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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Lean Sink

Washing our hands is an all too common process.  One we do so often we forget about the process.  Have you ever stopped to think about the waste within this process.  Maybe you start the water and wet your hand then reach for the soap.  Because the soap may be centrally located for a couple of sinks to share you let the water run.  While you get soap you are wasting water.  Then when your hand are clean you probably have to walk across the bathroom to dry your hands.  If you are lucky there is an energy efficient hand dryer instead of paper towels.  This process causes you to waste materials, has excess processing, and more transportation that necessary.

So what do you get when you combine this

with this 

and with this

Well, you get a Lean sink that combines all these steps into one unit.

Here is a video demonstrating this great invention.

and if you like this you will like Paul Akers find from Japan.

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  1. No I put the soap on my hands then turn on the water. :-) I prefer to use paper to dry my hands for two reasons. One is I then use the paper towel to open the door to exit so I don't have to touch a knob that someone before me used that didn't wash their hands. And the other reason is there is no way an electric hand dryer is more energy efficient than a paper towel.

    Not only that, wouldn't the lean sink be an example of batch processing? If you have a line waiting to use the sink nobody can do anything until the person at the sink moves out of the way. Wouldn't apply soap, wash hands, dry hands be an example of one-piece flow? You can have someone drying their hands while the next person is washing their hands. I think the line would move faster.

  2. I see your point George. I still think this idea shares a lot of Lean and Green thinking elements. On the batch process idea you would need to consider who the customer is and what they value. You also need to consider the customer demand. How many people need to wash? Not sure why you would separate process steps to gain capacity instead of adding units. Again it comes down to demand.

  3. Yes, adding more units would increase capacity. I was traveling today and had just left a well known fast food restaurant so it was fresh on my mind. One sink and electric dryer. Dryer takes longer to dry hands than towels, and you don't know if the door knob Is clean.

    So in this instance it's not about value to the customers, it's about what's convenient for the restaurant; less cleanup.

    Lean novice here, so not speaking from an expert's point of view. :-)

    By the way I do like the sink idea overall. Would work great in an airport.

  4. There are some experts who say the air blower dryers are just spraying germs on your hands.... paper towel is great for opening the door (given there is a thoughtfully placed trash can right outside the door.

  5. Great post, Tim. The Delta terminal at ATL has a great setup - one paper towel dispenser per sink. Eliminates walking, crowding, dripping, etc. Still paper, but frankly I'm not convinced that electricity is better than paper. If I use more hand lotion because of the problem with over-drying when electricity is used, have we "process tampered" or truly improved?

  6. Interesting post and discussion. Personally, I would consider this overprocessing. More complicated machine than needed. Give me a bar of soap and a paper towel any day.

    As far as customer demand goes, by separating the process, you are more flexible for peak demand, while adding additional units to sit idle during low demand periods is a waste of capital. ;) I think that's why many places locate the dryers several steps away from the sinks.

  7. Hi Tim

    Thanks - great post! As long as there are enough units available, I think it could offer a good lean solution in certain cases.
    There will always be reasons why this is not perfect, but I always enjoy examples like this where people challenge the status quo.
    For me it triggers several further improvement ideas ... for those of us who don't want to touch the door after we've washed our hands ... how about automatic doors. I also don't like dryers but would be happy with liquid sanitizer that doesn't require drying, etc.
    I look forward to see what the integrated lean urinal-hand wash unit will look like :-)

  8. The combination sink is more complex than the process demands. At any one time, only one of the built in functions is being used, rendering the others useless at that instant.

    In other words, the combination "sink" is always underutilized at any given step in the hand washing process. In my opinion, this is not very resourceful.

    I can appreciate the "wasted" time as described by the "traditional" process, but that seems to be more a product of ill placed paper towels (or hand dryers) and soap dispensers.

    I would think that flow (throughput) is the greater concern of lean. Perhaps a method to balance the time required between each of the hand washing functions is required. (Theory of constraints).

    I'm really not impressed by the "technology" for use in a public washroom facility but it may be more suited for home use.

    I can also appreciate the concern that not all people wash their hands! An automatic door opener would definitely be an improvement worthy of consideration.

    Interesting post. I can appreciate the discussion article and discussion that followed so far.