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Three Keys to Acquiring New Instruments

How to develop a process to be more successful with capital purchases

Scott D. Hanton, PhD

Scott Hanton is the editorial director of Lab Manager. He spent 30 years as a research chemist, lab manager, and business leader at Air Products and Intertek. He earned...

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Acquiring new instruments is important for labs to both keep up with new science and to replace important equipment that is aging out. Unfortunately, most labs don’t have access to all the capital budget required to address the equipment needs of their labs. Developing a stronger internal process to address planning, advocating, and executing on new instrument purchases can help labs be more successful in competing for limited capital funds along with making lab processes easier to carry out and simplifying communication. Here are three things lab managers can do to improve the lab’s process around acquiring new instruments:

#1 – Clarify needs  

Since capital funds are likely limited, it’s vital for the lab to clarify needs from wants. In general, instrument needs will solve problems for the lab, while wants will make the science easier for individuals. Once the needs are identified, separate them into two lists: one for replacing old instruments, and the other for new equipment to tackle new challenges. Then make a multi-year capital plan that can be communicated to lab staff and line management.

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#2 – Build effective business cases

The business case must clearly explain why the investment is required along with its benefits and costs. An effective way to deliver the business case to line management is in two documents: a text document that describes the why, what, and how of the investment, and a spreadsheet that describes the benefits and costs in units of currency. It is important that all benefits of the investment be monetized to show the full return on investment (ROI) to line management and their financial advisors.

#3 – Execute effectively

Once a new instrument purchase is approved, act promptly. Ensure that options are effectively evaluated, including live demonstrations for more complex instruments. Negotiate with vendors to boost the value of the investment for the lab. Start learning the new instrument as soon as it is installed. Move steadily towards full production of the equipment to realize its benefits and achieve the expected ROI. 

Building an effective new instrument purchase process for the lab will enable staff to help evaluate needs, making it easier for lab managers to communicate capital needs to line management. It will also enable the lab to be more effective in the selection and implementation of new equipment. Effectively using capital investment will build trust with line management and increase the likelihood of future investment in your lab.