Documentation is a key aspect of lab management. But, when done in old-school or unorganized ways, it can be a tedious and time-consuming task. Manual tasks like poor documentation practices can tire out laboratory personnel and have a drastic impact on the overall lab performance.
Along with documentation, tasks like storage, tracking and maintaining inventory, and other manual processes, lab managers and other highly trained lab personnel get bogged down in day-to-day laboratory management.
It’s estimated that if a lab manager spends 30% of their time on paperwork for their lab team, the organization will spend $300K+ per year on manual documentation tasks that could include errors, costing labs even more.
Take a look at some of the top ways that manual tasks affect the lab’s bottom line and can lead to scientist burnout and lack of job satisfaction. Then, think about the ways that these processes can be automated, making your lab more efficient and saving money.
How Manual Tasks Slow Down Research
Manual tasks like maintaining records, documentation, and preparing reports might look insignificant, but they majorly impact lab performance. Here’s how.
- It’s tiring and requires a lot of willpower and focus.
- It’s prone to human error, which can have a significant impact on the research outcome.
- Inefficient management leads to repetition of experiments which require more resources. This affects the lab budget and delays project timelines.
- It creates dependence on other lab members for information or access to resources.
- Getting access to information from unorganized files is time-consuming and not often fruitful.
- Having expert scientists with advanced training perform manual tasks incurs unreasonable costs.
- Research projects often lose value as the researchers spend more time performing mundane tasks.
- The cost of office supplies like files, pens, and papers increases significantly.
- Labs need extra storage space to store the huge piles of files.
- Information is not readily available and is difficult to access during reviews and audits.
How Inefficient Lab Practices Waste Lab Budget/Funding
Without a conscious effort to become more agile and operate using a lean mindset, labs will quickly burn through their year’s budget in a few short months. Lab managers need to be properly trained themselves in order to implement workflows like digitally cataloguing lab supplies, frequently doing inventory checks and maintaining organized lab supply closets, and training staff on proper waste management.
1. Use of expired stock
Lack of a reliable system that tracks lab stock in real-time often creates confusion and can lead to extra waste. Researchers may miss out on opportunities to plan experiments based on the expiration dates of chemicals or other items, resulting in wastage of excess supply.
2. Restocking before time
In the absence of a real-time inventory, the stock may be miscounted or assessed improperly, leading to more expenditure. In addition, the extra stock goes to waste, draining the laboratory budget.
3. Spoilage waste
Improper storage can cause lab items or equipment to expire or go bad much before their expiration dates. This spoilage can result from improper storage conditions, a lack of regular maintenance or inadvertent slip-ups.
What can be done about it?
As with every other industry, labs need to introduce digital tools for entering and maintaining information. These tools not just eliminate human error, but require significantly less time and effort than the manual process. Here are some features of the most effective digital lab operations tools.
1. Simple to use
Storing data on a tool or computer software takes a significantly lesser amount of time and effort than the manual process. With the help of ready-made templates, entering data is really quick and convenient.
2. Easy to store and retrieve
Data stored digitally can be extracted in a matter of a few seconds at any time. Unlike human resources, it’s available 27*7 and provides the real-time status of lab equipment.
3. Eliminates error
Tools eliminate human error by automation. Automated scripts remain unaffected by environmental or personal variables and seldom make errors. This error-free inventory management helps labs manage costs and resources more effectively.
4. Real-time documentation
Digital data portrays the real-time status of lab information. For example, it alerts the lab manager of upcoming expiration dates or sends a reminder when it’s time to restock.
5. Tracks expiration dates
These automated tools track the expiry dates of various chemicals and other equipment used in the labs and prioritize them based on their expiry dates. The items expiring sooner than others will be highlighted for the researchers to use first. These tools also avoid expired items to become a part of scientific experiments.
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An investment in the right tool yields long-term benefits for your research lab. It not just avoids extra wastage but allows researchers to dedicate their time and effort to lab experiments.