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Preventive Maintenance of Lab Equipment

Follow best practices for maintenance to keep your lab equipment in optimal condition

by
Aimee O’Driscoll

Aimee O’Driscoll, BSc, MBA, has a decade of experience as a development chemist and is a seasoned science writer. She can be reached at aimee@aimeeodriscoll.com.

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Lab equipment often represents a large portion of overall expenditure. Replacement parts and equipment tend to be costly, as are repair services. These costs increase when lab equipment is poorly maintained. To keep these costs down, it's important to perform preventive maintenance. Things like regular servicing, comprehensive training, and proper cleaning can go a long way to ensuring your equipment performs optimally for as long as possible.

Regular cleaning and calibration are essential

Cleaning often becomes second nature when using lab equipment, particularly when contamination is a concern. But it’s vital that all equipment is cleaned appropriately at the correct time. This means ensuring all staff members are aware of key factors, including how often to clean each item, what detergents or other cleaning materials to use, and additional important information, such as the level of dismantlement required for cleaning. While staff should be well-trained on how to clean equipment, all this information should be easily accessible, and a physical or digital logbook should track when each item was cleaned and by whom.

Calibration is another critical practice in maintaining lab equipment as it ensures accuracy, repeatability, and standardization. Lack of regular calibration may threaten quality, safety, and equipment longevity. Calibration frequency can be determined based on manufacturers’ recommendations or industry or organizational standards. Depending on the equipment, calibration may be carried out by a lab staff member or a third party. If equipment is calibrated internally, the procedure should be well-documented, and staff must be properly trained.

Keep up with servicing and repairs

Regular servicing can often seem like an unnecessary expense, especially if there's nothing obviously wrong with the unit. But just like cars and home appliances, many types of lab equipment will perform reliably for longer if they undergo regular servicing. This is particularly important for items that are large or intricate, where safety is a major concern (for example, with centrifuges), and equipment that is heavily relied upon (such as ultra-low temperature freezers). Manufacturers often offer servicing as part of the equipment purchase or as an add-on. 

It's also important to keep an eye out for repair needs and to rectify them before there's any further damage or they become a safety issue. For example, users should be instructed to keep an eye out for deteriorating gaskets before they fail entirely or to check the rotors of a centrifuge for wear and tear. 

Preventive maintenance is crucial for ensuring optimal performance and longevity of lab equipment, reducing downtime and associated costs, and maintaining accuracy and precision. It's essential to ensure all staff are properly trained in equipment use, cleaning, and calibration requirements and that servicing and repairs are kept up to date.