Batch Refills of Automated Dispensing Units (Pyxis)

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    I have recently become a LSS Black Belt, and am struggling with the LSS notion that batching is always bad.
    In particular, we refill Pyxis Medstations as a ONCE DAILY batch from our automated Carousel system.  We pick the med one time ONCE DAILY (pick #100 Nifedipine 30XL), divide it up to the Medstations they are going to (#25 to four different Medstations), then deliver in batch based on hospital geography.  I can not understand how reducing my batch size or refilling each Medstation pocket as it reaches a MIN (LSS one piece flow) is more efficient than my current process.  Reducing our batch size or refilling each pocket as it reaches its’ MIN would kill us in labor.
    We currently do an excellent job of minimizing stockouts by calculating MINs based on utilization, and maximize our real estate by removing least removed medications in favor of actively used meds.  Customer needs (patient and nurse) are constantly in focus.
    How is batching bad in this type of transactional scenario?  I welcome your feedback.



    Batching is always bad. The question in your scenario is: Is there enough reason for you to change the process? Is there a solid business case? Will it improve patient care significantly? Will it increase revenue?
    If the answers to these questions are, No, No, Not a whole lot, not really…then you can ignore the LS notion of batching being bad..
    Another way to look at it is….this process is probably not amongst the top 5 or top 10 significant causes of delays/patient care issues etc. So you need to let this process function as it is and move on to more challenging projects…A word of caution would be to place sufficient controls in place so that if something starts going can be alerted
    If you truly insist on applying LS notion, you should think of eliminating batching completely and think about how the Pyxis machine can be refilled instantly…without human intervention
    I hope this answers your question
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    I understand your comment and have similar experience in different industies on the benefits / disadvantages on batch sizes. I don’t believe there is one right answer for every situation. You need to balance the goal of JIT, minimum batch size, reduced cycle time, reduced stock holding etc.with other costs in your business and your very valid point in your example of potential significant increased labor costs. I see Lean Sigma as a constant drive for improvement which prompts the question “Why do we do it this way ?” In your example if you flowcharted and costed the current method with advantages / disadvantages and then compared it with the proposed more frequent top up method then your organisation could make an informed decision on the best method. This may mean a change or may mean keeping the current system but hopefully the decision will have been based on data rather than “well that’s how we have always done it”
    If you think about McDonalds there is a factory somewhere making a big batch of burgers for delivery to the stores. But at the Store the batch size of actually cooking the burgers is really small and works on a JIT basis to supply the customer. But walk round the back of the store and there is a big freezer full of the burgers for the day ! So in McDonalds they have different batch sizes at different steps of the process i.e. not one batch size solution for the whole supply chain.
    Best wishes for your future in Continuous Improvement – the theories are great and prompt us to think about why we do things the way we do but the real trick is applying them to real situations.

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