Intro to Lean Manufacturing

There’s no doubt that you’ve heard about ‘lean manufacturing’ and the efficiency, cost-savings, and organization, that it’s said to bring to companies that adopt it. But what exactly is it?  Can it apply to dental labs too? Simply put, lean manufacturing is defined as a systematic method to eliminate waste within a manufacturing system. And yes, this method can be (should be!) applied to dental labs everywhere. We’ve applied it in our production center and we’ve also applied lean to labs who have consulted with us. Lean helps teams systematically work on eliminating every wasted step and non-value add steps in any process. Dental labs are all about process. The results are improved efficiency, reduced in-house remakes, and improved profits.

Analog & Digital Labs Both Reap the Rewards

Applying lean manufacturing in a dental lab is an initiative that applies to both analog and CAD CAM production. Lean is about setting up a well defined process for each and every operation and staying on track. Lean helps promote and requires self-discipline to maintain processes over time. It may not sound glamorous, but I guarantee that by applying lean principles to your lab you’ll spend less time doing busy work, enjoy a more organized and clean lab, and benefit by delivering product to your doctors with more consistent quality, on time. So how exactly do you apply lean principles to a dental laboratory? Here are just a couple of early steps one would take in transforming to lean.

Start with a Clear & Easy-to-follow SOP

First, you need to identify best manufacturing process for each and all tasks. Then develop a written ‘standard operating procedure’ or SOP. Theoretically, a technician should be able to sit at any bench where a specific task is performed, read through the SOP and have everything needed at this bench to complete the task required at this location.

Reduced Footsteps = Reduced Work

Lean is also about reducing footsteps and the distance pans travel from start to finish. Once you have your SOP’s in order, you will likely need to reorganize the lab for a smooth, efficient flow of cases and products.

Lean Resources

Unfortunately, it would be impossible to go through the entire procedure of converting a lab to lean manufacturing in a single blog post. That said there are many resources available to help any organization transition to lean:

Books | A good book for an introduction to lean is Lean Production Simplified.

Consulting | If you’d like additional help adding a lean process to your workflow our consulting services are available to make a customized plan to get your lab started.

Like I said, running lean promotes discipline and eliminates waste. We’ve been running our production center this way for quite some time here, and we’re reaping the rewards. This is the first of many blog posts on lean to come. Happy lean-ifying!

Thanks for reading,

Paul Wanless

R&D Engineer

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