Lean Laboratory - What is it? Learn how to start with Laboratory 5S
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Lean Laboratory: Improve Efficiency and Simplify Processes

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How to Make Your Lab More Effective?

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Lean Laboratory

What is "Lean Laboratory"?

Lean Laboratory is a management and organization approach derived from the principles of Lean Manufacturing – essentially, process optimization driven. A lean laboratory is one which is focused on delivering results in the most efficient way, in terms of cost and/or speed, with the most efficient use of resources. The objective is to improve the economic efficiency of an organization. Success is measured by balancing the three corners of the "Magic Triangle" (quality, resources, and time).

What are the benefits of a Lean Laboratory approach?

The potential benefits of implementing and sustaining an effective Lean Laboratory approach are:

  • Better defined, structured and controlled laboratory processes
  • More consistent and predictable laboratory performance
  • A detailed understanding of lab capacity and resourcing requirements
  • Significantly increased productivity and efficiency
  • Reduced lead-times
  • Reduced costs
  • Reduced levels of Work In Process (WIP)
  • Improved Right First Time (RFT)
  • Greater empowerment of laboratory personnel
  • A culture of proactive performance management and continuous improvement
  • Better customer service

Lean Lab Guide

Download our Lean Laboratory guide now to learn more on how these nine steps to lean laboratory can help to improve and maintain efficiency and productivity in your lab.

    Download the "Lean Lab Guide"

What is "Lean Laboratory"?

The terms 'Lean' and 'Lean Manufacturing' were introduced in the 1990's in relation to the highly successful management philosophy derived from the Toyota Production System (TPS). Inspired by this success in industrial production, the understanding and implementation of lean principles have since been adopted by many industry sectors, with the aim of eliminating mistakes, reducing delays, lowering costs, and improving the overall quality of a product or service.

Lean Laboratory is a management and organization approach derived from the principles of Lean Manufacturing – essentially, process optimization driven. A lean laboratory is one which is focused on delivering results in the most efficient way, in terms of cost and/or speed, with the most efficient use of resources. The objective is to help to improve the economic efficiency of an organization. Success is measured by the 'Magic Triangle‘, where the three corners (Quality, Resources, and Time) must be balanced.

Business benefits can be achieved by building a culture of continuous improvement, from the customer to the analyst, drawing on new and innovative ideas, and encouraging mind-set and behaviour transformations across the laboratory in order to sustain the impact.

Lean Laboratory: Improve Efficiency and Simplify Processes
Lean Laboratory Magic Triangle
Lean Lab House Model
Lean Lab House Model

Lean Laboratory is a way of thinking – not a list of things to do!

Lean Laboratory Glossary is available to help explain the meaning of the common terms and where they are used.

Where should I start with Lean Laboratory?

A good place to start is with an assessment of your current status. A checklist has been developed to allow you to assess this, based on nine fields of improvement that are identified as being important for the Lean Laboratory concept:

The 9 fields of improvement

  1. Housekeeping and workplace optimization with 5S
  2. Value stream mapping for process analysis
  3. Workload
  4. Laboratory workflow
  5. Performance management
  6. Laboratory equipment
  7. Skills of laboratory personnel
  8. Laboratory chemicals / auxiliary material (KANBAN)
  9. Continuous Improvement Processes (CIP)


The Lean Lab Checklist takes you through these nine topics step-by-step, giving you a clear idea of which areas will offer the biggest potential for improvement in your particular situation:

Lean Laboratory: Improve Efficiency and Simplify Processes
Where to start with Lean Lab?

Housekeeping and Workplace Optimization with Laboratory 5S

A typical starting point in implementation of the lean approach is workplace optimization. This is described as housekeeping (Laboratory 5S) in the nine fields of improvement.

Laboratory 5S is a workplace organization method, based on Japanese terms, which represent:


5S Term

Japanese Term






When in doubt, move it out!

Is the lab accessible and free from unnecessary objects?


Set in order


A place for everything and everything in its place!

Are tools and equipment tidy and easy to find?




Clean and inspect!

Is everything clean and in good condition?




Make the rules and follow them!

Are drawers and cupboards consistently labelled?




Make it a habit, and audit to enforce!

Perform a Laboratory 5S audit regularly and act upon the results.

Lean Laboratory: Improve Efficiency and Simplify Processes
Kaizen Circle 5S Lean Laboratory

The aim is to perform each of the 5S tasks on your laboratory workplace, remove anything that is unnecessary, sort and tidy the remaining items and make everything more accessible and ergonomic. Label items and locations, keep the workplace clean, and aim to eliminate waste. A Gemba walk can identify anything that need improving, and once optimized the situation should be maintained by implementing a regular laboratory 5S audit.

Download the 5S Audit Checklist

Value Stream Mapping for Process Analysis

Value stream mapping is an important technique, whose purpose is to highlight where improvements can be made in a specific workflow or process. The aim of value stream mapping is to identify, analyse and classify each step in a specific process. Each step is classified into one of three categories, according to the value it adds to the process:

  • Value adding
  • Non-value adding but necessary
  • Non-value adding and unnecessary


The aim is then to increasing the number of value-adding steps, and reducing or eliminating any non-value adding steps. Any unnecessary steps (waste) should be eliminated wherever possible.

Part 2 of the Lean Lab Webinar provides more information on value stream mapping, including a practical example of applying this technique to an analytical laboratory process to improve productivity.

Lean Laboratory: Improve Efficiency and Simplify Processes
Value Stream Mapping

Eliminating Waste (Muda)

Lean principles can also be defined as a systematic method for the elimination of waste (muda) within a manufacturing system. This includes waste created due to overburden (muri) and waste created due to unevenness in workloads (mura).

In a commercial environment, 7 mudas are commonly referred to. Alternatively, an 8th term is sometimes included, and the acronym "DOWNTIME" is used to aid recall of the 8 wastes (mudas), as described below:

Waiting time
Non-utilised employee talent (skills)*
EExcessive processing (complex processes)

* This term is excluded from the common 7 mudas list

The Typical 8 Wastes in the Lab Guide describes how to recognize and eliminate the 8 wastes in a laboratory environment.

Lean Laboratory Facts

1. Lean Laboratory's main objective is process optimization.

  • The aim is to eliminate time wasting steps in the workflow.
  • The main objective of Lean Lab is not to make staff redundancies or operate a lab with fewer employees.

2. A lean approach can be applied to every organization, however big or small.

  • Lean principles can deliver significant improvements in the laboratory: simplified processes; reduced lead times; and increased lab productivity.  This is applicable to everyone!

3. Lean methods and tools can be effectively applied to any new or existing laboratories

  • Lean Laboratory is very effective when applied to the design and build phase of a new laboratory.
  • However, it is equally relevant when applied to improve existing workflows and processes in an already established laboratory.

Watch Part 1 of the Lean Lab Webinar for an introduction to Lean Laboratory principles and examples of how Mettler Toledo has implemented Lean tools and methods in production processes.


More Detailed Information on Lean Laboratory and Laboratory 5S Topics:


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