Time’s Up: Examining What Milk and Laboratory Chemicals Have in Common

Inventory Management Tips

My family is comprised of inconsistent milk drinkers. One week, the five of us will go through two or three gallons of the stuff, but then hardly touch a gallon the following week. Our lack of consistency means that we play a risky game with the expiration date. Some weeks we manage to finish the milk while other weeks we are throwing it out because it has gone bad.

milk containers
What is something containers of milk and containers of laboratory chemicals have in common? Both have an expiration date.
Image source: Flickr user liz west

Like milk, most laboratory chemicals include an expiration date somewhere on the label. If a laboratory is consistent and constantly turning over chemicals, the expiration date may be irrelevant. However, like the milk consumption in my family, if laboratory chemical use is infrequent and turnover inconsistent, expiration dates become important. If they are not closely monitored, someone is likely to end up with a “sour” experience.

There are two main reasons why laboratory managers should monitor laboratory chemicals expiration dates:

    1. Sustainability – If we are being honest, we should admit that there is an environmental toll on the production and disposal of chemicals and reagents whether they are consumed in the laboratory or not. To reduce this effect, laboratory managers should attempt to manage their chemicals and reagents so that they only order sufficient quantities for their needs. Disposing of chemical and reagents because they have expired is an unnecessary waste that has an impact on our environment.
    2. Unnecessary Costs – From a purely financial viewpoint, the disposal of laboratory chemicals due to expiration means that the laboratory’s capital was wasted. Chemicals and reagents can be expensive, some costing thousands of dollars for a small container. Since a capital resources outflow initially occurred to secure the chemical, disposing of an expired chemical means that little to no economic benefit resulted from expenditure and capital was wasted.

It is not unreasonable for every laboratory to set a goal to reduce the number of expired chemicals disposed each year to zero. How can this be achieved? Below are a few simple suggestions that will help any laboratory meet this goal:

  • Set Minimum and Maximum Order Quantities – Unlike the milk consumption in my house, it is probably safe to say that about 90% of the chemicals used in the laboratory are consistent. When items are predictable and consistent, best practices suggest that laboratory managers should establish a minimum and a maximum order point to help maintain reorder information. The min/max levels should be initially set based upon prior needs, but should be adjusted as the test mix and consumption changes over time. Min/max levels help to ensure that laboratory managers do not over order and increase the chance of wastefulness due to expiration.
  • Digitize Inventory – In general, chemicals and reagents arrive with all of the relevant information needed to track expiration dates printed on the label. However, once the containers are stored in their location, this information often becomes lost. The best way to ensure access to this information is to digitize and store it within a central database. The valuable benefit of doing this is that inventory managers can run queries and report on the data, including expiration dates. These reports help inventory managers know specifically when a chemical or reagent will need to be used.

Of course, both of these suggestions could be performed manually using spreadsheet software, or pencil and paper. A more efficient method, however, would be to automate the entire process with a chemical inventory management system. Using such a system, laboratory managers are able to set reorder points and run queries based on product expiration. The fact is that a chemical inventory management system simplifies the process of making sure that no laboratory chemicals are ever excessively disposed of due to an expiration date.

With a little focus and effort, all laboratories can reduce the amount of expired chemicals disposed of each year. To really ensure that this goal is achieved, install a best practices chemical inventory management system. For more information regarding how Accelrys CISPro can help your laboratory address the disposal of expired laboratory chemicals, please visit our website today.

2 thoughts on “Time’s Up: Examining What Milk and Laboratory Chemicals Have in Common

  1. It is amazing how two very different substances have some similarities. Disposing of expired chemicals is very important not only for your business but also the environment.

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