Three Ways to Tell Your Inventory Management System Needs Updating
When it comes to lab management, it can be tempting to stick with what works. If the status quo has gotten you by in the past, why make a change? This is an easy mindset to fall into, and it can ultimately hold your lab back when it comes to improving processes and optimizing efficiency. One area of particular concern is inventory management. Many labs rely on legacy systems that can hold your lab back by wasting time and even interfering with your science.
You might see these roadblocks as inevitable, but recent advances in inventory management technology have made it possible to overcome some of the fundamental limitations of legacy systems. Here are three ways you can tell if your inventory management system needs updating.
- A Large Portion of Your Budget Is Going Toward Chemicals You Do Not Use
In every lab, the research focus gradually evolves over time. Whether you are doing basic science, translational research or product development, recent findings and innovations can lead you to make changes to your standard methods. These changes accumulate over time, and before you know it, a chemical that your lab once used in almost every experiment may only be needed under special circumstances.
The problem here is that it can be hard for lab managers to keep up with methodological changes that make certain chemicals obsolete, especially when the changes happen gradually over time. As a result, a chemical may still be a mainstay on the lab manager’s regular ordering list, resulting in unnecessary expenditures on chemicals that sit on the shelf, barely touched.
Not only do you lose money on chemicals that you do not need, but it can become an even bigger problem when these chemicals start to expire, especially hazardous chemicals that require proper disposal. Safely disposing of hazardous chemicals by volume could cause you to lose even more money. Over time, this can be a major drain on your budget.
- You Keep Running Out of the Chemicals You Need, and It Is Stalling Your Projects
Changes in the way research is conducted can also make it more likely that you will run out of an essential chemical when you least expect it. Ultimately, this can be just as costly as overstocking chemicals and letting them expire. For example, boosting the amount of reagent used in a standard method—even by a seemingly small amount—can cause a container run out a lot faster than expected. If the lab manager is not aware of the increased supply needs, you might start an experiment, only to find that the necessary reagent is unavailable, and the experiment has to be postponed until more can be ordered.
If you have already started mixing chemicals before noticing that the reagent is out of stock, you may end up having to pour perfectly good chemicals down the drain. And if any of them are hazardous, you also have to pay for proper disposal. Plus, you lose valuable research time as you wait for the new stock to be delivered. This can significantly increase the amount of time it takes you to get results, move a project forward and eventually bring a new product to market.
- Locating the Chemical Regulatory Information You Need Takes Hours
Depending on your location, there are various regulatory standards with which you may have to comply. Often, compliance consists of preparing reports that include information about the chemicals you are using: vendor name and location, CAS number, formula, etc. If your lab uses a paper-based inventory management system, preparing these reports can take hours, and it does nothing to advance your projects, aside from checking the box for the regulatory organization.
A paper-based system can also become a problem when it takes too long to find safety information in an emergency spill situation. There is nothing more stressful than paging through reams of paper in the lab’s SDS binder, trying to get to the correct page to find out what to do about a spill. If this information is only available in one language, it can slow down the response time of non-native English speakers, who make up a growing proportion of the increasingly diverse scientific community.
Upgrading to Inventory Management Software
If your lab is experiencing any of the problems described above, it is time to update your inventory management system. Today, integrated chemical inventory management systems can make it easy to monitor chemical inventory so that the lab does not overbuy unnecessary chemicals or run out of reagents at critical moments. Computer-based chemical information storage also reduce the time it takes to locate and access data for compliance and safety purposes. Therefore, an upgrade can significantly reduce waste, improve productivity, and streamline essential processes in your lab.