How Digital Solutions Can Help You Efficiently Manage Your Laboratory Supply Chain
When I was in business school, the term “supply chain” was used liberally in many of my classes. Generally speaking, the term refers to the sequence of processes involved in the production and distribution of a good. In my coursework, we were usually analyzing the manufacturing processes of widgets, a generic term for a manufactured good. We analyzed bottlenecks that impeded production or practices that were cost inefficient. Depending on the widget, we generally had to redesign the supply chains to improve efficiency and cut costs. Sometimes we would recommend that the firm outsource a particular component of the supply chain, especially if it provided a significant bottleneck that couldn’t be resolved within the company. But frequently, there were simple underlying inefficiencies that had never been addressed. Sometimes, being too close to a situation makes it difficult to see the big picture and analyze the workflows without inherent or emotional bias. Companies can pay big bucks to have supply chain consultants come in and help restructure processes. But before you call in the big guys, I’ve got some information free of charge that can help you manage your laboratory supply chain and you don’t even have to buy the book (though I highly recommend it if you’re interested in getting your hands dirty in supply chain management).
The supply chain of a research laboratory is typically referred to in terms of workflows, and may range from scientists performing experiments at a lab bench to more traditional manufacturing processes that scale-up new chemical production. No matter what your workflows include, digital solutions like electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) or chemical inventory management systems can be implemented to help you manage your supply chain. Consider these digital benefits when analyzing your laboratory supply chain:
Bottlenecks are any step in a process that causes the entire process to slow down. In a lab setting, common bottlenecks may involve data or inventory management. In data management, scientists may find that they have trouble collecting and storing data in a way that is easily accessible and searchable. An ELN can reduce bottlenecks by streamlining data management processes. From experiment planning to results presentation, users can easily record and access all steps of the experimentation process. With regard to inventory management, important reagents may go unordered due to failure to properly manage use, thus holding up important experiments. A digital chemical inventory management system can track reagent use in real time so that users can be prepared when reagent stock gets low or nears expiration.
Process in parallel
A colleague once told me that a person can’t efficiently multi-task. I won’t address the gender differences supplied in that argument, but suffice it to say I’m not in complete agreement with HIM. Though our human brains may only be capable of processing a finite number of processes in parallel, computers don’t have the same restrictions as us. They don’t need to sleep, eat or check Facebook, so they can easily run processes in parallel. For example, instead of devoting a week to catch up on your chemical inventory for the annual EH&S audit, why not keep your inventory updated daily? With a digital chemical inventory management system you can keep your inventory updated in real time. As new chemicals come into your lab, affix a barcode and scan the container into your inventory. As you use the chemical, scan it and record the amount used. If you finish a container, scan it and designate it as waste. These steps require little extra time and can merge right into your normal workflows. At the end of the day, your inventory is complete.
Automation often has a negative connotation when used in terms of supply chain management. Employees are often worried that they will be replaced by automation. But scientists should be using their brains to think and plan rather than to perform mundane tasks that will eat away at their productivity. Rather than spending hours researching the regulatory reporting requirements for hazardous chemical storage, outsource that burdensome task to a chemical inventory management system that can generate all the regulatory reports required of your firm for the chemicals you store. And since you can access the system from a web browser, you may even be able to enjoy a cup of coffee while you submit those reports.
Though the laboratory supply chain relies on the brainpower of scientists, there are a number of processes that could benefit from digital solutions for supply chain management. Please contact us to learn more about how the BIOVIA Notebook and BIOVIA CISPro can help you manage your laboratory supply chain.