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5 min read

Laboratory asset tracking: managing instruments and equipment

scientific instruments

Laboratories depend on hundreds of scientific instruments and specialty equipment to operate. Tracking and managing these assets is essential to control cost and reproducibility.

After managing their inventory of supplies and reagents, tracking assets is one of the most common motivations for adopting a Laboratory Information Management System or LIMS. Every lab has to manage a large and complex portfolio of instruments and scientific equipment. Keeping track of these assets and managing them is necessary to ensure the continuity of operations as losing equipment or an instrument out of service can stop part or all the lab activities. In addition, laboratory equipment is expensive. An inadequate asset tracking process will negatively impact budget and profitability.

Are you looking for an asset tracking software solution, book a demonstration to learn how GenoFAB can help your team better manage your lab instruments.

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What are laboratory assets?

Assets are resources purchased from vendors that are not consumed while performing experiments. A freezer, an incubator, or a microscope would definitely fall in this category. Other objects that would be considered as assets according to this definition include micropipette, tube racks, or glassware. Software licenses could also be included in this category. Even a pen costing $0.10 could fit this category.  

Many businesses have asset tracking policies that apply to purchases exceeding a threshold of capital expenses. Any object costing more than $5,000 for example could be subject to these policies.  

Labs should probably be more inclusive in their definition of assets. The purchase price is one factor to consider but other factors are worth keeping in mind. The difficulty locating the equipment in the lab, the difficulty to obtain the equipment, or the importance of the equipment for executing some workflows are worth keeping in mind as well. Another factor is the need to identify specific pieces of equipment in order to calibrate them. For example, a $500 micropipette should be tracked so that it can be calibrated regularly.

The risk of losing equipment is another factor to keep in mind. An academic lab operating in a shared environment is more likely to lose equipment than a lab operating in a dedicated space.

On the other hand, it is probably not worth keeping track of a pen because they are inexpensive, replaceable, and easy to obtain.

Each lab should come up with its own asset tracking policy by comparing the cost of tracking different classes of assets and the benefits they can expect from it.

Like supply inventory management, asset tracking requires keeping track of data associated with the procurement process. However, asset tracking does not need to keep track of quantities.

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Standardizing equipment

Making a catalog of equipment used in the lab is necessary to keep track of these instruments. The purpose of this catalog is to reduce cost, improve reproducibility, and ensure operational continuity.

Unlike supplies that are ordered multiple times, many pieces of equipment are ordered only once because the lab needs only one instrument. For example, a lab may have only one benchtop centrifuge. This situation makes it a little counterintuitive to separate the data necessary to order the instruments from the data specific to the instrument itself.

However, many instruments are likely to be purchased more than once. Pipettes, thermocyclers, or computers are examples of instruments present in more than one instance in any lab. Many options are available from different vendors that look interchangeable. Without an official catalog of equipment used by a lab, lab personnel is likely to order a variety of equipment that is more or less identical. It could end up with different types of different PCR machines, power supplies, etc.

The multiplicity of similar equipment is wasteful.

  • Time is wasted researching equipment whenever an order needs to be placed.
  • The multiplicity of equipment may require lab personnel to get familiar with each of them.
  • The multiplicity of equipment may make it more difficult to maintain them.

In addition, the multiplicity of equipment is likely to create reproducibility problems. Even though the equipment may look equivalent when they are ordered, chances are that protocols and standard operating procedures have been designed with one specific piece of equipment in mind. Using a different variant may have unexpected consequences that ultimately will cost money as experiments need to be reworked. Having multiple pieces of equipment of the same type ensures operational continuity when one of them is out of service.

It is the lab manager's responsibility to develop the laboratory equipment catalog. The catalog should be as small as possible. The selection of equipment will be guided by considerations of prices, expected use, availability, and their use in multiple protocols. In particular, the lab manager should consider whether a piece of equipment could be used in multiple workflows. If necessary, they should validate the use of a new instrument in existing workflows and revise the Standard Operating Procedure accordingly.

Purchasing And Receiving

The process of purchasing equipment is very similar to the process of purchasing supplies.

After an equipment order has been delivered to the lab, it needs to go through a formal onboarding process. Small equipment can be delivered to the onboarding area like supplies. Large equipment is more likely to be delivered to their final location.

Onboarding an equipment order consists in transcribing information such as serial number or warranty expiration date from the instrument to GenoFAB, scanning and attaching the packing slip to the GenoFAB record.

Next, a label should be affixed to the instrument. When applicable, the company asset tag number may also need to be recorded to facilitate the organization's asset tracking process.

Finally, the last step of the onboarding process is to specify the location of the instrument. At which point the instrument status can be changed to available and the onboarding is complete.

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Screenshot of the GenoFAB Asset Tracking module. 

Managing equipment and other assets

GenoFAB’s equipment module includes a dropdown selector to indicate the status of any piece of equipment. The default status options are In service, Out of service, and Surplused. This list can be customized according to the lab's needs.

Some instruments require a more proactive management strategy. They have their own subcategories of the main equipment module in GenoFAB.

Precision instruments are instruments that require periodic calibration or certification. This includes pipettes, thermocyclers, spectrophotometers, or biosafety cabinets. For these instruments, the periodicity of the calibration, the date of the last calibration, and the calibration expiration date should be recorded. The person in charge of managing the instrument certification can also be recorded when different lab members are responsible for different pieces of equipment.

Serviced equipment corresponds to instruments subject to a service contract. For these instruments, users should track the contract cost, start and expiration dates, as well dates of the annual preventive maintenance visit.

Computers and software licenses are assets that may be worth tracking in their own categories. Computers, especially laptops, are assigned to specific lab members and don’t always have a fixed location. It is therefore important to track them properly to have access to their custodian, age, and specifications. Software licenses are not always thought of as assets but they should. Whenever access to software is restricted to a limited number of users or computers, keeping track of the allocation of these licenses is important. It is also important to keep track of the contract renewal dates and costs.

Getting started

New GenoFAB users who have an existing inventory of equipment, instruments, and other assets can import it into GenoFAB. Experience proves that most labs don’t track their assets in the same way they manage their inventory of supplies.

New GenoFAB users should take advantage of the GenoFAB deployment to perform a complete inventory of their equipment and instruments. Doing an inventory has many benefits beyond the capture of data in GenoFAB. It can be an opportunity to identify equipment that is out of service, equipment that is no longer used in the lab, and equipment that nobody knew was available. Identifying these issues and addressing them is likely to save space, save unnecessary purchases, and result in a leaner lab that will be easier and cheaper to manage moving forward.  

GenoFAB can save your lab time and unecessary expenses by allowing your team to manage their equipment and other assets. Book a demo today

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