A young female scientist stands with a clipboard while three of her colleagues work on a whiteboard in the background. Everyone is wearing lab coats.

What Laboratory Services Can You Outsource?

An overview of the key options offered by service providers

Rachel Muenz

There are numerous services in the lab that can be outsourced, and they offer similar benefits when done effectively. Outsourcing offers labs expertise or capacity they may not have in-house and can save labs time and money, freeing up staff to focus on higher value-added work, such as designing experiments, performing analyses, or solving complex problems. Contract services also offer a fresh and unbiased perspective that is essential for offerings such as safety audits and problem-solving.  

Here are some of the major outsourcing services available: 

1. Accreditation 

Involves obtaining and demonstrating the requirements of an approved quality management system, such as ISO 17025. When labs outsource the accreditation process, that service provider is responsible for helping the lab build the quality assurance infrastructure, prepare for the accreditation audit, and ensuring the lab fulfills the requirements of the desired system in an efficient and cost-effective manner. 

2. Audit and Inspection

Most labs perform a review of their processes and procedures to ensure they are meeting safety, quality, and performance standards, and identify areas for improvement. If internal reviews aren’t identifying such issues effectively, or lab staff don’t have time to perform such audits, outsourcing the auditing process may be a solution. Outsourcing inspection can refer to evaluating the lab as a whole to ensure it meets certain safety and quality standards, or evaluating the products the lab produces or the equipment used to ensure such standards are met. As with audits, outsourcing inspections provides an unbiased, fresh set of eyes to the lab. Such work can be done by companies that specialize in inspections, or may be offered as just one service provided by a larger contract organization. 

3. Calibration

This ensures that laboratory instruments are performing to specifications and providing accurate results. Depending on the instrument, calibration may be required as often as every day or as little as a few times a year. Outsourcing calibration ensures this task is done properly and frees time for staff to focus on other important tasks in the laboratory. 

4. Certification 

Certifying your products shows customers that you are meeting certain regulations and/or standards. Rather than having your staff handle the certification process, you can outsource to a lab with the right expertise. External certification also demonstrates objectivity in the process. Many large outsource labs provide certification as one of the services they offer, or you can select a smaller company that specializes in assisting labs in the certification process. 

5. Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are a critical part of the drug discovery and development process, involving the enrollment of human volunteers to test potential treatments for safety and efficacy. Because of the impact on human health, clinical trials are often, large, complicated, and highly regulated. Several outsource providers specialize in the staff, expertise, and infrastructure to manage these studies. These providers can be small, regional contract research organizations, or large multinational companies. 

6. Consulting

This service could be offered by a single professional in the lab’s field or industry or a larger consulting firm that offers many different kinds of experts. As with consulting in other industries, consultants for labs can offer advice and expertise on any number of topics, from improving processes, project management, or specific scientific expertise. 

7. Data Management

For labs that produce huge amounts of data, it may be worth outsourcing the storage and management of that data. Companies that offer the management of another lab’s data provide a number of services, from storing the data on their servers, to cleaning up the data and ensuring it is protected and unaltered. Such data management services are mostly offered by larger outsource providers, usually as part of a suite of services. When evaluating companies to protect such a critically important resource, cybersecurity and trustworthiness should be top of mind.  

8. Instrument Repair, Maintenance, and Preventive Maintenance

These services involve all of the activities required to keep your laboratory equipment and instruments working properly. Instrument repair and maintenance contracts can be purchased to cover as needed issues, monthly, or annual service, and can include preventive maintenance. Lab managers have several choices of these outsource services from the original instrument manufacturer to regional providers to small companies that specialize in a narrow range of instruments. Complexity of instrumentation, risk of instrument downtime, and cost are the key factors in choosing which provider makes the most sense. 

9. Lab Monitoring

This service involves looking after the lab’s instruments, samples, and the lab environment itself. Using a combination of sensors and software, monitoring services can keep track of how often instruments are used, who accessed which areas of the lab at what time, and/or temperature changes in equipment. Labs can purchase such sensors and software and do the monitoring themselves, or outsource the monitoring to a third party. 

