Making sense of raw data from a lab management software system can help your lab’s bottom line. OLP spoke with several lab owners/technicians to find out how they use their LMS systems to full capacity – and why.
For many, a lab management system is an invaluable tool. From tracking equipment issues to lens breakage and anything in between, this software can streamline operations and aggregate data to identify patterns that can prove profitable.
CHERRY OPTICAL, INC., GREEN BAY, WI
“There are a number of different ways to dig into the data that you have,” said Adam Cherry, president. “The first tool you need is software that makes it doable.” Using a software system from The DVI, Inc., that is easy to use, provides data organized in a way that’s “basically like an Excel format” and pivot charts to spot trends, helps the lab look for production trends.
“We’re in manufacturing, so we want to identify an issue with a machine, a product, a lens, a coating or whatever it might be,” he said. “We also analyze defects so we can pull up how many we have supplied and how many have had a defect.”
Another advantage of analyzing this data has been for marketing purposes. Cherry said the lab routinely makes complementary lenses for its customers. The results were eye opening when the lab pulled the data from these orders – style, material and treatment – and compared that to what these same customers were actually ordering for their own customers.
“The top progressive lens wasn’t even in the top 15 of what they were ordering,” he said. “The ECPs don’t see these patterns; they know what they’re selling. So using data on the sales side to find sales patterns enables us to point out to them discrepancies in what they’re wearing and what they’re actually dispensing. We share this information in a positive, business-building way to help them figure out better ways to communicate with patients.”
Cherry said not using an LMS to its fullest capability is a liability to any lab. “It’s really a powerful tool for us,” he added. “If you don’t have the ability, you’re running blind. Once a machine or lens has proven itself to be defective or in need of repair, that’s easy, it’s broken. But it’s all about being proactive in learning what to look for to correct the problem before it becomes a crisis. LMS is probably one of the bills I get every month that I don’t bat an eye at paying. For what we are getting and the ability to have and use that information, it’s a steal.”
ACCULAB, SYCAMORE, IL
Using The DVI’s LMS system, AccuLab reviews data daily to assess times on equipment, calculate bottlenecks and review breakage.
“These reports allow us to correct in a real-time manner versus finding out at the end of production that we’re having a problem all day long,” said Chris Brundies, president and CEO.
AccuLab pulls data from individual accounts, which also helps them identify problems.
“If we see that an account is well under 20% of the national average, that gives us the opportunity to talk to the account and explain that there may be a potential revenue stream that is being overlooked,” he said, adding that this data provides statistics on the average of AR, high-index and frame style, such as drilled versus metal. “We use this to help our accounts and ourselves to increase potential and profit, and it also allows us to make sure that our cost of goods in relation to our bottom line is acceptable. If we see a product has a very low ROI, we can reconsider our pricing or sourcing.”
While some reports are “absolute everyday reports,” some can be scheduled weekly, biweekly or monthly, and Brundies said using the features of the LMS is an absolute must-do for any lab.
“You can use your gut in most cases, but these are hard numbers that do not lie,” he said. “Learn as much as possible and keep digging deeper into the data.”
DIGITAL EYE LAB, HAWTHORNE, NY
At Digital Eye Lab (DEL), process engineer Steven Rivera said the company values data as a commodity. Using a custom LMS system called ABSolution by Applied Business Systems, Inc., DEL has been able to improve tracking of high-level performance metrics such as breakage, re-do’s, customer acceptance, on-time delivery and usage trends.
“We incorporate those high level metrics at a more granular level into our daily operations,” Rivera said. “We trend breakage by machines and workstations to detect machine problems as well as to identify procedural gaps where we may need to improve our standard operating procedure or re-train personnel.”
Rivera also said data collected from the LMS aids in pinpointing processing issues when involving trays, specifically stacks being pushed to the back of the table.
“By identifying this, management is able to adjust behaviors to ensure a ‘first-in/first-out’ methodology,” he said. Overall, he explained data gives a view of the lab’s operation that can’t be seen just by watching from the lab floor.
“When you view manufacturing metrics and trends over days, weeks or even months, you start to identify recurring issues,” he said. “It can be difficult to stop what you’re doing, but I would suggest for any lab not using data, to try it by starting slow, even if it’s just one hour per week. Every manufacturing operation needs the ability to pause for a moment to critically think about the process and the bigger picture.”
FEA INDUSTRIES, MORTON, PA
Being proactive is the name of the game at FEA Industries. William Heffner, IV, FEA’s director of I.T., marketing and sales, said data analysis and reviewing trends not only fixes problems, but it prevents them from happening.
“Whether that’s production issues with a machine or helping a customer, being able to track and predict is a very powerful business tool,” he said, explaining that FEA uses Optifacts with custom programs they created to better present and understand its meaning.
“Instead of having a shotgun-type approach and just sort of hoping things work, reports and analysis allow us to make much more surgical decisions to get the biggest return for the amount of effort spent,” Heffner said, adding that FEA analyzes everything.
“There is so much ‘stuff’ you can get from data off an LMS that it can be overwhelming, especially when you step back and look at all the possible things that can come into play,” he said. One example, he said, is tracking lens surfacing. Tracking the time it takes for a job to get from one station to the next doesn’t seem like much until you really analyze it.
Sales data also helps FEA figure out which accounts purchase certain products.
“If someone doesn’t buy progressive lenses from us, we know they are sending that business elsewhere,” Heffner said. “Or if they buy a high percentage of a certain type of lens from us, then they may be a good candidate to call if we run a promotion on a certain product or have a new offering in that line.”
PLASTIC PLUS, TORONTO
Using Innovations and LabZilla from Ocuco, Plastic Plus president Paul Faibish said its LMS system works for them in multiple ways, from tracking job orders and breakage to sales data and inventory.
“We’re interested in viewing sales and what’s behind the sales, and we have the capability to recommend better products to customers based on their current sales percentages,” Faibish said. “There’s a report that compares a specific account’s usage to industry percentages, and that allows our salespeople to make recommendations based on current usage.”
In addition, using reports and dashboards provided by the LMS to constantly track jobs and monitor delivery times helps the lab highlight those jobs that have been at one production step too long. Reviewing dashboards in real time ensures that daily production targets are met. Plastic Plus’s system also provides forecasting to know what goods they will need or how much inventory to have on hand based on what it has used in the past.
“Innovations helps us to understand all aspects of the issues before getting out there. That’s a powerful tool,” he said. “We can find out more about our business daily from the data we mine from our system.”