Optimizing Laboratory Operations: Asset Utilization Monitoring Captures the Data Necessary to Improve Instrument Uptime and Lab Productivity

To optimize lab operations, several questions must first be answered. How can you adjust service levels based on usage? How can you trigger preventive actions prior to failure? How effective are you at utilizing your assets? These questions can be easily answered by implementing an asset utilization monitoring solution. Such a solution provides laboratories with knowledge of how instruments are used throughout the laboratory, and can significantly help labs optimize operations, drive cost savings, and improve productivity. It also empowers lab managers to make smart operational decisions based on real instrument and equipment usage information.

Asset utilization monitoring delivers significant benefits, including the ability to eliminate unnecessary capital expenditures and reduce laboratory downtime. It helps laboratories reduce downtime and service costs through proactively adjusting the delivery of planned services (e.g., preventive maintenance, operational qualification), allowing laboratories to match actual instrument usage to optimize service levels. In addition, the data can be leveraged to balance workloads and reduce downtime risk through redeploying instruments and equipment from areas of low utilization to high utilization. Asset utilization data enables laboratories to optimize return on current investments and eliminate unnecessary future capital expenditures. Labs can make better strategic decisions by factoring current instrument utilization into capital purchase and disposition decisions.

Implementing an asset utilization monitoring solution in a laboratory consisting of instruments and equipment purchased from multiple manufacturers, comprising different scientific techniques, and controlled by different instrument software, can be extremely challenging. At a minimum, data such as sample run times and instrument reset times (time for the instrument to return to a starting point to run the next sample) must be captured across each instrument to give a true reflection of actual instrument usage. Data should be collected at least once per day, to ensure that utilization data is not skewed by explainable events that are missed (e.g., repairs, sample delays, power failure, researcher time off).

Laboratories have attempted to deploy both automated hardware and software solutions to meet these challenges, with varying degrees of success. Hardware solutions typically consist of a sensor (e.g., voltage, current) to capture a physical event on the instrument and log the time of the event and the time between events. These types of solutions can be difficult and expensive to implement and support, sometimes requiring physical modifications to the instrument itself. A more effective approach is to use a software solution to either monitor for creation of instrument data files or read instrument-generated logs and/or results files to capture sample acquisition times and instrument reset times. No matter what approach is chosen, it is important that it is easily scalable regardless of the manufacturer, technique, or instrument control software, and does not interfere with instrument functionality or research productivity. This allows the laboratory to keep its existing technology and software infrastructure in place, protecting the lab’s investment in instrumentation and operator training.

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