Take the 2% Challenge

By By Robert Minardi
The newest fad on the Internet is the challenge—think: the “Ice-Bucket” challenge or the “Mannequin” challenge. The concept is simple. Someone creates a task that is challenging and people can choose to accept it or not. Some are physical, some are mental and others are downright crazy.

Today, I’d like to issue a challenge to you. Reduce your breakage by 2% from where it is right now. I know what you’re thinking: “We already have breakage as low as we can get it.” Or: “Our breakage is the lowest it’s ever been!”

I guarantee you can get it lower.

In this article we could discuss things like wearing gloves, keeping your lab clean and so on. That’s basic stuff and would have about as much effect on your current breakage as me telling you not to swim for 30 minutes after you eat, or to brush your teeth before bedtime.

What we’re about to discuss is far more fundamental and far-reaching than any specific tip or trick.

Standardized Work Instructions

Standard Work Instruction (SWI) is defined as detailed instructions on the most efficient method to produce a product or perform a service.

The way you define SWI specifically is largely up to your best practices and procedures. Every position in your lab should have a detailed, written, step-by-step procedure for performing the duties of that position. The benefits of this are numerous. It makes training easier, reduces waste, increases production and aides in troubleshooting breakage.

Let’s look at an example of a SWI in action. Say you want to bake a cake. What is the first thing you’d reach for to increase the likelihood of your baking success? A recipe. In this case, a recipe is just a work instruction with the overall goal of producing a delicious cake.

How do you think this recipe came to be? Did a chef just sit down, pen in hand, and write out a perfect recipe?

Highly unlikely. What probably happened was someone wanted to make a specific type of cake and they wrote down step-by-step instructions on how they got to the finished product. After it was done baking, they gave it a taste and maybe realized the recipe needed a little more of this or a little less of that. Over time, they continuously improved (Kaizen) the recipe until it was exactly what they wanted.

SWI gives your processes a form and shape to improve upon. Without it, everyone’s doing their own thing and the real “best way” of performing a process is obscured. Not to take the analogy too far, but SWI will make sure all your processes are as sweet as they can be.


Data provides information, which in turn provides knowledge, which in turn provides wisdom.

Eventually, all labs will be automated hives of machinery working together in unison tied together by network cables. The polisher will know what the generator is doing and the generator will know what the blocker is doing and vice versa. They’ll be able to optimize their own performance and alert you to any conditions that could influence production and breakage.

That’s quite a ways off for most labs, but until that time, you can accomplish something similar with logs.

It’s really hard to overstate the importance of regularly collecting data. With data, you can quite literally predict the future—to a degree anyway. That’s a powerful tool in breakage management.

For example, in the surface department I ran, we had a log that recorded how long we kept our generator cutting surfaces (milling bit, pre-cutter and diamond) on the machine. While manufacturer specs are a good place to start, I wouldn’t count on them. Not because the manufacturers are dishonest, but because your cutting surface lifespan is highly dependent on the mix of materials you run. For instance, if your lab has a contract with a manufacturing facility to produce their Rx safety glasses, you may need to change your bits more often as you’ll probably be running more poly lenses.

Basically, in our surface department, we created a log of how long the tools lasted before we saw defects. Over time, we were able to show that a new milling bit lifespan was between about 28,000 and 33,000 cuts, with the majority lasting a little over 30,000 cuts. So, we knew with a high degree of certainty that once we hit 30,000 cuts, it was time to change the milling bit. Anything past that and we were asking for breakage.

Now, it’s not always true that you should immediately change a bit when it hits a magic number of cuts. The reality is you may want to wait till the end of the shift or even till the end of the week before you change it. That’s okay to do; just make sure you keep an eye on jobs prone to defects due to an aging bit. In our situation it was high-cylinder CR39 lenses. I’d regularly have those spot checked so we’d know right away when issues were imminent.

Here’s a partial list of some of the other things we logged:

Polish pad (free-form) lifespan

Daily calibration values (blockers and generators)

Coolant temperatures (done every break)

Polish Baum reading (done at the beginning of every shift)

In a nutshell, if something can cause breakage or negatively affect production, log it at a frequency that will help you catch it before that happens!

If you’d like some examples of these logs, just visit www.robertminardi.com and contact me. I’ll email you examples or help you make your own.

Intermittent breakage, constant headache

Intermittent breakage is one of the main reasons your breakage numbers could be lower.

By intermittent I mean, not a steady flow of breakages, but rather the here and there issues. For example, you have a certain breakage called “X.” Maybe you have one X breakage before and after lunch (or two per day), that’s one X breakage per 4 hour time span. It’s easy to disregard X because something happening every 4 hours doesn’t really raise the hair on the back of our neck. Not like having a free-form polish pad get sliced and put spyrograph patterns on 10 lenses in a row.

These intermittent issues add up, though. At the end of the year (about 261 work days), those two breakages per day end up being 522 lenses (261 jobs) lost. I don’t know how many jobs per day you run, but that’s a lot. No matter how small the footprint you think a breakage makes, multiply it out to a full year and you’ll be surprised.

You must be diligent and attack issues even when things are going well. If you have to, try to create the breakage yourself. I know that’s counter-intuitive, but if you can reproduce the problem, you can fix the problem. It’s not a big deal to lose 10 to 20 lenses in the troubleshooting process if it can save you hundreds in the future.

These are a few of the more powerful concepts I’ve used in the past to turn struggling departments into high-output, low-breakage juggernauts. If you apply these techniques, I know you’ll do the same.

If you choose to take this challenge, or even if you don’t, I’d love to hear from you. If I get enough feedback by the time the next issue of LABTALK comes out, I’ll share some of your success stories in my next article.

Robert Minardi, ABO-AC, is currently a Software Engineer at Ocuco Ltd. He’s been in manufacturing for about 25 years, and is a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt with a background in quality control.


LABTALK March 2019