Relocating Your Laboratory
Identify ways to minimize the stress
Your building has no space for the new milling machine. The landlord won't renew your lease. You just acquired a competitor. Whatever the reason, moving a well-established business requires a methodical approach that covers everything from letting your customers know your new address to retaining employees. When it comes to moving your laboratory, it takes careful planning, sufficient funds, and, quite often, many sleepless nights.
Most laboratories today are focused on getting their cases out the door, not the process that produces those units. Laboratories will continually follow a process that limits production or generates a high level of remakes, yet no one seems to recognize that the process itself may be the weakness. Laboratory owners need to consider how they would answer the following questions:
• What are the business's objectives for the next 2 to 3 years (eg, grow by 10%)?
• What does your laboratory do well and what needs improvement?
• Is the organization sufficiently strong (culturally) to support a change of location?
• What resources will be required?
The idea here is to identify what the process is doing now (its "current" state), define what the process should be ("future" state), and then create a prioritized action list to get you from "current" to "future." This is your chance to build an improved process that will provide enhanced profitability. What you want to avoid is replicating your existing process, complete with its inherent flaws.
The next step should focus on getting your employees on-board with the move. As a general rule, people don't like change, and getting them to support and own the change is difficult. The changes to your laboratory may involve newer materials, methods, different sequence of operations, cost benefits, equipment changes, skills enhancements and training, daily weekly/monthly measurements, and, notably, accountability for performance. The adage "two heads are better than one" applies, as your employees will provide critical input. Communication is key to keeping employees in the loop and actively engaged.
The next step deals with the physical needs of the business. If you have a location already purchased or leased, then your team can skip straight to the layout. If you are looking for a location, be sure to investigate tax incentives and cheap building loans from the town and/or state, physical space to accommodate growth, proximity to customers, and access to support services (IT, HVAC, machine service).
There are different types of waste created in just about every laboratory, and your laboratory layout should take them into consideration to minimize them as much as possible. The common tendency is for the laboratory owner to spend as little as possible to reconfigure the space, leaving these waste problems unaddressed; then upon moving, they ultimately spend a lot of money on the same inefficient methods in a bigger space. It is advised that laboratories start with a clean sheet of paper, create the ideal workflow, balance that against the cost to achieve that layout, and determine a compromise that will clearly be an improvement but not cause financial hardship. Actions to be considered are:
• Remove unused equipment from the prime workspace
• Combine sequential steps onto one workspace
• Remove non-structural walls
• Improve use of dust collection equipment
• Focus on reducing the movement of people and products
Adding infrastructure such as power, water, phones, gas, and air is a challenging exercise that requires some forethought. The best way to provide these necessary features is to send everything via an overhead distribution plan. By using overhead distribution, attachment points are made after the placement of workstations and can be readily shifted or moved as the workflow changes.
When it comes time to actually make the move, you will need to create a sequential plan that outlines the timing. Your move plan should consider the need for outside moving companies vs. employee help, equipment suppliers to recalibrate machines, and employee overtime to get back on-line quickly. Do you move everything at once or one department at a time? What departments, machines, and benches are to be moved in what order? And when is the best time to move (eg, weekend, holiday, nighttime)? Be sure to discuss your plans with your current landlord, as you may need some flexibility in case the move takes longer than expected. And certainly you will want to identify any money that is required for repairs, penalties, etc, that are part of the lease.
Once you have made the move, market your relocation. Tell everyone via social media, mailings, and the company website about your new location, enhanced services, and especially any new contact information. Extend invitations to customers and patients to visit the new location, or maybe even have an "open house." Whatever method you use, also be sure to celebrate the success of the move with your employees.
Relocating the laboratory is stressful; there is no way to avoid it. With a bit of attention to the areas outlined above, the amount of stress can be significantly reduced. Who knows—you may even enjoy the challenge.
About the Author
Bob Yenkner is the owner of Practical Process Improvement in East Hampton, CT.