Lab Manager | Run Your Lab Like a Business

Happy New Year!

“Maximizing profits” and “competing for market share” are not typical phrases most people associate with laboratories. Right? Well, maybe they should be.

by Pamela Ahlberg
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“Maximizing profits” and “competing for market share” are not typical phrases most people associate with laboratories. Right? Well, maybe they should be.

Welcome to the first issue of Lab Manager Magazine for 2011. Well into our third year of publication as part of the LabX Media Group, we wanted to begin the New Year by focusing on our key editorial mission—to help you “Run Your Lab Like a Business.” For that, both our feature article, “Maximizing ROI,” and our Business Management article, “The Devil in the Details,” look at the very business-specific practices of metrics and benchmarking.

In John Borchardt’s cover story, he shows how metrics can be used to improve a lab’s product development and co-development programs, better manage R&D outsourcing relationships, and conserve laboratory resources. Bernard Tulsi, in his Business Management article on page 62, explains the growing need to do benchmarking as “laboratories, especially in the bigger companies, are always under pressure to improve their quality, excellence and competitiveness.” Benchmarking, he says, is particularly useful in measuring energy costs, especially for pharmaceutical companies “very keen on managing costs and increasing profits.” While obviously useful in specific applications, both authors warn against an over reliance on either metrics or benchmarking, with Borchardt saying, “One should be careful of having too many metrics and of turning metrics into an overly bureaucratic exercise.”

In addition to being the beginning of a new year, January is also LabAutomation month (January 29 to February 2, Palm Springs, CA). Apropos of that, we have devoted significant editorial to the topic of laboratory automation, beginning with Joe Liscouski’s Technology & Operations article, “Automating Science,” in which he takes a look at the fast-changing skill set that automation requires. “Laboratory managers need to be conversant with automation and informatics technologies and the planning needed to design effective programs for the use of the technologies available. Beyond that they need to understand their future needs well enough, and how those needs match-up against current product capabilities, to advise vendors on how product characteristics and functionality has to be changed,” says Liscouski.

When asked how to determine what sort of automation a lab needs, this month’s “expert,” Marc Ferrer, answered: “Try to get opinions from several people. Get critical information related to versatility, robustness, technical support and training; this is going to be very important in getting the infrastructure up and running. You have to do your homework and find out what people are happy with, before talking to the vendors and making any kind of investment.”

And finally, a real-world example of what happened when a biotech company decided to automate the time-consuming task of agitating small glass media bottles for a set amount of time, weighing the bottle and its contents, and recording the weight. In “Robots to the Rescue,” (page 28) George Aux, technical development representative for Syngenta Biotechnology Inc. (Research Triangle Park, NC), tells us that through the use of a robotic system they have been able to “increase the speed of data collection and interpretation, ask and answer questions previously not addressed using other technologies and most importantly derive more value from the same work.”

So if you’re looking to improve your lab’s bottom line or invest in automation systems, our January issue provides an abundance of good information to help you do just that.

As always, we welcome your feedback and article suggestions. And if you’re planning to attend LabAutomation 2011, please stop by the Lab Manager booth and say hello.


Correction: In the December issue’s Table of Contents we mistakenly attributed the cover article, “Managing Change” to Bernard Tulsi when the author was John Borchardt.