Are You in the Market for Lab Equipment Repair and Maintenance?

By Lab Manager

In today’s economic environment, cost reduction is a driving force in the lab, but research organizations should not forget the critical role lab equipment repair and preventive maintenance plays in generating high-quality results that get their products to market faster. Unfortunately, a fair number of labs underestimate the value of preventive maintenance. In addition to savings, preventive maintenance programs provide greater productivity and operational efficiencies, reduce downtime caused by equipment failure, safeguard the lab’s Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) and extend the life of an instrument.

A typical research organization works with over 100 different laboratory equipment providers and has key contracts in place for the most critical instruments, including high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), gas chromatography (GC), ion chromatography (IC), mass spectroscopy (MS), centrifuges, plate readers, and robotic liquid-handling systems. The different repair and maintenance services available to labs vary according to the company’s business priorities, the support of researchers and supporting business units, and the amount of internal resources allocated to lab equipment support.

Labs have several choices when it comes to maintaining equipment: In-house facility maintenance people, asset management companies, third-party service agencies, and original equipment manufacturer (OEM). Each option comes with its values and benefits but also with its obstacles and costs.

Scientists often favor OEM’s contracts or a time-and-materials approach because they maintain the long-standing personal relationships that played a major role in their decision to procure a specific product in the first place. Managing multiple contracts can be expensive and most labs that enter into an OEM contract usually focus on price with their OEMs rather than on performance, risk, and service-level efficiency opportunities that could benefit their business. In addition, each equipment provider has unique preventive maintenance and qualification protocols, response times, and service reports, thereby creating significant ongoing administrative challenges.

Labs can move away from contracts altogether and work with an OEM on a time-and-materials call-out basis, in which contracts are placed for scheduled preventive maintenance only. In this option, risk is passed to the lab.

A declining number of research organizations have their own laboratory equipment maintenance teams, whose activities range from contract management to financial reporting, or company-employed in-house engineering staff that perform maintenance in laboratories or workshops. It is becoming more challenging and costly to ensure in-house teams are sufficiently trained and that parts are available; as a result, labs that have in-house facility maintenance people are moving away from this model.

Knowledge of lab equipment failure rates, downtime, and cost of ownership all would help research organizations make better risk assessments, but labs rarely find the resources to collate and manage such asset knowledge effectively. Hence, asset management maintenance models are growing. Asset management companies cover everything in the lab. Labs are generally free to include or exclude different types of equipment, which will affect the price of their contract. Typically, the company will employ onsite technicians, providing the lab with the benefit of having in-house facility maintenance techs but will frequently use third-party contractors or manufacturers for more difficult lines of equipment. Terms of the contract and price varies and is based on the lab’s usage of the policy. The skill gap is a greater concern with newer, more complex equipment, where it is difficult for the asset management companies to keep abreast of the latest technology when they do not have access to the OEM training resources. For this reason, most laboratory managers take a very cautious approach to selecting this option.

What respondents expect will happen to their maintenance models in the next three years:

  increase decrease stay the same don’t know
Instrument manufacturer service contract 25% 7% 59% 9%
Instrument manufacturer time/material 21% 8% 56% 14%
Third-party contract 18% 8% 48% 26%
Third-party time/material 18% 8% 45% 28%
In-house service department 19% 6% 59% 16%
Self-service/individual departments 24% 6% 53% 17%
Multi-vendor service provider 13% 5% 48% 34%

Over 60 percent of the respondents’ labs have a tracking system in place to keep track of lab equipment location, service history reliability, and other pertinent information about the instruments in their lab.

Yes, our department developed a tracking system which keeps track of maintenance and service issues for our instruments 40%
No, we have no system in place and we are not planning to implement a system. 19%
Yes, a tracking system was developed by another department within our organization which keeps track of maintenance and service issues for instruments in the laboratory. 11%
No, we have no system in place but are starting the process to implement a system 11%
Yes, we have a commercial product that tracks the location, service, preventive maintenance, compliance, laboratory efficiency, etc. 7%
Yes, we have hired a multi-vendor service provider that tracks the location, service, preventive maintenance, compliance, laboratory efficiency, and much more. 2%
Don’t know 5%
Other 5%

Respondents utilize the following services for the instruments in their lab:

Instrument repair when needed 75%
Routine instrument service scheduled according to time/date of service 68%
As needed depending upon the condition of the instrument 62%
Non-warranted instrument services 39%
Planned/scheduled according to the SOP 26%
Planned/scheduled according to usage/ number of analyses 12%
Other 2%

Sixty-eight percent of the respondents believe that management of lab instruments’ uptime and service is adequate, while 23 percent (one out of five) believe that their lab’s management needs to pay more attention to service.

Management of instrument uptime and service is adequate 68%
Management of instrument uptime and service needs more attention 23%
Management of instrument uptime and service is more than what we need 7%
Don’t know 2%
Other 1%

Top ten features/factors in selecting a maintenance model and service offerings/capabilities of instrument service providers.

Availability of replacement parts 100%
Knowledgeable service agents 97%
Service costs 97%
Timely repairs 97%
Service contracts 93%
Telephone/Internet support 92%
System's ease of service capabilities 87%
Initial warranty 85%
Calibration services 80%
Regular software upgrades 80%

Completed Surveys: 267

Categories: Surveys

Published In

Communicating Science Magazine Issue Cover
Communicating Science

Published: November 1, 2011

Cover Story

Communicating Science

The scientific community has historically taken a dim view of communications with nonscientific publics. No thanks, said scientists. What an imposition! Why bother? What good could possibly come from interrupting research, sticking our necks out and dumbing it down for non-scientific dunderheads, only to see them mismanage our findings?