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Repair or Replace? Red Flags to Look For in Your Equipment

Signs like safety concerns and poor efficiency may demonstrate the need for an upgrade

Holden Galusha

Deciding when to repair versus replace an instrument in the lab can be tricky. Buying a new piece of equipment is usually more expensive than repairing what you already have, and every new instrument brings a learning curve and quirks to work around. But when your instrument is hindering lab processes, it may be time to retire it. Here are five red flags to look for in your aging equipment: 

Safety concerns

Safety should be the utmost priority of any lab manager. Depending on their severity, safety concerns are arguably the clearest sign that an instrument should be replaced. However, one isolated malfunction isn’t necessarily cause for replacement. Rather, one should look for repeated malfunctions or issues of increasing severity. For this reason, it is vital to ensure that the service and repair logs of all equipment are kept up to date. The lab manager should periodically review instrument logs to look for trends. If repairs are becoming more frequent or more severe with time, then the equipment in question likely cannot be trusted and should be decommissioned as soon as possible.

Depending on how old your equipment is and how frequently you use it, it may be more cost-effective to purchase a newer, more power-efficient model than repair your current unit.

 Additionally, lab managers should monitor product recalls from the manufacturers of their equipment. Design flaws can result in issues cropping up suddenly and unexpectedly, so heeding product recalls is important to fostering safety in the lab.

Data integrity concerns

While some equipment issues can be hazardous for the user, others can produce risks further downstream in the workflow. For instance, a hematology analyzer that is returning inaccurate results won’t affect the technician processing the samples, but it can affect the diagnosis and treatment plan of the patient. In the case of research labs, inaccurate analyses can invalidate experiments, impeding progress and wasting money.

Hard-to-find replacement parts

If replacement parts for your unit aren’t available directly from the manufacturer, finding them from third-party sources can be hit-or-miss. While it may seem most cost-effective to source parts and repair the unit in-house, scavenging the internet for them will just extend the downtime and continue draining your lab’s productivity. Replacing the instrument with a new one may be more expensive upfront, but in many cases, it will end up being more cost-savvy.

Depending on their severity, safety concerns are arguably the clearest sign that an instrument should be replaced.

Poor energy efficiency

Over time, lab equipment has become much more power efficient. For instance, many centrifuge rotors are now made of carbon fiber rather than aluminum or titanium, which allows faster acceleration/deceleration rates and shorter run times that use less power. Another example would be ULT freezers that use hydrocarbon refrigerants, such as methane, that allow more efficient cooling than legacy hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants. Thanks to innovations like these, current-generation lab equipment is greener and more affordable to use. Depending on how old your equipment is and how frequently you use it, it may be more cost-effective to purchase a newer, more power-efficient model than repair your current unit. The upfront cost of a new unit will be more expensive than a repair, but the operational costs will be cheaper in the long run and your lab will be an eco-friendlier operation.

It costs more to repair than replace

Ideally, your equipment should be maintained well enough that it never needs major repairs. But if repairs are so frequent or significant that the cost of repairing it approaches or exceeds the cost of a new unit, then buying a new unit is a better use of the budget.