The Shaping of B-Lean

At Burlodge we’ve always emphasized the importance of great design – of creating equipment that that combines functionality, effciency and durability with great visual appeal and, above all, an appreciation of how people use that equipment.

Every time we go to the drawing board to either enhance a current line of equipment or to develop a new product, we’re always inspired by how it will be embraced by the staff that are using it day-in and day-out. Indeed, this is our most vital audience because they are the ultimate judge of whether the equipment works properly.

“Everything is designed. Few things are designed well.”
Brian Reed

That’s why when Burlodge started to introduce its B-Lean System, it decided to establish a long-term development partnership with a trusted client in order to develop the best solution possible.

Enlisting the services of the Alberta Health Service (AHS) was a natural fit, given the organization was open to studying new meal assembly options. This was not just an opportunity to become an early adopter of the B-Lean System, but that AHS was responsible for making a significant contribution to the design of what is fast becoming a very successful product.

Many Burlodge clients are familiar with the B-Lean System, a series of interchangeable equipment that allows clients to custom build work cells or work pods that can better accommodate the many different physical spaces that our clients must contend with in serving meals. The equipment has been designed with excellent ergonomic principles and is intended to simplify and speed up tray delivery services.

“Design is intelligence made visible.”
Alina Wheeler

Assisting with the AHS initiative was Luke Brimmage, Manager, Project Implementation, who is responsible for looking after capital assets and projects for nutrition food service in the province. He’s also a member of the business process excellence team for the province.

Says Brimmage, “We were looking at ways to remove tray assembly beltlines from our operations. They take up a lot of staff and staff hours and we wanted to come up with a more ecient and more ergonomic system.”

The team wanted to explore different ways of preparing trays, it seemed an opportune time to collaborate with Burlodge to help improve the proposed B-Lean System. Together with Adrienne Riley, Manager of Patient Food Services, and Rakesh Sharma, Lean Specialist, Luke and the team undertook a thorough study of the prototype B-Lean System, contributing to some of the key features that today distinguish this equipment.

For Adrienne Riley, this was an unprecedented opportunity to contribute to the development of equipment that would make a significant difference to her operation. “In my thirty years of experience I’ve never had the opportunity to work with the manufacturer,” she points out. “This was the perfect opportunity to work with Paul in having something custom built, which was exactly what we wanted to see. It was a great opportunity to say, ‘this is what we need.”

The inaugural site for testing of the prototype B-Lean System was in St. Albert, which was Adrienne’s acknowledged home site. Staff were asked to use and actively assess the equipment, as the lead team maintained an ongoing communication with Paul Gauntley at Burlodge Canada’s headquarters in Toronto. Once the Alberta team had a clear notion of what they needed the design to be, Paul could work with this team to create complementary elements for the system.

“The only important thing about design is how it relates to people.”
Victor Papanek

The prototype team in Alberta was, in fact, instrumental in helping to develop the B-Lean’s Gravity Shelves. It took the team six full months to get the angling of these shelves just right so staff could safely reach all items without straining, while all manner of products could effortlessly slide into place.

Moreover, the AHS team also wanted to understand the ergonomics involved and to maximize the effectiveness and economy of movement. Notes Luke, “We didn’t want the staff moving more than three or four steps, rather we wanted everything contained right in front of them. Those were the biggest issues and we had a workplace health and safety officer help us out in dealing with those ergonomic issues.”

It was a telling response, recalls Brimmage, when longtime staff pointed out that once they started working with B-Lean they stopped feeling the day-to-day pain that had dogged many of them for years when they were using other equipment. This was typically due to the repetitive stress disorders of standing in one place along an assembly line for a majority of their shift.

Furthermore, from Riley’s point of view, the efficiencies were immediately evident. “We were running a meal assembly cell without the proper equipment. We probably took seven to nine seconds off each tray. We’re not doing huge numbers, but every minute counts.”

Similarly, the cost benet analysis suggests that adopting the B-Lean system pays immediate dividends. As Brimmage points out, “In every implementation we have been able to provide 1-3 FTE back to operational service/budgets. Thus the payback on one cell with just one FTE (at $50K) is immediate.” He adds, “This is allowing us to take over tray delivery to the bedside in sites, traditionally a function that nursing has been responsible for, at no cost to either service while also enhancing the service to the patient.”

“Good design is good business.”
Thomas J. Watson Jr.

With a thorough amount of testing behind them and strong evidence that using B-Lean both decreased the number of staff hours preparing trays while increasing overall efficiency, Luke and the team built a business case to pitch to his VP and the senior management team. Funding for further development was secured and the next phase of the B-Lean rollout occurred.

As of today, the AHS has rolled out the B-Lean system to eight sites while they’ve used the concepts at some very small operations, where they employ one piece of equipment. In fact, as the program rolled out across a number of sites, there has been a consistent reduction in the amount of time required for tray assembly and delivery in addition to fewer staff requirements.

Next up is a large implementation at Red Deer Regional Hospital, a 340 bed facility that represents AHS’s first cook-serve implementation of a signicant size. No doubt, after that, the team at Alberta Health Services will have designs on continuing to expand the program further until all their operations can feel the many benefits of the B-Lean System.