Solving the ‘Nothing I Need is Ever There’ Dilemma – Step 1
If your lab is like most labs, you probably hear statements like these every day:
“It takes as much time to find my supplies as it does to run a protocol.”
“I don’t check my stockroom first – I just order everything I need for an experiment to make sure it’s there when I need it.”
“My stockroom is full but nothing I need is ever available.”
Overlay continued pressures to spend less on supplies and to ‘just in time’ everything – and it feels like you’re in an impossible situation. Challenging? Yes. Impossible? No.
The best way to effectively manage your lab inventory is by using digital solutions. However, before choosing a solution, you’ll need to figure out the lay of the land.
Top 3 Questions to Ask when Optimizing Your Lab Inventory Management
When determining the current state of your lab, it’s often best to start by answering three questions:
What is being used? If you’re not already tracking this information, keep track of the items you order over the next month to six weeks. Or, if you use just a handful suppliers – give your representatives a call and ask for the last 3 to 6 months of orders.
This first pass is about getting the items you order the most or that cost you the most, so don’t worry about trying to track down every single item. Focus instead on the roughly 20% of items that account for about 80% of your volume or spend.
Are you using a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) or an Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) to track your stock, standards and reagents? If not, you should consider it. These systems can track and associate the reagents and consumables that are used with each experiment. Today’s LIMS can provide also provide you with dashboards to track stock levels and notify you when you are getting low to trigger a reorder.
Who is using these items? This can be a little harder to determine, so you might want to focus on group or department usage versus that of individual users. From your information on what is being used, who is placing those orders? How much are they ordering? And, how often are they placing these orders.
Again, if you are using an ELN or LIMS, you can track the usage back to the user or department based on the experiments that they are running.
As with the first step – focus on the 80/20 for this first pass.
What do you have in your stockrooms? Truth – this can be the hardest question to get answered. If you already have this readily available – great! You can jump to the next step. Don’t have this? Don’t feel bad – most companies don’t. As a fill-in, take a look at your highest volume and highest cost items (from what is being used) focusing on just the top 10 or 20 and see if you can find them in your stockrooms.
Are the most frequently used items stocked anywhere? If so, are they close to the users? If not – are they in the labs? On top of benches? Or, in refrigerators or freezers? Scattered all over? And, about how much do you have on hand?
Locations can also be tracked using an electronic system like a LIMS or ELN. Simply scan the barcode on the supply and its location whether that is a freezer or an area in your stock room. This will give you the traceability to find what you need, when you need it, and to keep an accurate inventory.
Mapping your frequently used items against what you have stocked is the first important step in getting out of this dilemma.
Achieving Your Lab Management Goals
The process of understanding the current state of your lab can be time consuming and frankly, even disheartening. But never fear, this analysis has put you on the right path to fixing your problems.
So, what are the next steps? Now that you know what you have and what you are using, you need to figure out your goals. Do you want a stock room that is never empty? Do you want to optimize your purchasing to match use in the lab? Do you just what to know how to find things? Next, with those goals in hand, you’ll need to assess the options – both analog and digital – to achieve your goals.
We’ll take a closer look at assessing your options in a future blog post.