The Visual Pharmaceutical Workplace

Imagine a highway system without signs and you’ll understand why so many drug manufacturing facilities fail to reach their potential. Visuality is key to achieving operational excellence.

By Gwendolyn Galsworth, President, Quality Methods International, Inc.

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It’s no secret that the drug industry has one of the longest cycle times of any industry today. Judged by any of the usual metrics — Six Sigma (where manufacturers score an average of 2.5 out of 6) or OEE (where their average, outside of packaging, is 40 vs. a benchmark of 80) — drug makers have a long way to go before achieving the quality and the manufacturing efficiencies of, say, electronics or consumer goods manufacturers.

people can use colors to create a more effective workplace
Drug makers have much to learn about Visuality from other industries. Here, an apron developed by Lockheed Martin Aerospace assembler John Casey holds the tools and spare parts required for assembling an intake valve. This Visual invention incorporates color-coding and makes maximum use of existing architecture: The blue platform holds in place both the valve and the Visual mini systems.

Establishing a “Visual” workplace, where information is immediately accessible and part of the work process, is the foundation for improving efficiency. At too many GxP-compliant facilities, operators, mechanics, scientists and engineers waste hours each day looking for documentation, locating spare parts, tools or the right labels, moving from one part of the floor to another, or running error-prone equipment or processes.

The result? Longer changeovers, wasted time and rework, all of which can add up to millions of dollars in losses each year. You may already be familiar with 5S (see A 5S Primer, below) and Error Prevention, which are key parts of any Visual methodology. However, the Visual workplace goes far beyond these tool sets by establishing a culture of openness, alignment, and transparency even as it attacks errors and error-causing conditions.

This article will outline the requirements of a Visual workplace that will help you get started on developing a Visual work culture wherever you work, whether on a pharmaceutical production floor or packaging line, or in a quality control laboratory.

The road to excellence

In a truly effective workplace, information is so thoroughly infused into the environment that it has become an integral part of the work process. Consider any advanced highway system. At every step of the way, Visual information keeps the system functioning, helping drivers do the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, safely. And yet, drivers rarely give thought to this rich array of Visual devices, because the information has “become” the system. The fact that we take these Visual systems for granted is proof that they work.

A Visual workplace speaks to its workforce continually, telling employees how and when to use it properly, alerting them to where tools and materials are, at a glance, and warning them when processes are off-track. Because it explains itself, a Visual workplace engages the workforce, which makes the workplace self correcting. Visual organization reduces stress in the workplace, and empowers people who work there to be more “in control” of their work processes.

The building blocks of Visual thinking

Visual thinking is each employee’s ability to notice his or her own motion and the information deficits that trigger it, and eliminate both. Eight building blocks must be in place for this outcome to result:

  1. Missing answers to “information deficits" that are vital to accurate, complete and safe work. Seeking those missing answers can consume much of the work day.
  2. Six core questions: Where, What, When, Who (or which machine, tool or person), How Many, and How. Workplace Visuality installs answers into the physical work environment in the form of Visual devices and mini-systems.
  3. An understanding of motion, the chain of negative events that leads to “moving without working” (see Corporate Enemy Number One: Motion, below).
  4. A clear understanding of work, which may be defined as “moving and adding value” — or engaging in value-enhancing activity.

    Whereas work adds value, motion reduces it, blocks it or makes it impossible. Let’s say, for example, you need a spare part for the case packing machine, so you walk to the stockroom and look through several cabinets in order to find it. All three of these activities are examples of motion — two of them can probably be completely eliminated through Visual devices, and the third (the need for the spare part) can probably be reduced through them as well.
  5. A motion metric that shows how much time you spend away from your value field, or the location where value is added. Start collecting data for this metric. Get a stopwatch and just click it on as you walk away and click it off when you get back. At the end of the day, have you racked up an hour away from your value field — or is it 2.5 hours? Or use a pedometer and put it on your belt each time you leave your value field and see how far you travel during the course of any day. You are in for a surprise.

    And it’s not just you, it’s every one around you. Information deficits rule our days and eat up corporate profits — in every department, and even the board room. Noticing motion and determining its sources opens up a doorway to Visuality. Once you find the missing answer, you can translate that into a Visual device.
  6. Answers to the two unanswered questions for every process or procedure:

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