation in Your Dental Lab

In Whip Mix’s first ever blog I discussed how implementing LEAN processes in your dental laboratory can increase profits and have received a lot of questions from dental labs on where and how they can begin their LEAN journey. The 5S’s give the lab a much cleaner picture where additional waste may exist and is essential for laboratories to begin their LEAN journey.

5S – is having the right thing, in the right place, at the right time, clean and ready to use.5S

Excessive motion is one of the biggest wastes in labs today. Chaos, Confusion and Clutter lead to excessive motion. You should find anything in your work space in 15 seconds and someone else should be able to find anything in 5 minutes.

1. SORT – Sort means we remove all items from the workplace that are not needed for current job or process. This follows a JIT Manufacturing principle of “only what is needed, only in the amounts needed, and only when needed.

“When in doubt, move it out”. Begin weeding out items and create guidelines for removal and most importantly get involvement from management.

When SORT is implemented:

  • Problems and annoyances in the work place are reduced
  • Communication between team members is improved
  • Product quality is increased
  • NVA (Non-value added) activities are reduced
  • Throughput is increased

2. STRAIGHTEN (Set in Order) – keep needed items in the correct place to allow for easy and immediate retrieval. This is the core for standardization, orderliness and the foundation for “zero” defects. Set in order cannot be done without first doing the Sort.

In this phase of 5S, it is a good idea to begin developing layouts, procedures and equipment configurations that will mistake-proof the processes.

3. SHINE – “To be LEAN you must be clean” Team leaders must inspect their areas on a daily basis. If we are clean at the end of the shift we will be clean at the beginning of the next shift. The restaurant business stresses that everyone clean as you go. Just as important in the dental lab environment.

Shine also means all equipment is operating with maximum efficiency with regular preventative maintenance and cleaning. Operators will notice when a piece of equipment is not at maximum performance.

4. STANDARDIZATION – Standardization exist when the first three 5S’s are properly maintained. It means we develop methods to Sort, Set in Order, and Shine our workplace. It means we define everything so everyone will know exactly what we are responsible for; and, exactly when, where, and how to do it.

You cannot measure results if you have not set standards. How would you know if you have improved? Standards must be documented and visual:

  • Guidelines
  • Checklists.

5. SUSTAIN – Sustain is different. It is a single separate activity. We sustain when we have developed the habits of always using the first 4 of the 5S’s together on a daily basis.

Sustain takes the involvement of management by ensuring that the first 4 steps are maintained “rain or shine”. To ensure that you are doing this- audit; audit processes and procedures to ensure that they work and make improvements or changes as necessary. Other key’s to sustaining is:

  • Make 5S part of everyone’s daily job.
  • Create storyboards showing success.
  • Communicate 5S as a LEAN project.
  • Rotate audit assignments.

Sustain must prevail when forces in the work force challenge the effort.

By implementing the 5S’s in your lab:

  • Safety is improved
  • An orderly environment improves morale.
  • Visual management becomes easier.
  • Facilities and equipment are used efficiently.
  • Training and orientation of team members is faster and more consistent.
  • Searching for, retrieving and storing of tools and materials is faster and more efficient.

In addition you will find that you can push more work through the lab in the same amount of time with the same amount of people, adding value for your doctors with faster turnaround, better quality, and predictable results.

Robert Long