Get the Clutter Out—Save Time and Money!

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By Greg Mattson, RTPO

Welcome to the second installment in this series of articles presenting real-world solutions to production problems in the O&P fabrication lab. As insurance reimbursements shrink and the cost of doing business grows, it's hard to ignore the potential profits hiding in simple ways of fixing production issues.

The overall focus is on implementation of "lean manufacturing" zero defects, completing one job at a time, and just-in-time inventory. Efficient lab organization is one avenue to this goal.

Now, let's get the garbage out!

How many of you have odds and ends stashed in boxes throughout the fabrication shop? Dirt and grime jammed into all corners? Fabrication benches with almost the entire surface covered? Even the cleanest companies have issues with clutter. There will always be clutter. What's important is how you manage it.

Examples of classic time and money wasters include: Searching for parts, tools and materials; walking to get parts, tools and materials; moving items to reach parts, tools, and materials; double handling of parts; and the loss of productive space.

When you think of cleaning the fabrication lab, you get an image of all the clutter and old stuff that needs to be thrown away. But most people are missing the big picture. Getting rid of the garbage saves a company in many ways, but the main benefit is savings in excess motion.

Is That Space Making Money?

Have you ever considered the square footage of the company you work for? How much does each square foot cost the company? How much profit is generated in each square foot? How many square feet are not generating profit? Simply put, if you have a lot of square footage dedicated to clutter storage, it's costing the company money. The space has nothing to do with generating money. It has become an expensive storage place.

Here is a prime example of a common problem that creates excess motion and loss of productive spacestoring old parts. We do this with good intentions. We may have a patient come in who needs a fast repair, or we just don't want to throw out a good part.

In my shop, we did a simple study. We tracked the problem and came up with some interesting conclusions. First of all, most of the "good old parts" we were saving were not in our inventory system. One employee knew we had a certain needed part, but others did not. The result was that we reordered the part, rather than using the one that we had. Second, since we knew we had the "good old parts" somewhere, we scheduled a patient who needed one of the parts to repair a broken brace. Problem solved, right? No. The parts were missing a needed center screw. Now we made our company look bad and provided poor service to our patient. The box of "good old parts" also took up space that could be better used for fabrication.

Let's examine the results. The saving of old parts resulted in extra motion, the loss of productive space associated with the storage of the parts, loss of money spent on a new part, plus time wasted by the technician and patient. Most of the parts we were saving were not expensive, and were therefore costing the company many times their value in associated waste.

Take some time and look around the fabrication lab you work in. Is space that can be used for profitable purposes used for storing waste? How you get rid of waste is up to you and your company. I recommend purchasing a book on the 5-S system (sort, straighten, scrub, systemize, standardize) for those of you who want a detailed system for getting rid of waste.

In the next article, we will tackle workplace standardization processesyet another important boon to helping your company produce improved profit and cost savings, more production with less effort, better patient care, and greater employee teamwork!