10. Method Development 

Many lab managers may not think of method development as something that can be outsourced, but it can save a great deal of time and money, especially if the method involved is complex and the lab doesn’t have the experience necessary. Outsource labs can also handle validation of existing methods to ensure their safety and accuracy. When outsourcing method development, labs should clearly define what industry standards, regulations, parameters, and performance should be met, and the expertise they require. 

11. Operations 

This can refer to the processes necessary to conduct specific work of the lab, as well as maintaining the laboratory building itself. Specific tasks related to lab operations involve creating and enforcing regular schedules, training, managing people, and ensuring safety and standard operating procedures are followed. For the building as a whole, operations may refer to maintaining regular/cleaning and sterilization schedules, maintenance of HVAC and safety systems, etc.  

12. Problem-Solving 

Outsourcing problem-solving tasks involves bringing in a contract lab or individual with the expertise to find a solution to a particular challenge your lab is facing. When choosing a problem-solving partner, you’ll want to bring in an organization or person who has extensive knowledge of the issues you want to resolve. Strong communication is also very important in ensuring a successful solution. 

13. Quality Assurance

Quality assurance (QA) relates to all tasks that ensure proficiency and accuracy in a lab. Outsourcing QA to the right partner can ensure the right standard operating procedures are put in place, proper documentation is done, and that any deviations are identified and corrected promptly. When selecting an outsource provider for QA, labs should examine the potential partner’s level of expertise with the specific standards or regulations the lab operates under and how well they work with the lab’s staff. 

14. Regulatory Compliance (Including PMA, REACH, CA Prop 65, TSCA) 

Related to quality assurance, regulatory compliance refers to how well a product meets industry regulations. Failing to comply with industry regulations can have disastrous consequences, leading to possible fines or the withdrawal of a product from the market. Outsourcing regulatory compliance can be the testing required to demonstrate that requirements are met and/or the administrative aspects of assembling the reports and packages, and communicating with the regulatory bodies. When choosing a regulatory compliance partner, look for organizations with experience with the testing protocols and overseeing regulatory bodies you work with. 

15. Research & Development 

Research and development (R&D) involves the creation of new knowledge, technologies, or products. Any aspect of that creation can be outsourced—from designing experiments to outsourcing the entire R&D process. Scientists who have a theory they want to test, but no laboratory space to do so, can outsource their entire project, while others with the laboratory space, but lack of expertise in one area of their research, may wish to outsource only that specific part of their project.  

16. Risk Assessment 

Risk assessment involves identifying hazards at numerous levels. Such hazards could be related to safety—such as chemicals lab staff are working with—compliance, training, etc. When selecting an organization to do risk assessments for your lab, look at their level of expertise and how familiar they are with the standards and regulations your lab must adhere to.  

17. Sourcing 

Sourcing involves finding and vetting the right suppliers for the lab’s equipment, consumables, and other critical products to keep the facility operating at its best. Outsourcing can provide the best option for finding reliable suppliers that provide high-quality products at a reasonable price, and free lab staff to focus on conducting the science.  

18. Staffing

Labs can outsource the recruitment of a single technical position to a staffing agency, or they can bring in a different firm to staff and run whole parts of their lab. Recruitment agencies can help labs fill positions more quickly due to their access to trained candidates. When outsourcing the staffing of a whole part of the lab, consider firms with successful track records in similar areas of science.  

19. Technical Writing 

Writing is not always scientists’ strong suit, nor do they often have time to write technical or marketing reports based on their work. Labs can turn to companies or individuals who provide this service. It’s important to find a writer with experience in your industry and, if possible, familiarity with the specific research or work you are doing. Requesting writing samples and references is essential to evaluating a writer’s quality of work. 

20. Testing

Outsourcing lab testing involves sending samples or products to a contract lab to have the required tests performed. Ensuring the contract lab has experience with your specific samples and tests is essential, as is selecting the right courier to get your samples to the third-party lab, particularly if your samples are temperature-sensitive. It is also important to consider the contract lab’s quality system to ensure data provided by them will meet your quality standards. 

21. Training 

When labs outsource training, they bring in a third-party organization to train their staff on a wide range of topics, including: safety procedures, SOPs, regulations, technical skills or leadership and management. Outsourcing some training helps to build new knowledge and expertise and is a useful addition to the cross-training done within the lab. Training is offered by individual consultants, small, and large outsource companies in both in-person and virtual formats.

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