2019 Lab Purchasing Trends Survey

Lab Manager's Purchasing Trends Survey reveals growth in research activities and investments, but also funding concerns.

By Catherine Crawford-Brown

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We asked Lab Manager readers to tell us about their current lab purchasing trends, their motivations behind purchases, and what changes they have seen or anticipate seeing in their lab’s budget. A total of 774 individuals responded, with almost 60% of these individuals holding managerial roles. Looking at the demographics of survey respondents, almost one-third are in roles focused on research and development. Other major categories include quality assurance/validation and operations. Almost all research industries are represented, including biological science, chemistry, environmental science, engineering, and many more. Interestingly, approximately one-third of survey respondents work for colleges or universities. A further 15% work for hospitals or medical centers.

Job Titles of Survey Respondents  *denotes managerial positions
Lab Manager/Supervisor/Director* 46.16%
Research Scientist 11.70%
Technician 6.24%
Academic Professor 5.59%
Chemist 4.68%
QA/QC Manager/Director* 4.16%
Corporate Manager* 4.03%
Principal Investigator 2.86%
Academic Student 2.47%
Facility Manager* 2.08%
Project Manager/Director* 2.08%
Consultant 1.82%
Engineer 1.30%
Safety/Risk Manager* 0.52%
Purchasing Agent 0.52%
Other 3.77%


Types of facilities in which survey respondents work
University or College 30.74%
Hospital or Medical Center 15.95%
Industrial Research Lab 11.67%
Government 6.36%
Environmental Lab 4.93%
Private Research Institution 4.67%
Contract Research Lab 3.76%
Consulting Firm 2.98%
Clinical Research Lab 2.20%
Forensic Lab 1.04%
Other 15.69%


Fields of Research or Industry of Survey Respondents
Biological Science 11.66%
Medical/Clinical 11.66%
Chemistry 8.55%
Molecular/Cell Biology or Genetics 7.90%
Environmental Science 6.35%
Biotechnology 6.22$
Clinical Diagnostics 5.96%
Pharmaceuticals/Biopharmaceuticals 4.92%
Microbiology 4.27%
Biochemistry 3.63%
Chemicals/Plastics/Polymers 3.37%
Engineering 2.98%
Foods/Beverages 2.46%
Agriculture 2.33%
Animal Science/Veterinary Medicine 2.20%
Energy/Petroleum 1.81% 
Pathology  1.30% 
Forensics  1.17% 
Instrumentation Design/Development 1.17% 
Informatics/Bioinformatics 0.78%
Consumer/Durable Goods  0.52% 
Other 8.81%

Overall, the results of the survey show better business conditions for labs, more spending on all categories of lab budgets, expansion of existing labs, and initiation of new labs. However, the survey results also emphasize the limitations in spending and innovation faced by labs because of funding challenges.

Business conditions and laboratory spending

Survey respondents were asked to compare their business conditions from the first quarter of 2019 to the first quarter of 2018. Approximately one-third of those surveyed reported better business conditions in 2019 compared with 2018. Only 11% of respondents reported worsening conditions.

Looking at overall laboratory spending, 41.5% of respondents reported increased spending in the current year compared with previous years. In contrast, about 18% of those surveyed reported decreased spending. A further 34.6% saw no change in funding this year compared with previous years. These results indicate that most labs are either in a growth phase with increased spending, or a maintenance phase.

Related Article: Managing Your Lab Budget for Improved Efficiency

We asked survey respondents to tell us about how their budgets have changed for different categories of laboratory spending. A net change in spending for all survey respondents was calculated by subtracting the percentage of individuals who reported a decrease in spending from the percentage of individuals who reported an increase in spending.

Net changes in spending over previous year and in the next 12 months Compared to last year In the next 12 months
Commodity/Consumable products (glass & plasticware, filtration membranes, pipettes, gloves, etc.) 13.28% 14.33%
Constructing/Setting up a new lab facility 8.00% 7.42%
Educating (training, industry meetings, information databases, etc.) 4.30% 7.30%
Funding for new research projects 2.10% 10.03%
Hiring additional and replacement staff 3.14% 9.78%
Investing in existing research projects 4.56% 7.31%
Investing in new and pre-owned lab technology 5.34% 10.55%
Management & staff compensation/benefits, etc. 4.82% 6.27%
Modernizing existing lab facility (new lab furniture, etc.) 4.55% 5.35%
Outsourcing services -2.23% 1.45%
Raw materials (chemicals, reagents, metals, other materials) 14.57% 13.82%

Net increases in spending over the last year and in the next 12 months were reported for every category except outsourcing. The largest net increase in spending was seen for commodity/consumable products and for raw materials. These increases were consistent from last year to next year.

Interestingly, more labs are increasing their budgets for certain categories in the coming 12 months compared with the last year. Categories showing increased spending include education, new research projects, employees, existing research, new lab technology, and staff compensation. These results demonstrate the anticipated growth in the industry over the next 12 months.

Decline in outsourcing

The only category that saw a net decrease in spending among survey respondents over the last year was outsourcing. This category also saw the lowest predicted net increase in spending over the coming year. Approximately 65% of those surveyed outsource laboratory activities and the most commonly outsourced services include information technology, quality and assurance testing, and accounting and payroll.

Percentage of respondents who outsource specific services
Information technology 19.64%
Quality and assurance testing 18.22%
Accouting and payroll 17.31%
Research 14.60%
Facilities management 12.40%
Human resources 11.37%
Production 9.43%
Development 8.79%
Purchasing 8.53%

Interestingly, respondents noted in the comments section that they are actually looking to purchase new equipment to eliminate outsourcing. The ability to conduct assays in-house saves on expenses such as labor costs and decreases turnaround times. Having the capacity to conduct analyses in-house could also provide a source of revenue for labs, as they could become a site for outsourced experiments.

Making purchasing decisions

The financial concerns of respondents were evident throughout the Lab Manager purchasing trends survey. More than half of those surveyed noted cost reduction as a significant concern when purchasing products for their lab. Looking at the top factors considered by respondents when making purchases, more than 75% marked the price and value of vendor’s products as well as the long-term efficiency and operating costs as being very important.

Percentage of respondents who ranked factors as "Very Important" to consider when purchasing products or services
Price/value of vendor's products 78.80%
Long term efficiency and operating costs 75.23%
After sale support, maintenance, and warranty 74.02%
Compatibility of vendor's products with current systems 72.92%
Vendor representative's knowledge of industry and technology 66.28%
Vendor reputation and brand awareness 63.05%
Current or previous relationship with vendor 52.02%
Vendor's ability to innovate and expand on lab product as requirements change 48.37%
Vendor's online presence 25.66%

The other top considerations when purchasing also point to this resource-saving attitude. Almost 75% of respondents agreed that after-sale support, maintenance, and warranty are very important to consider when purchasing new equipment. These features ensure the longevity of equipment and limit the need for out-ofpocket replacements and repairs.

A similar number of respondents also consider compatibility with current equipment to be very important when making purchases. Compatibility limits the amount of new equipment that must be purchased and therefore the amount required from a lab’s budget for new equipment. Compatibility also lessens the learning curve required when using new equipment as lab workers will be using other components that they are already familiar with.

Addressing financial limitations

Being that so many labs are concerned about cost reductions, purchasing used lab equipment makes sense. It is therefore unsurprising that nearly 39% of survey respondents purchase used lab equipment, with almost all of these individuals citing the main reason as wanting to save money. Other reasons for purchasing used equipment include limited use of the instrument, short term need, and not requiring the features that come with newer equipment.

Respondent reasons for purchasing used lab equipment
Seeking to save money/stretch our budget 88.94%
Small or moderate level of usage for the equipment/instrument 42.31%
Short term need for the equipment/instrument 19.47%
New equipment/instruments come with features we don't need 14.18%
Other 2.16%

Based on respondent comments, labs appear to be in one of two phases: a maintenance phase or an expansion phase. Labs in a maintenance phase are focused on replacement only as necessary. For example, more than half of survey respondents are very likely to spend money on chemicals and biochemicals in the next year, but they are much less likely to purchase other equipment or materials. Respondents indicated in the comments section that this is because of funding limitations rather than lack of need.

For this reason, equipment purchases are limited to replacing broken or obsolete equipment rather than adopting new technologies. This is an unfortunate indication of the poor funding climate in certain research sectors.

Expanding laboratories

Of those who responded to the survey, 25% listed that their lab is in expansion or growth mode. Several other survey indicators point to this pattern of growth. For example, 22% of respondents said that they had increased their lab’s research budget for hiring additional and replacement staff. Additionally, 24% of respondents said they anticipated an increase in their lab’s research budget for this category in the coming year.

Other areas of growth include infrastructure, as about 20% of respondents said their lab budget for building or setting up new facilities had increased in the last year. Similarly, 19% of survey respondents anticipated an increased budget in this area for the coming year. Potentially the most exciting finding is the investment in new research projects. Of those surveyed, nearly 19% reported an increased investment in new research projects over the last year and 19% predicted an increased budget for this category in the coming year. These results indicate that not only are labs physically expanding, but they are also growing into new research areas.

Looking at respondent’s comments, labs in this state of growth are making purchases to expand into additional areas of research and expertise. They are also interested in technology that will increase their throughput and efficiency. This might also include upgrading or modernizing to faster instruments.

Adopting new technology

A total of 20% of survey respondents reported that their laboratory is among the most innovative compared to other labs of the same type. Looking at technology, 18% of those surveyed reported that their lab is among the first to adopt new technologies. These results correspond with the number of survey respondents who reported that their labs are in growth mode.

One way to increase lab throughput and efficiency is to adopt automation. Approximately 11% of survey respondents reported that they are very likely to purchase lab automation such as auto liquid handling systems, robotic systems, and autosamplers in the next 12 months. Several individuals specifically mentioned in the survey comment section that their labs were interested in automation. Employing this type of technology can lead to increased throughput because of increased instrument uptime. Using automation can also lead to increased efficiency while freeing up lab workers for more skilled tasks.


Even in this challenging research and funding climate, a pattern of growth can still be seen, with labs expanding and new labs starting. However, funding limitations are also having an impact, preventing researchers from purchasing new equipment, and instead forcing them to prioritize some research activities over others. Based on survey results, labs that are decreasing their budgets for spending categories are actually in the minority, indicating a healthy research environment. With the expanding lab industry, we can expect to see exciting results and innovations over the coming years.

Categories: Business Management

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Published: June 11, 2019

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