How to Go About Improving the Management of Chemical Reagents

Inventory Management Tips

There are some supply chains that are consistent and easy to manage, and then there is the chemical reagent supply chain. On the procurement side, the chemical reagent supply chain can be complex (especially for specialty chemicals) because of a number of factors that affect the availability of material, including supplier access to raw materials, price volatility, global weather patterns and government regulations. Each of these factors can create fluctuations in the amount of product that is available for purchase.

Chemical and reagent supply chain management can be difficult without the right tools
Image source: Flickr user Saginaw Future Inc.

However, fluctuations can prove challenging for research and development laboratories that need a consistent supply of chemical reagents in order to ensure that scientists stay busy and work continues uninterrupted. To prevent the slowing down of innovation, some labs have responded by over-ordering chemical reagents. Unfortunately, this decision ties up working capital within inventory that may be better spent elsewhere.

The challenge, then, for laboratory directors and managers is building a reliable and flexible on-hand supply that can buffer the fluctuations that occur within global chemical supply chains. But how can this be accomplished?

Although there are no easy answers to this challenge, there are some best practices that can be implemented to ensure that chemical reagents are available to scientists when they are needed, including the following:

  • Increase Visibility – In order to manage the ordering process, laboratory managers need to know the current on-hand quantity. This means they have to be able to identify where each reagent is located within each storage cabinet or freezer in the laboratory, and the quantity currently stored in that location. This information then needs to be aggregated to provide a complete picture of the chemicals and reagents currently in inventory.
  • Shipment Visibility – Once managers have an idea regarding chemical reagent volume stored on-site, they should also have an idea of the amount currently in route to the laboratory as well. This may include information regarding quantity ordered, date of shipment and expected arrival date.
  • Forecast Visibility – The final component to managing supply chain fluctuations is having an understanding of future needs. This requires forecasting reagent supply needs for the next three to six months.

The long and short of chemical reagent management is to know both how much is currently on-hand and in transit, as well as having a good understanding of requirements within the laboratory for the next few months. Although it is possible to track all of this information with paper, pencil and a few spreadsheets, it is not the most optimal use of a laboratory manager’s time. An alternative option for tracking inventory is through a chemical inventory management system.

The benefits of a chemical inventory management system include the ability to generate real-time reports regarding current inventory levels. This is accomplished through a unique barcoding system that tracks the location and use of chemicals. In addition, a chemical inventory management system can be integrated with a purchasing system to track any chemicals that may be in transit to the laboratory.

However, the main benefit provided by a chemical inventory management system is the ability to help forecast chemical needs through the accumulation of the data. A chemical inventory management system can provide insight regarding inventory use in the past, which can then be used to predict needs in the future.

Managing the chemical supply chain is difficult, but not impossible. It can be significantly simpler if you have the right tools. A chemical inventory management system like Accelrys CISPro might be just the tool you need to ensure that chemical and reagent inventory is managed properly without tying up additional working capital.

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