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Investing in the Internet of Things (IoT) and real-time location systems (RTLS) technology can help life sciences R&D teams improve operational efficiency
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Three Reasons R&D Teams in Life Sciences Need Real-Time Location Systems

Real-time location tracking can help ensure compliance, benefit productivity, and allow you to focus on what's important

Matt Hanna

Matt Hanna is a senior IoT solutions consultant at MachineQ, an enterprise IoT company within Comcast. Matt brings his decade-long experience to this role.

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Life sciences R&D teams are busier than ever. Today, more than 6,000 pharmaceutical products are currently in active development across the globe, a 68 percent increase from 2016. Since then, according to a new report, the 15 largest pharmaceutical companies have nearly doubled their R&D spending to $133 billion in total.

As life sciences companies make these massive investments in vaccines and therapeutic drugs, they are looking for efficiencies to increase R&D productivity while controlling costs and adhering to safety standards. One of the biggest challenges that R&D teams face involves keeping track of portable equipment used in their jobs, such as laptops, workstations, lab equipment, chemical containers, carts, and other items. 

Some equipment moves between labs for use by different teams. With a manual process, assets will inevitably be misplaced, costing companies millions of dollars as employees spend time looking for them and replacing assets that never reappear. It’s a big challenge, but there’s a solution. 

Investing in the Internet of Things (IoT) and real-time location systems (RTLS) technology can help life sciences R&D teams improve operational efficiency through automation and IoT connectivity, ensure compliance with safety regulations, and maximize staff productivity.

Typically, life sciences companies consider two leading technologies. The first is an RFID solution because of the technology’s ubiquity and promise of cost-effectiveness. The second solution combines BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) with LoRaWAN® (Long Range Wide Area Network). This pairing has gained traction for its affordability and greater accuracy (within three meters) in real time.

Operational efficiencies

Scientists require specialized, expensive laboratory equipment for their research and development of new therapeutics, vaccines, or drugs. Whether pocket-sized or large enough to sit on a cart, these assets often move locations among teams and across large campuses. Locating these assets quickly and accurately impacts research timelines, maintenance schedules, and utilization rates. But today, many teams are still using manual tracking processes to account for these assets, which creates a domino effect of impediments and impacts CAPEX and OPEX budgets.

For example, consider a scientist looking for a microcentrifuge or pipettes during the research process. Without an automated RTLS solution in place, that scientist would need to find the last known asset location in an ERP (enterprise resource planning) system or spreadsheet and then search for it there. Often, however, when the scientist gets to the last known location, the asset is not there. The scientist then begins tracking down the asset rather than spending time conducting research. This leads to wasted time and money for staff members and can lead to replacement costs if the asset cannot be located, which adds to capital expenses.

Safety and compliance

The life sciences industry is heavily regulated, and R&D teams must adhere to standards and regulations dealing with handling, storage, and environmental conditions in lab facilities.

Upholding and adhering to fire codes are especially important because of the hazardous chemicals that are used, especially within the pharmaceutical space. Inspections occur yearly, but lab managers should stay vigilant and maintain their workspace as if an inspection is happening every day. Whenever chemicals are in use, organizations are required to know where they are located and whether they are being stored in the right conditions to avoid potential fire risks.

Additionally, lab equipment must be routinely calibrated by technicians for optimal performance and utilization. When a piece of equipment is misplaced, it leads to added costs associated with taking in-house team members away from their jobs to locate the asset and rescheduling the vendor to come out again for service.

Staff productivity

While it may seem trivial, not knowing the real-time location of lab equipment can impact employee productivity, cause frustrations, and affect job satisfaction. An RTLS solution allows lab teams to better focus on their research and meet their timelines, thus improving job satisfaction among employees. Additionally, it relieves support staff from the time-consuming task of finding misplaced items. As a result, overall productivity increases, and organizations can accelerate the time to market for new products.

Focus on what’s important

In an industry where innovation is a key driver of growth, it is critical for life sciences companies to ensure their operations run as smoothly as possible, are always compliant, and employ a high-functioning team. While it may seem inconsequential, understanding the real-time and accurate location of portable assets has major significance in a life sciences company, especially when dealing with hundreds of thousands of assets costing millions of dollars to acquire and maintain.