Monday, April 20, 2015

Essential Advice for Lab Management

“No man is an island” is certainly a true axiom for R&D efforts.  I have a few observations that you might find helpful in reviewing R&D activities.

1) Integrate R&D in the production process – For most manufacturers one of the goals of the R&D department is to develop formulas or processes that can be performed by production.  The feed back loop is critical in the evolution of a formula and a company.

R&D understands the functional requirements of a formula and ways to deliver to the customer. Production understands how to make that vision.  The most successful R&D labs evaluate formulations based on the impact to production while still keeping the creative and problem solving element alive.  Not giving too much emphasis on either theoretical development or actual implementation can make for a nice balance.

Producing a feed back loop is the key.  R&D should be reviewing metrics like- how many part numbers/ingredients are they adding to inventory?  Are there ways to use equipment that is not part of a bottle neck rather than processes using sought after devices? How many QC modifications are being made by formula?  What materials are experiencing the highest cost increases in the next 12 months?  Is is possible to adjust existing or future formulas to account for these questions.

So meet with Production on occasion to discuss formulas that are working well and those that need adjustment.  Identify those formulas often run on the most active equipment and see if there are changes to be made to uses other equipment.  Get your system to report significant yield variance and QC adjustments by formula.

Once it has been brought to your attention look for ways to solve the problems. The changes could really affect the profitability of your company.

2)     Link CRM data to R&D data - With the advent of Microsoft Dynamics CRM (and others) the ability to record and track customer activity is not only cheap it is easy to implement.  One of the fastest ways to gain insight to your customer is to watch their patterns.  CRM can do that.

An effect R&D department will track the progress of a new formulation from the time a request is made, through preliminary development all the way to commercialization.  Hooking up your formulation/R&D database to a CRM opportunity management system makes this a simple task.

Imagine seeing the current R&D project backlog, customer history of requests vs sales and new requests statistics by product type.  These are simple queries once the data is joined in a logical manner.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Vicinity can do just that.  Add the opportunity in CRM and link it to a Vicinity Project and now all the related data in either CRM or Vicinity is forever joined. Analysis of history and trends becomes a by-product of the normal day to day activities.

3) Leverage your formula database for new formulations – few R&D departments start from scratch with a new formula request.  Most R&D labs scan through test formulas in excel or manual lab notebooks to get started.  Once they have a base to work from they add or take away ingredients or processes to achieve a desired result.

Why all the manual effort?  Imagine a system where all historical work was in a database that was searchable by user defined attributes.  The results could be compared and a potential candidate(s) reviewed further for consideration.  Now that would be helpful.

Vicinity software allows you to do just that.  Store all formulas, experimental trials and results in Vicinity.  The next time you are looking for something similar it is will be right there.

If you are not yet ready for Vicinity and are forced to use Excel make sure to use a standard format for your formulas.  Leave room in your design for user definable and validated data. This will make a search across spreadsheets possible – I never said it would be easy.

Get started today – get your work in an electronic format and use the right tool to get the job done.  The result will pay for the investment in short order.

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