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With Growth Comes Change... and Lab Relocation

The pace of change and growth in the pharmaceutical and biotech environment means that most companies face the daunting task of relocating laboratories at some stage in their development

by Joe Tehrani
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In recent times, the number and frequency of lab relocation has increased dramatically. There are a myriad of reasons for relocation, such as mergers, acquisitions, funding, and basic organic growth. The “why” to move is the easiest question to answer. The “where”’ and more importantly the “how”’ are the causes of much angst where relocation experience is not typically an internal core competency. Regardless of these questions, minimizing downtime and overall disruption to business and scientific objectives are paramount.

Getting started

Moving high-end analytical instrumentation, precious samples, and hazardous materials efficiently is not a job for the uninitiated. Certainly not the type of job a standard moving company can handle. Add the complication of operating within GLP/GMP guidelines and quickly the need for an experienced technical resource — a resource that has a proven time, safety, and compliance track record — becomes apparent.

Sourcing a qualified lab relocation provider means doing a thorough audit of the provider’s experience, processes, capabilities, and resources.

  • Does the provider have defined processes that can be tailored to your specific requirements?
  • Does the provider sub-contract most activities or can the provider perform all or most tasks?
  • Does the provider have the ability to access additional resources rapidly or provide the resources appropriate to the scale of the move?
  • Can the provider present case studies and references that demonstrate their ability to overcome unique obstacles?

The initial meeting with a prospective lab relocation provider should include a checklist that takes into account these issues as well as the critical aspects of the move as outlined by internal stakeholders.

From the provider’s perspective, an experienced lab relocation resource first seeks to understand the background to the relocation, the culture of the work environment, and important issues that will affect the overall project. Developing relationships with stakeholders and ensuring that their concerns are highlighted within the project plan means that most time is spent, not in the actual act of moving, but in the exhaustive measures required for preparation.

As a result of the initial meeting, a lab relocation provider should be able to craft a preliminary project plan for evaluation. The preliminary project plan should demonstrate clear ownership and accountability through a high level map of resources and checkpoints. This is especially important where sub-contractors may be leveraged to assist with moves of considerable scale or specialty. The appointment of a Project Leader who takes ownership for the entire relocation and is responsible for the creation of a project plan in partnership with the client company should also be known. The performance of the Project Leader can mean the success or failure of the move; for any relocation to be successful there must be a climate of trust and partnership. Lab relocation providers are entrusted with managing a company’s ability to perform in the future and the Project Leader plays a key role in ensuring overall coordination and communication.

Planning, planning, planning

The project plan should include every operational aspect of the move in detail complete with timetables, ownership, and logistics. An equipment inventory audit must be carried out to verify what equipment needs to be moved and to address any shipment issues. Each instrument’s location, configuration, operational condition, and usage are documented. Any sensitive instrument that requires specialized transportation, such as airride trucks, is identified. Then all assets are tagged systematically.

Identification and resolution of logistical obstacles must also be addressed as part of the project plan. Hoisting a large robotic workstation in or out of a third floor window using a crane, for instance, requires preparation and experienced personnel.

The project plan should include a new location readiness status. The lack of utilities specifically can delay the entire operation. In addition, there should be enough flexibility built into the plan to account for any potential increase to the equipment inventory list.

Ultimately, the project plan is based on the input of many different stakeholders and it is up to the Project Leader to ensure that there are clear channels of communication. The Project Leader has ownership of the project plan and, as such, must have the experience to anticipate any potential issues and have contingencies built in accordingly.


A lab relocation provider should employ an experienced relocation team made up of specialists who have experience working with varied instrumentation and software platforms. Typical backgrounds ranging from analytical chemistry to nuclear physics are appropriate given the environment and the sensitive nature of the analytical instrumentation involved.

Regardless of who manufactured the instruments being moved or the level of customization, the lab relocation team must ensure that breakdown, shipment, re-commissioning, calibration, and qualification are carried out efficiently. Having a lab relocation team staffed with life and analytical science instrumentation specialists means that the relocation is not dependent on the individual original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to come in and conduct these services. This saves a lot of time and money, not to mention consistency in the quality of service delivery.

On the day of the move, equipment is broken down systematically in a documented fashion and then prepared for shipment.

After the instruments complete the journey, the lab relocation team handles the unpacking. When possible, the same members of the lab relocation team should work both ends of a move. This takes care of any oddities in the breakdown and makes the transition easier during reinstallation.

Once at the new site, the equipment is re-installed according to the system map established during breakdown. Alternatively, equipment can be reconfigured according to customer specification. In a GLP/GMP environment, the installation qualification/operational qualification (IQ/OQ) is conducted immediately.

The very essence of laboratory relocation, from preparation to successful project plan execution, is the safe and efficient move of laboratory assets. This typically entails working in a hazardous material environment. Working in conjunction with Environment Health and Safety staff and Radiation Protection Services personnel, a deliberate stepwise approach is applied for the safety of all personnel. Procedures for the disposal of all hazardous materials prior to the move are first communicated. Chemical, biohazardous, and carcinogenic inventory needs to be characterized and reduced before relocation. Packing, labeling, and storage of these materials must be in compliance. Safety procedures in the event of an emergency are reinforced.

The logistics of any laboratory relocation can be overcome as long as the provider has the ability to tailor services that are also scalable. Today, the global economy fuels the need for intercontinental moves so that country-specific customs and licensing knowledge must be leveraged. Using a global provider for lab relocation reduces the overall complexity of relocation and the probability that an aspect of the relocation could fall through the cracks

From complexity to opportunity

The logistical complexity of a company or laboratory relocation also represents a great opportunity to evaluate the current status of all laboratory assets. The thousands of pieces of equipment from the simplest centrifuge to NMR systems represent millions of dollars in asset equity that may be underutilized. Additional steps in the equipment inventory audit can include:

  • Obtaining existing service records, history, current preventive maintenance (PM), and validation schedules
  • Checking with OEMs to determine current parts inventory for older instrumentation 
  • Appraising all assets and making determinations for efficient deployment 
  • Delivering findings and recommendations so that informed decisions can be made

The activity allows for the identification of surplus laboratory equipment so that it can be used where it is most needed within a customer’s organization. Redeploying idle laboratory equipment can positively offset forecasted capital expenditure. This asset management step integrated into the actual laboratory relocation planning process ensures that the correct equipment is moved and deployed for the highest utilization. The redeployment of idle assets is only a part of the overall benefit for customers. Challenge lab relocation service providers to: 

  • Conduct a life cycle analysis of currently utilized equipment to facilitate planning for future capital expenses
  • Sell surplus equipment that represents an untapped source of revenue and frees up valuable laboratory real estate.
  • Dispose of unwanted laboratory equipment in accordance with EPA guidelines

Keys to success

The future productivity and profitability of a company is directly impacted by the ability to execute relocation efficiently. Lab relocation is a specialized activity that requires careful detailed planning and execution by experienced technical personnel. Choose your lab relocation provider carefully. Challenge their track records, check their references, and audit their resources.