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Break Bottlenecks in the Lab With Digitalized Lab Management Systems

Female scientist using a tablet to check lab inventory.
Credit: iStock
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Analytical and research laboratories are at the heart of driving scientific breakthroughs to address some of the world’s most important issues. However, labs face multiple challenges regarding outdated administrative processes of research that are bottlenecks of scientific innovation.

The key to addressing these challenges lies in automating mundane lab management processes through digitalization to alleviate such bottlenecks.


Digitalization is essential for inventory management

One key bottleneck in a laboratory setting is the amount of time wasted by researchers on inventory management. With manual tracking methods in place, researchers can spend unnecessary time looking for samples and reagents, checking stock levels and putting together order sheets.

While these tasks are vital to ensure a lab can conduct experiments, the problem lies in inefficient processes or tools to complete the work. In providing researchers with the tools to expedite this work, they can spend more time at the bench and less time in storage rooms.

However, time isn’t the only thing wasted due to inefficient lab management. Another key waste factor lies in lab consumables with a fixed shelf-life. Labs can spend thousands of dollars per year on expired inventory and hazardous waste disposal if workers do not adequately monitor this.

Beyond the hit to a researcher’s bottom line and negating their ability to conduct experiments, this also raises sustainability concerns regarding wasted resources and the environmental footprint associated with sciences.

The solution is a digitally connected lab management system that makes work in the lab smarter and more efficient.


Digitalizing laboratory inventory management systems

While lab management systems are not inherently new and are widely used, many are not yet fully digital. As technology continues to increase interconnectivity, the case for a digitalized laboratory management system grows. Harnessing the ability to integrate systems in the lab can fix process redundancies, ultimately reducing the time it takes to complete tasks and address resource usage concerns.

What are the tangible benefits of adopting a digitally enabled lab management system? For starters, real-time information on inventory levels, storage locations and more becomes available to researchers using RFID or similar technology.

Gone are the days of manually keeping track of this information by pen and paper; with one click, a researcher can access these details and quickly locate research materials. Additionally, by keeping better track of resources, researchers can monitor stock levels and recognize what does or does not need to be stocked, ultimately saving time.

Furthermore, the waste associated with unused or expired chemicals can be reduced by a digitally enabled lab management system. The ability to accurately keep track of materials in real-time allows researchers to follow a first-in-first-out method of usage, cutting down on waste.

Without a lab management system, a researcher may believe they have all the materials needed for an experiment, but halfway through, they realize that one item has expired. In a time-precious environment, this issue can ruin experiments and cause a snowball effect leading to even more waste than the initially expired resource. 

Lab management systems also boast the ability to improve the most important thing in lab settings: researcher safety. Through a digitally connected system, a multitude of safety measures can be put in place: marking hazardous materials, compliance monitoring, incompatibility warnings and even incident alerts to help emergency responders.

Helping decision-makers recognize the impact of a digitized lab management system is key to improving the overarching issues stated thus far. But what are the product features decision-makers should look for in a lab management system?


What to look for in a laboratory management system

One of the hallmark attributes that a lab management system should possess is ease of access. Can the end user pick up the system with minimal training? Does the system feature a mobile app or allow integration with currently used systems? Who can access all the information in the system?

Furthermore, decision-makers should look at the lab management system’s tracking abilities. Does the system feature real-time location tracking and automatically input usage information such as opening date? Can researchers use the system to automatically develop order logs for materials?

These are just a few examples of things to look for in a lab management system. Making the jump to a lab management system may take some adjustment. However, the long-term benefits to the lab’s bottom line and researchers’ productivity are tangible, making it well worth the effort.

Saving time, reducing waste and increasing worker safety are among the significant advantages of implementing a lab management system. As such, decision-makers should explore their options, assess pain points in their lab and adopt solutions to free researchers’ time to drive scientific progress.

About the author:

Andreas Heidelberg is head of Digital Chemistry, Life Science business of Merck. He has over 10 years of management experience with local and remote teams in R&D and marketing in the life science, semiconductor and photovoltaic industry – in areas like strategic product management, competent product development and thorough setup and implementation of product/ technology roadmaps and optimized processes. Andreas holds a Chemistry degree from Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf.