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Best Use of Laboratory Resources and Space

Need more productivity and space as your lab grows? Here are some quick tips to help optimize your lab assets

Jim Sweeney

With space, time, and budget constraints, today’s lab managers are constantly being asked to optimize the number, type, and location of instruments, as well as decide when to replace them. At the heart of meeting these challenges and opportunities is effective asset life cycle management. While no small task, getting a stronger handle on asset life cycle management can be achieved with a combination of improved processes and technology. Here are a few tips to get started:

Create and maintain a digital record

Document all your lab’s assets in a digital solution. This means capturing as many instrument attributes as possible, such as the make, model, serial number, manufacture date, service contract, instrument type, asset ID, and location (building, room, bench). This data then needs to be entered into a digital solution, preferably cloud-based. Keeping this data in a spreadsheet on someone’s laptop is not a long-term solution. Realize the data collected is dynamic and will change over time, so plan to re-inventory the lab at least yearly. Instruments can mysteriously move in and across labs. Consider using RFID technology to ensure efficiency and accuracy for this process instead of a manual inventory. With a digital inventory, analysis becomes easier, enabling answers to questions such as how many instruments are on each bench, distribution of instrument types by room and building, and number of manufacturers doing service in the lab.

But for utilization to become truly actionable, such as justifying new instrument purchases or changing service contracts, there must be context.

Collect and visualize utilization data

When asking a researcher how often their instrument is used, they often respond, “All the time.” Collecting utilization data from instruments through software removes the subjective opinions. This objective data enables better asset and space optimization. Utilization on its own can be useful in understanding which assets are used often and which ones are hardly used. But for utilization to become truly actionable, such as justifying new instrument purchases or changing service contracts, there must be context. Incorporating utilization data into the digital inventory records gives that context. With utilization, instrument age, and service contracts, data-driven decisions can be made on instrument purchases and contract changes. Does an instrument that is less than five years old with no repair history and is used once a week need a platinum contract?

Make room for the new

Managing space and assets in a lab is not just about optimizing what you have, it’s also about planning for what you need given an organization’s evolving business and scientific goals. That can mean bumping up against space and budget constraints as well as long-standing lab and team cultures. Scientists and researchers can have emotional attachments to the instruments, making it a challenge to remove them. How many instruments in your lab have been given nicknames like “GCR2-D2”?

Scientists and researchers can have emotional attachments to the instruments, making it a challenge to remove them.

Leveraging complete and up-to-date digital inventory with contextualized utilization data will help inform decisions and justify replacing existing instruments based on real data and opportunities versus habits or emotional attachments. Using the complete data set will also help convince scientists and researchers to say goodbye to their old and familiar instruments that they’d rather not part with, like “GCR2-D2.”

With new instruments, think about how key features such as footprint, sustainability, and cost of ownership can increase your return on investment and team productivity.

By employing these tips, you can go from a reactive to a proactive approach and will have a solid foundation for making those decisions that will help drive the productivity and efficiency of your lab.