Lab Manager | Run Your Lab Like a Business

Business Management

A grey and blue illustration of a computer screen with line and circle graphs on the screen and a bulls-eye, megaphone, and magnifying glass around the computer screen to show the concept of optimizing assets in the laboratory.

Optimizing the Utilization of Lab Assets

Analyzing data to improve the availability and effectiveness of instruments and equipment in the lab

Optimizing the usage of equipment and instruments in the lab is a key responsibility for lab managers. After people and space, ensuring working tools in the lab represents the next largest investment for most labs. Providing properly functioning instruments and equipment impacts both the capital budget—for new investments—and the operational budget—for repair, maintenance, and calibration. 

Optimizing the assets of the lab brings important benefits. Implementing a more efficient approach to optimizing asset management can help to reduce overall costs and generate greater productivity of the lab. “Optimized lab assets means you have the most productive mix of assets that are available, reliable, and performing the right tasks to meet your business goals,” says Melissa Zeier, enterprise services product manager at Agilent Technologies. “It is the responsibility of the lab manager to justify the cost of the laboratory asset life cycle to the business—from planning, acquiring, deploying, repairing, maintaining, and disposal of those assets while balancing risk to benefits.”

Lab asset optimization involves investigating and monitoring a variety of different data about the instruments and equipment in the lab. Some of the data that is important to the optimization process includes repair history, maintenance schedules, calibration requirements, utilization history and expectations, operating costs, space requirements, asset life span, capital replacements, and disposal options. While labs track some or all of these data, most have a manual approach to recording the data, and few are really effective at analyzing these disparate data sets to optimize the availability, usage, and costs associated with their assets. “Manual methods of collecting data in spreadsheets or from logbooks can be time consuming and inconsistent,” says Zeier. “By having standardized, meaningful definitions of utilization, deploying the right technology to capture the data that fits that definition across critical workflows, and visualizing the data in a way that can translate to lab insights, lab managers are on their way to understanding current usage of lab instruments.” Having software designed to capture these data and help analyze it effectively can make a significant difference in the ability of lab managers to optimize the use of lab assets.

There are options available now from several vendors that can enable more powerful tools to track and understand the usage and availability of lab assets. According to Jim Sweeney, senior product manager, PerkinElmer, “One approach is to have a software solution automatically capture utilization from the instrument, either through parsing of an instrument log file, or through a direct connection to the instrument through an application program interface.” Getting data about the lab instruments directly removes the need for staff to remember to gather these data during their already busy schedules, and provides an electronic record that is easy to share and document.

Related Article Series: Asset Management for the Lab: Strategies and Tips

When approaching a choice about the various tools now available to manage these kinds of data, it is important to understand the scope of the data that the tools measure and analyze. According to Joachim Lasoen, vice president of product BINOCS at Bluecrux, both visibility and optimization are critical for making the best use of lab assets. “Visibility helps lab managers understand instrument availability around maintenance and calibration schedules and the test demands on the instruments, and drives a capacity requirement profile for each instrument,” says Lasoen. Once lab managers have visibility on the data for their lab, they can begin to optimize the usage of the lab tools. Lasoen continues, “Two aspects determine the success of instrument utilization—maximize the white space between test runs, and maximize the test campaign fill rate.” Lasoen also adds that some of these tools are now using optimizers based on business rules and artificial intelligence to address more sophisticated workflows.

Before implementing a tool to optimize asset utilization, it is important to understand the metrics that drive lab performance. “There are concrete steps that lab managers can take to optimize the usage of lab instruments,” says Zeier. “Start by prioritizing meaningful, standardized operational data for lab instruments across critical workflows.” Doing the hard work of standardizing the lab work process will enable the asset optimization tool to align the collected and analyzed data with the key metrics of the lab. “To help optimize lab asset management, managers should establish key performance indicators (KPIs) and assess them on an ongoing basis. These KPIs need to reinforce the important metrics for the lab,” says Carola Schmidt, global director of automated solutions at PerkinElmer. Using an asset utilization tool will help lab managers correlate the use of the lab instruments with the lab metrics. “By keeping a watchful eye on established KPIs, lab managers can pinpoint areas for improvement or prevent small issues from becoming bigger problems,” adds Schmidt. The use of asset management software tools makes this process much more efficient and useful.

Another part of optimizing lab assets is to figure out which instruments and pieces of equipment are needed in the lab. Most labs tend to hang on to old or rarely used instruments because of the challenges in obtaining capital to purchase new ones. “Users of the lab assets often have an emotional attachment to some of the instruments,” says Sweeney. However, applying effective metrics and KPIs can overcome those emotional ties, especially when that data can demonstrate that the space, time, and effort to keep those instruments operating is not helping the lab deliver on its mission.

An asset optimization tool can help lab managers perform a key function of lab management—making good decisions about the effective use of time, money, and effort to deliver on the lab’s mission. Zeier reminds us that, “Asset management optimization is central to maximizing the return on the investments that a lab manager makes in their operations.”