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Completing a Successful Laboratory Relocation

Assembling a well-rounded team is essential to relocating a lab successfully

Dan Kempenich,Jacques Kustritz

Planning a laboratory relocation can be a balancing act, no matter the scale. The due diligence of coordinating timelines, satisfying regulatory requirements, and protecting instrument investments quickly becomes difficult to manage alone.

The reality is it takes a team to move a lab. A professional laboratory relocation service provider is a core component of a well-rounded team. To identify a partner best fit to a particular project, it requires a clear understanding of the scope and gaps of the resources at hand. Before engaging key stakeholders, a successful move starts with diligent pre-planning.  

Initial planning

The first decision to consider is whether the lab must remain in production, fully or partially, during the move. A single-phase move consisting of complete production shutdown is substantially less complex than a multi-phase move. The decision for a multi-phase move is often driven by productivity demands. For those operations proceeding with a multi-phase move, an experienced partner helps minimize the risks of delays that could affect productivity. 

Planning decisions are also influenced by lab accessibility, including considerations like the building layout and when it can be accessed. Perhaps certain spaces are only available during day shifts, while others only on nights and weekends. Identifying challenges with a floor plan, both at the initial location and the final destination, shape the approach and sequence of a relocation project. Structural limitations impact critical aspects of a project. For example, factors as simple as the size of door frames are a starting point to inform the planning process. Other things to consider include:

  • Moving truck access, e.g., loading docks, driveways, or overhead doors
  • Access to various levels and spaces within a facility, such as physical dimensions of doorways, hallways, elevators, and stairs
  • Availability of staging areas for packaging materials and pallets to be loaded

Before a single piece of equipment is unplugged, teams must account for regulatory compliance protocols. Quality system requirements are often industry specific, such as GMP, FDA, ISO, and other regulatory standards. To prepare for these protocols, document the instruments and facilities that require specific support, the applicable regulations, and the project phases in which these are relevant. Relocation service providers are helpful in coordinating details for subsequent calibrations, IQ/OQ/PQ, validations, certifications, and more.

Instrument warranty and service contract agreements must be reviewed and considered. Before jeopardizing stipulations in these contracts, managers should understand the specific terms and conditions related to relocating equipment. This forethought enables proper coordination with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and independent service providers (ISPs). Failure to comply with contractual terms and conditions can lead to unexpected consequences, up to possible cancellations of these agreements, as well as extra costs associated with services no longer covered. Requirements to maintain agreements are often complicated, and lead times for scheduling services can be lengthy. A relocation service provider with proven experience can provide valuable support coordinating with OEMs and ISPs.

Another benefit of a relocation service provider is the guidance they provide on how to manage hazardous materials, stored samples, and items for disposal. Accurately forecasting the costs of relocating volatile materials is a crucial component of deciding between moving versus replacing these items. To avoid unnecessary costs, open containers of solvents and hazardous materials should be used completely before the relocation, if possible, then ordered new to the destination site.

Some sensitive supplies are deemed irreplaceable and need to be moved despite the higher costs and extra efforts needed to mitigate potential hazards. In fact, the moving of frozen laboratory samples can quickly increase the cost of a project due to specialty transportation arrangements. Planning for the added costs and the critical timelines required to relocate sensitive supplies is essential to the success of the project. Finally, the disposal of items not designated for relocation is often overlooked. The last thing any project needs is lost time from the unplanned handling of waste materials.

With a better sense for the scope of the relocation, it is time to bring in reinforcements and clean up the details. Moving forward, leaders who clearly and proactively communicate with the supporting team set up their move best.

Rallying the team

If they have not already been pulled into the pre-planning process, a diverse set of key stakeholders and vendors need to be rallied together to kick off the moving process. By involving the larger team—end users, management, and contractors—specific plans, accurate timing, and better cost estimates are created.

Communicate core objectives that define the success or failure of a relocation, then avoid undue stressors by clearly disseminating responsibilities and connecting stakeholders accordingly. Consider this: if a project requires equipment to be operable as soon as it is placed in the new space, preparation requires more than one stakeholder. Readying utilities could include professionals in HVAC, electrical, compressed gases, IT, and networking. Additionally, equipment placement plans ensure utilities are accounted for from a facility perspective when relocations professionals move heavy and/or fragile instruments. Placement plans also make certain the allotted space is the correct size to avoid errors and late-stage adjustments.

Internal quality assurance stakeholders are key partners to provide critical input early on about the required regulatory protocols. Their insight helps to verify the data collected is properly protected from criticism before shutting down an instrument. Additionally, change control requirements can vary between internal departmental lab spaces. For example, quality control could be held to certain requirements that a research and development lab may bypass. 

Contractors are central to most relocations, particularly when installing new lab furniture or instruments. Furthermore, they often aim to align with relocation schedules to work in tandem or tag team whenever possible. OEMs and ISPs also impact timeline conversations in that service contracts and warranties may require their involvement, thus flexing the timeline to their availability to some degree. Likewise, property managers provide valuable input to the timeline and process. Their influence spans accessibility, timeline, and insurance issues.

Coordinating this wide range of stakeholders is no small feat. Handing off the primary responsibility to a lab relocation service provider can eliminate a huge stressor during these major transitions and allow leaders to focus on higher level tasks. Partnering with lab relocation service providers leverages best practices to protect equipment investments every step of the way. Their knowledge of properly packing and moving a wide variety of instrumentation differentiates them from most other moving companies. Some relocation service providers can even help re-establish the lab’s credentials at the new location, including IQ/OQ/PQ to cleanroom certifications to annual instrument maintenance contracts moving forward from completion of the project.

Wrapping up

Lab relocations are a detail-oriented and collaborative process. Planning a relocation project well in advance multiplies the chances of it being a success for the organization. A strong project plan should account for a few weeks or even a couple of months for lab relocation crew lead times, especially in non-metropolitan areas. A generous span of time prior to the first day of executing the relocation is well worth the wait to ensure proper coordination of transportation, logistics, and subcontracted services.

From relocations within the same building to moving across the country, each project is unique in scale and intricacy. Wrapping up the old and making way for the new puts a lab manager’s most fundamental assets at risk, but there are teams with decades of knowledge to avoid common pitfalls. Lab relocation providers offer support at every point in the moving process, so managers never need to feel alone in this venture.  With enough time, planning and support, any lab manager is capable of facilitating a successful move.