Laboratory instruments are valuable assets that require proper management. Simply purchasing and installing an instrument, without any plans for monitoring use, maintenance, potential relocation, decommissioning, and disposal can create additional costs over the laboratory’ s lifespan.
“There are essentially five phases involved in life cycle management,” says Ted Palashis, president of Overbrook Support Services (Boston, MA). “Start up, operational, expansion or relocation, maturity, and exit.” Properly managing each phase will enhance laboratory operations.
During the start up phase, laboratories must acquire essential instruments and equipment to support their operations. “We advise clients to make sure that they have some sort of understanding of the common maintenance issues associated with particular instruments, as well as price and availability.” This is important for many new laboratories because there is likely no redundancy in instrumentation at this point. If a maintenance issue arises for an instrument made in another country, for example, workflows may be paused while replacement parts ship.
Once the laboratory is staffed, equipped, and operational, it is time to perform analysis to “ascertain the mission criticality of these assets,” says Palashis. “It’s a matter of determining production versus research, as you may have some instruments used less frequently for research purposes, and other instruments used in production that operate continuously.” This assessment can help labs determine where a bottleneck may occur if an instrument is offline, and investigate service and support options.
Many laboratories also face the challenge of relocation at some point in their life cycle. According to Palashis, “relocation is the most disruptive event in a laboratory’s life, aside from its sale or acquisition.” Organization is critical for a smooth transition, and working with an asset management firm can be especially helpful. It takes a large coordinated effort to successfully relocate a laboratory, and there are dozens of factors to consider. “It can’t be overstated how important a detailed and accurate asset list is,” says Palashis. “A well organized and well executed lab relocation also requires an understanding of all the moving parts (the analogy is trying to change the wheels of a car as it’s moving), identifying weak links in the chain of accountability, putting the right resources where they need to be, and why excruciating attention to detail is absolutely required in properly managing and executing the move,” he explains. Minor oversights can have significant implications; for example, “you can’t install your instruments if gases weren’t plumbed properly, or if power receptacles aren’t in the right place.” Lab instrumentation specialists are aware of these considerations and can facilitate the relocation.
When a lab reaches the maturity phase, productivity is at its peak. “Now the challenge is to keep up with managing services and compliance for assets, and that’s when it is critical that a lab determine if it has the expertise to take over that responsibility, or enlist a specialist from outside the organization,” says Palashis.
Finally, for a lab that is merging, downsizing, or closing, assets must be repurposed or decommissioned and sold or properly disposed of. “Sometimes there is hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment that will sit unused,” says Palashis. “It’s just wasteful.”
Selling this equipment can help laboratories recover some cost and supports sustainability by extending the item’s working life. However, it can be challenging for laboratory personnel to determine the resale value of their instruments, and opting to auction all equipment is not always the best solution. “Though beneficial in some cases for large pharmaceutical or manufacturing companies due to the sheer volume of equipment, auction companies usually don’t have the required expertise nor is it within their operating model to optimize the value of individual high cost assets which make up the majority of value of an asset sale,” explains Palashis.
Palashis also recommends labs consider how much time personnel are devoting to asset management, and the impact this has on productivity. For example, if a scientist is spending an hour on the phone with a service vendor, that is an hour of productivity lost. Investing in a partnership with an asset management firm can be a cost-effective way to manage the laboratory life cycle, supporting productivity and scientific discovery.