With current economical challenges, laboratories are facing
challenging experiences when it comes to remaining competitive
whilst reducing costs and improving their margins, writes F.E. De
Andrade, laboratory manager at SABS, Mining and Minerals, RBCT
As South African laboratories, we need to ask ourselves the
what does quality mean to our customers?
how can we improve our global competitiveness?
what can we do to improve value to our customer?
A product or service is just as strong as its weakest link. If
quality is not entrenched throughout an organization, the system
will fail. It does not help to have quality processes without
quality people and vice versa.
CUSTOMERS’ VIEW ON QUALITY WITH THE GOALS OF THE
What does quality mean to our customer? Sadly this question is
rarely asked by laboratories. One way of achieving this is to
develop a balance scorecard in conjunction with the customer’s
views on quality in terms of service and accuracy. Constant
communication with the customer brings feedback on where the
laboratory is at in terms of service and competitiveness. We
underestimate the value our customer’s input can be. Regular
customer satisfaction questionnaires may be a helpful guide
towards continuous improvement.
In some instances a laboratories customer’s customer may be an
overseas exporter or importer. The testing facility needs to
demonstrate its capability in providing a consistent quality
service. This is crucial in developing trust between the two
countries trade relations and promoting their products.
Some ways in which capability may be demonstrated are:
participation in proficiency testing programmes both local
and international; and
the way complaints and queries are handled.
LEAN LABORATORIES – SYSTEM VIEW VS SILO VIEW
The term ‘lean’ has become synonymous with present economic
circumstances. While laboratories try to apply lean systems and
principals, they still need to look at their overall systems and
adapt lean principals to their overall strategy. A lean laboratory
will not reach its full potential if its overall system is not
optimized too. Laboratories need to identify their efficacy in
terms of operations being aligned with its goals. This will identify
the need for a radical change. This may be achieved through
process or value stream mapping.
SUSTAINABILITY THROUGH SOUND POLICIES AND PROCEDURES,
MOTIVATION AND TRAINING
Laboratories are faced with a challenge in retaining experienced
personnel. This comes in the wake of stressful economic times
where personnel need to be kept motivated. Employers may
need to provide morale support in the form of empathy and
patience towards people’s circumstances, financial advice and
counselling however, management needs to stress the
importance of remaining focused and explain the vicious cycle
that results from the lack thereof. All parties need to fulfil their
contractual obligations. This improves trust between
departments and ultimately span of control becomes easier.
Training and development can be done between associates
and greater emphasis may be placed on multitasking, especially in
those areas where a high level of competence is needed. High
performance work teams with strategic intent focus on
knowledge and skills transfer.
Sound policies and procedures provide a means of sustaining
quality systems in times where key personal are lost.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
The speed at which a laboratory is able to adapt to a changing
economic climate is crucial in its survival. A laboratory will do
what it needs to in order to survive. Value stream mapping,
where the laboratory maps its processes and aligns its processes
to that of the customer’s needs and values is a way of producing
an effective and competitive laboratory without offsetting quality.
ABOUT SABS, RBCT LABORATORY
SABS (South African Bureaus of Standards), RBCT laboratory is
an ISO 17025 accredited laboratory performing quality
certification of the South African coal export market at RBCT
(Richards Bay Coal Terminal). Sampling (mechanical) and
preparation is performed according to ISO 13909. Testing is
performed according the relevant ISO or ASTM methods. All
tests are performed in duplicate using different instruments and
analysts where possible. Results are captured electronically
through an integrated instrument/LIMS system. The laboratory
participates in two international and one local proficiency testing