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The gift of life

Mar 03, 2017

Khaedine Donald says when Toyota advisors arrived at the Canadian Blood Services facility in Brampton, Ont., she and some of her fellow lab assistants were a bit confused by some of the operational changes that came about. “When Toyota came in I was thinking, ‘how is this going to work’?” she says.

But after months of regular visits where Toyota advisors worked alongside her colleagues from Canadian Blood Services to tackle process improvement opportunities, she is now a believer in the Toyota Production System (TPS). “Now we understand. We get the idea. We understand what the aim was,” says Donald.

“The Toyota team really taught me how to take that problem and break it down into a manageable, solvable piece. I think that’s one thing I’ll really take away moving forward.” – Alana Robertson, Canadian Blood Services

TPS is an organizational culture where a series of small improvements add up to a big impact over time. The philosophy is based around a customer first approach, recognizing people are the most valuable resource, and continuous improvement with a shop floor focus.

“The Toyota Production System is at the core of what’s enabled us to make some of the world’s best vehicles,” says John Heer, Toyota advisor, and a key member of the team collaborating with Canadian Blood Services.

But could Toyota’s manufacturing know-how translate to improvements inside a highly-regulated not-for profit biologics manufacturer like Canadian Blood Services? You bet.

“The beauty of TPS is that it can apply in any process. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be a manufacturing process,” says Andrea Moore, a chemical engineer by trade, and now a lean manufacturing consultant at Canadian Blood Services.

Although well versed in the Toyota Production System, Moore says it was an incredible opportunity for her to work directly with Toyota. “You can read books and watch videos, but it’s different to actually get a perspective from somebody who has applied those principles in a real application in their environment,” says Moore.

As part of giving back to the communities they serve, for more than two decades Toyota has shared its knowledge of TPS with not-for profits like food banks, disaster relief agencies, health care providers, governments and even fellow manufacturers.

Dozens of improvements

The collaboration led to dozens of improvement efforts throughout the facility from production to distribution.

The first phase of the project started in the blood distribution area, where lab assistants prep the blood orders to ship to their customers — hospitals across Ontario. The focus was in improving the flow of products through the order picking and packing process, reducing time to fill orders, and reducing burdensome tasks for team members.

The second phase targetted production, where donated blood undergoes a series of complex processes to convert it into a broad range of blood products needed by Canadian patients. The focus was to increase the usage of the production equipment, help reduce bottlenecks, and make blood products available to hospitals more quickly.

The broader aim of the project is to continue making improvements at the Brampton facility — the largest in the Canadian Blood Services network — and to spread TPS thinking across the organization’s other facilities across Canada.

The end of a chapter

At the end of the project in January, senior leaders from Toyota and Canadian Blood Services met for an executive review, and toured the plant to witness the impact of the collaboration.

During the tour, project leaders showcased the changes and explained that many improvement efforts remain a work in progress. That’s not unexpected. Toyota’s continuous improvement philosophy means that improvements can always be further improved upon.

Although Canadian Blood Services operates in a highly-regulated industry with very strict standard operating procedures, they have now witnessed that big changes that positively impact Canadians are still possible.

“We can be nimble and change rapidly,“ said Rick Prinzen, Chief Supply Chain Officer at Canadian Blood Services.

“Working with the Toyota team has been fantastic,” says Prinzen. “These are extremely talented, gifted and engaged people.”

The biggest legacy of this project, is not the impact of any one productivity gain or process improvement. It’s about the impact on the people and the culture, and fostering a culture of improvement. “Toyota has been able to transfer knowledge into some key positions here within Canadian Blood Services. Those individuals will then take that knowledge and ways of thinking to build a program that is self-sustaining across the Canadian Blood Services network,” says Prinzen.

One of those key people, is Alana Robertson, an industrial engineer with Canadian Blood Services. “I was really thankful to have Toyota here and teaching us all of their knowledge,” says Robertson. Tasked with helping her organization embark on its lean journey, Robertson said she was at times overwhelmed by the scope of the changes needed. “The Toyota team really taught me how to take that problem and break it down into a manageable, solvable piece,” says Robertson. “I think that’s one thing I’ll really take away moving forward.”

The cooperative spirit and the drive to continue to improve is strong at Canadian Blood Services. The remarkable people that work behind the scenes to ensure there is a steady flow of safe and high quality blood products available for Canadians when they need it and where they need it, appear to be more than up for the challenge.

People like Stephanie MacPherson, a supervisor at Canadian Blood Services who says she has really embraced Toyota’s approach. “It was really important for us and other staff, to see how much they actually cared,” says MacPherson.

Members of the Toyota team were also grateful to be invited to help out on such an important project. “The work you do here is critical to people’s lives,” said Stephen Beatty, Vice President and Corporate Secretary, Toyota Canada. ”I thank Canadian Blood Services for allowing us to be part of this collaboration.”

For Canadian Blood Services, it’s the end of a project, but the start of a new chapter on a journey that benefits all Canadians.

To learn more about how Toyota shares its know-how visit