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Leveraging Technology in Inventory Management

Exploring software solutions can yield significant benefits for your lab

Holden Galusha

Fielding order requests, restocking consumables, and other inventory tasks are not glamorous, but they are vital to keep a laboratory running smoothly. Even slight hiccups in the inventory life cycle can delay research results or critical diagnostic information. Avoiding such issues can be achieved by using dedicated inventory management software to automate processes, scale your lab’s capabilities, and streamline communication.

Automating processes

Automation has two main advantages: (1) it frees up valuable time, and (2) it reduces the margin for error, which in turn leads to less wasted product and optimizes the budget. Lab inventory software can accomplish this by automatically notifying users of supplies that need to be restocked, negating duplicate orders, communicating with other programs, and more.

It is important to note that the type of lab one manages will affect the extent to which they can automate processes. Most clinical labs have a consistent throughput, which makes it easy to predict which supplies will need to be restocked in a given time frame and plan accordingly. Research labs, however, have varying needs as their projects change. Thus, it can be more prudent for those managing research labs to be conservative with automation and continue relying on some level of manual oversight.

Promoting scalability

While spreadsheets and whiteboards may suffice for those managing inventory at small start-up labs, they can quickly become hindrances as the lab grows. “Smaller labs can usually get away with using Excel for their inventory. But labs with extensive inventories may need a system that goes beyond that with different advanced capabilities,” says Christine DiTondo, a senior manager of strategic operations at Entrada Therapeutics. This is because as a lab grows, the negative impact of downtime grows as well. Inefficient inventory processes will exacerbate that impact. As such, DiTondo says, “It’s important to have request processes streamlined so that everything can be repaired and reconciled as soon as possible.”

Streamlining communication

Many (if not most) recurring inventory problems can be traced back to breakdowns in communication. In the daily bustle of lab work, it is all too easy to forget to notify the lab manager that the mass spectrometer needs to be recalibrated, or that the pipette tips are running low. Instead of leaving sticky notes on desks or exchanging emails, it is often better to use the communication features bundled in lab inventory management software. Such software facilitates effective communication by enabling users to request and approve orders, update the status and location of equipment, and much more—all in one location. By consolidating communication into these functions, users will find it much easier to update their colleagues.

Many labs are needlessly hindered by ill-fitting inventory processes that don’t promote easy communication or scale up as the lab grows. By taking some time to research inventory administration platforms and implement one in your lab, you can start saving time (and headaches) for all involved.