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The Ripple Effect of Poor Lab Inventory Management

Transform disarray to order with intelligent inventory management

Marnie Willman

Marnie Willman is the clinical writer at Today's Clinical Lab. She can be reached at

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Inventory management is simultaneously the most necessary and most disliked task that laboratorians carry out every day. However, poor inventory management impacts virtually every facet of the lab. 

Lab factors affected by poor inventory management

Research efficiency, accuracy, and reproducibility

Delays in research are often a byproduct of poor inventory management. Whether chemicals and reagents have been used up and either not reordered, orders are delayed, or products are missing, experiments are delayed until replacements arrive. Downtime spent waiting for reagents, materials, or equipment requiring repair is a frustration for laboratorians everywhere. This can be avoided by having up-to-date inventories with automated reminders for necessary repairs, restocks, and other alerts to keep the lab up to the task of daily activities. 

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Compliance and safety

Using expired or improperly stored chemicals can cost labs their compliance and regulatory status, requiring reapplication. This would also render results unusable for future publications because they would be deemed unreliable and lack reproducibility. Inventory tracking, disposal of hazardous materials and meticulous record-keeping are required for compliance, and lack of these can result in increased audit risk and associated penalties. In addition, past-date or poorly stored materials may be unsafe if they become unstable or cause their storage containers to break down. Equipment that is not properly maintained and routinely inspected by qualified personnel can also pose a safety risk to lab staff. 

Lab team and supplier relationships

Relationships suffer when laboratory materials and equipment are insufficient for the work. In addition to wasted time searching for missing products, poor inventory management can strain relationships with suppliers because of order inconsistencies, delayed payments, and returns. 

Improving inventory management

There are many tactics that can be applied to inventory management: 

LIMS-style inventory management

A number of laboratory information management system (LIMS)-style programs have been developed to help laboratories address the above problems. These programs have a host of benefits that aid lab managers in making more data-driven inventory decisions.

Relationships suffer when laboratory materials and equipment are insufficient for the work.

Automated reorder reminders 

LIMS systems can remind you to restock items at optimal times based on past usage rates or order dates, preventing both overstocking and running out of materials.­­

Boost day-to-day efficiency 

You can also use analytics to optimize your storage strategy so you have the necessary space for incoming materials before they arrive and are not constantly reshuffling routinely stocked products. In diagnostic labs, tracking batch numbers is mandatory, but it can be helpful for research labs to do the same. Pinpointing experimental problems caused by contaminations is made abundantly easier when batch numbers are recorded. Careful inventory management also eliminates the need to search for materials, as their storage location is tracked upon arrival in the inventory. 

Using yesterday’s numbers to justify future expenditure 

Historic inventory management data can make budget proposals clearer and help lab managers justify their reasoning. When planning for future projects, staff, budgeting, etc., having the data to make informed inventory decisions takes the guesswork out of planning. 

Alternative means of inventory management

Beyond software designed for information collection, there are other ways you can maintain orderly and up-to-date inventory management, such as using barcodes, keeping tracking sheets with equipment, and writing SOPs that outline storage requirements.

The level of asset and material management must increase with the size and complexity of the lab. An evaluation of your needs and appraisal of various ways of managing inventory can maximize the time of laboratory staff by ensuring productivity and efficiency are not hindered by poor inventory management.