Has the industry embraced ‘Lean’ security checkpoints?

The Lean concept aims to eliminate any wasted time, resources or money by analysing every stage of the process and cutting out or refining anything that does not generate value.  Although it has its roots in manufacturing, service providers can also use the Lean approach to improve operational efficiency and customer service.  For example, amongst others, there are many academic institutions, claims processers, call centres, software developers and consulting firms applying Lean in the service sector.

Most Lean tools and methods apply to both manufacturing and service operations but implementation strategy has to be appropriately adjusted.  Production strives for a uniform, consistent result whereas variation is inherent to good service and therefore needs absorbing rather than eliminating.

Lean is about small, continuous incremental changes which improve efficiency and quality.  In terms of the checkpoint, this means examining every step from dealing with prohibited items such as water bottles; to scanning baggage and people; and returning trays to the start of the process.  Fine tuning at each stage creates a well-balanced, smooth process which optimises hardware, software and staff resources and boosts overall efficiency.

The right technology and systems will always have a significant impact – but it is also about the small things and every airport could apply the Lean principle in some form.  For example, using the Lean 5S tools, testing for explosives at the recheck point can be improved simply by ensuring all the right equipment (wand, swabs and gloves etc.) are in the most accessible and logical place.  Problems should never be allowed to persist and a daily management board is an easy way to highlight anything creating a barrier to passenger flow.

So to what extent has the aviation industry embraced the idea of continuously improving checkpoint security screening to deliver benefits in passenger experience, throughput and cost?

Gaining insight

Documented case studies seem few and far between, which could suggest not many airports have tried to develop a Lean checkpoint or, attempts have been less than successful.  It would certainly be interesting to gain some insight into how many airports have implemented the approach and which factors might be inhibiting progress.

For example, is it perceived as too complex, too much of a cultural change, or perhaps a combination of factors?  Maybe the cost of implementation is seen as prohibitive; the expected outcome was not achieved or sustained; or the benefits were eroded by increases in security regulations.

Could it be that state run airport security operations have no incentive to improve efficiency;  do they prioritise financial measures; or do they tend to throw resources at problem areas without implementing an effective strategy?  Have some checkpoint equipment manufacturers played a part by not looking at the checkpoint from an overall perspective and therefore not focusing on the impact their systems have on airport operations?

What about the aviation sector?  Has it done enough to educate passengers on airport security and highlight changes to regulations and therefore processes? Or is it simply that relentlessly pursuing continuous improvement in a security checkpoint is considered inappropriate?