During the initial design process, many labs fail to plan for future equipment substitutions, or repurposing of the workspace. This makes it logistically problematic as well as expensive to adapt the lab’s functionality to meet changing business or research objectives. Adding new instruments or robotic installations to streamline operations or pivot research becomes costly down the line if the workspace is not designed with flexibility in mind. Laboratory layouts may become impractical over time as methods and objectives change, and additional capital will be needed to align the space with the needs of researchers. Lab inflexibility is compounded if sample tracking systems are inadequate, or if tracking is conducted using legacy systems. In this article, we discuss how you can avoid common lab management risks by designing an adaptable workspace and making use of flexible benchtop automation.
Even the selection of benchtops can be impactful when considering ROI and adaptability. It is important that planners choose surfaces with a level of resistance that corresponds to usage demands. At the least, surfaces will likely need to be resistant to bacteria and chemicals, corrosive materials, moisture, and scratching to ensure that labs can get the best mileage from their furniture and adapt to new objectives as needed.
Similarly, decision-makers may fail to account for the impact of large numbers of high energy consumption devices and equipment. Without putting in place appropriate infrastructure, the environmental impact of the lab will be significantly increased, while energy, water, and heating are used inefficiently. If companies do not account for containment and exhaust devices, high levels of heat generation, backup and emergency power systems, operating costs will be high and labs will be more accident-prone. Building in more energy-conscious technologies such as air quality monitoring systems, water conservation and recycling systems, and low-energy exhaust and heating systems help make employees more productive, reduce carbon footprints, and combat traditionally high energy costs (a typical lab uses five times as much water and energy per square foot as a typical office building!).
Keeping equipment calibrated and well-maintained is central to protecting the ROI on lab instruments and ensuring experiments can continue to run smoothly. This can be difficult and time-consuming with large, complex instruments – these may even need specialized personnel to perform routine maintenance and repairs or even operate, which can cause disruption to experiments in the case of a malfunction. Certain benchtop automation systems are designed to mitigate some of these operational difficulties. TubeWriter 360, for example, is a relatively small benchtop fixture that your lab’s workstations can easily accommodate without any need to redesign the space. The TubeWriter is operated via a simple and intuitive interface and is designed to print on any labware – making it an adaptable fixture that can easily keep pace with pivots in your research objectives.
One possible solution to promote workspace adaptability is the installation of modular workstations. These provide multiple possible set-up configurations which can be alternated easily to produce the most use of the space. Building in flexibility allows labs more freedom in the kinds of research they are able to pivot to down the line, whilst reducing sunk costs and reducing the capital reinvestment needed to make modifications to the environment.
Another potential area for pitfalls is the management of data. Experiments generate huge amounts of data, which can then be difficult to manage and analyze. Furthermore, manual methods of analysis are prone to human error, and may create errors in your datasets. Many labs still manage information using legacy systems such as spreadsheets or even paper, which require a significant expense of time and effort to maintain – and locating the data you need can be laborious. Additionally, laboratories have a responsibility to safeguard the sensitive data they house, which is under a growing threat from the increased incidence of cyber attacks. It is important that sensitive data is kept safe and secure, with access controlled, to mitigate the risk of data breaches.
Especially in the case of data tracked on paper, identifying trends in experimental volumes on a weekly or monthly basis, or keeping track of samples received from a partner or collection center, can be difficult and frustrating. Sample tracking can present a number of lab management risks in the life sciences. Keeping a thorough audit trail of samples across the entire lifecycle is important in upholding the validity of analyses, as well as keeping experiments running smoothly and minimizing disruption. Poor sample tracking practices can lead to delays in clinical reporting, or even lost samples. Handwritten sample labels, still a commonly used labeling medium in many labs, also create a host of issues – including, but not limited to, labels jamming up instruments and causing delays, illegible handwriting making samples impossible to identify, and label integrity deteriorating over time with movement between experimental usage and storage environments. The good news, however, is that problems arising from handwritten labels can be successfully mitigated through selecting the right automation system. The TubeWriter 360 is designed to resolve these labeling bottlenecks. It works by printing labeling information directly onto tubes and labware, eliminating the need to manually write out and attach labels that often become stuck in machinery or deteriorate over time. Illegible labels can become a thing of the past – TubeWriter produces consistently legible data that stands up to harsh testing and storage conditions, and can print in both human readable and barcode formats.
Keeping track of samples using spreadsheets and notebooks is a laborious and error-prone method, and handwritten labels can also work to derail experiments. One tool to mitigate these common lab management issues is LIMS. LIMS works to provide a central and accessible platform for all relevant inventory and experimental data, simplifying sample tracking processes, while providing data security and helping to maintain audit trails. To tackle pitfalls in sample tracking, switching to a printed labeling system can negate many of the difficulties that arise as a result of handwritten labels. By integrating a labware printing automation system into your workspace, your lab can print large volumes of labware in a fraction of the time (and save on countless hours of tedious manual labor), ensure that labels are consistently legible and adhere to naming conventions, and that labels can withstand harsh storage conditions.
Laboratories in the life sciences sector may make use of cryogenic storage tanks for the preservation of samples such as embryos and oocytes. Maintaining the precise conditions required for cryotanks to operate successfully can be difficult, and personnel are liable to sustain serious injuries if tanks are not managed properly. To this end, it is crucial that labs design and enforce stringent safety and maintenance protocols for the use and upkeep of cryotanks. All staff that come into contact with cryostorage equipment must be adequately trained, and maintenance must be performed on a regular schedule to preserve storage conditions and prevent breakdown.
For example, in biotech and life sciences labs, it is important that mechanical safeguards are in place to ensure that nitrogen levels do not drop below a certain level – as even a slight change in temperature could compromise samples. Implementing a daily inspection schedule, installing alarm systems, or systems that automatically replenish nitrogen levels are various methods of maintaining storage conditions. Designing a set of best practices to control storage conditions is crucial, such as creating a control chart based on weekly liquid nitrogen volume fluctuations to help identify when levels are outside of an acceptable range. These measures are especially important when dealing with smaller specimens – as their lower thermal mass will speed up their rise in temperature, increasing the risk of compromise.
When designing a lab and procuring equipment, it is important to leave room for future growth. This can be achieved by building flexibility into the workspace with modular workstations, and equipment that can adapt as your workflows change. Implementing stringent sample tracking processes, and centralizing inventory and experimental data is also important in avoiding disruption to experiments and maintaining the integrity of your analysis. TubeWriter’s benchtop automation solution can play an important role in helping to create an adaptable workspace that scales with you. Get in touch today to find TubeWriter can modernize your sample labeling.
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