Four ways to streamline lab operations with facilities management
Ensure your labs run smoothly and researchers can stay focused on innovation
While research and development (R&D) spending is at an all-time high, so is the tremendous pressure to meet unforgiving research deadlines. Yet, the daily tasks of laboratory operations management, maintenance and supply chain logistics can distract researchers from the need to remain laser-focused on bringing new products to market.
Facilities management (FM) practices are a major factor in whether an R&D facility is able to optimize efficiency and productivity. Something as simple as running out of clean glassware can slow down critical laboratory work. Scrambling to locate facilities records in response to a regulatory inquiry can be a major distraction from mission-critical facilities tasks. Even a minor equipment malfunction can wreck valuable research products or an experiment in progress.
Given the critical nature of facilities operations in the laboratory setting, it’s essential that laboratory managers and FM teams agree on facilities priorities. Select from the following priorities to determine the mission-critical actions your laboratory management team needs to take to optimize R&D productivity in your facilities.
Ensure that laboratory equipment is operating effectively. Ineffective lab equipment management can slow the pace of research and increase the risk of contamination, compliance infractions and damage to research materials. In a dramatic example, a freezer malfunction at McClean Hospital damaged one-third of the world’s largest collection of autism brain samples. Yet, researchers and lab administrators don’t necessarily have the expertise required to keep critical equipment functioning around the clock.
Therefore, it’s up to the facilities team to maximize laboratory uptime and protect precious inventories that require precise environmental conditions. For example, one leading practice is to install sensors that monitor equipment performance and automatically alert FM staff when equipment malfunctions, like when a refrigerator fails to maintain the proper temperature.
Adopt preventative maintenance. Electrical, heating, ventilation and cooling systems can malfunction at any time, triggering problems that can threaten a production line, or even shut down an entire facility. Today’s leading FM teams are adopting preventative maintenance optimization (PMO), and predictive maintenance strategies to optimize uptime.
Rather than following preset maintenance schedules established by the equipment manufacturer or corporate practices, preventative maintenance uses sophisticated technologies to monitor equipment performance. If monitoring reveals that a piece of equipment is exceeding acceptable vibration levels, an engineer can uncover and remediate the root cause before a complete breakdown occurs.
By managing equipment repairs and replacements on the basis of real-world wear and tear, an FM team can prevent costly breakdowns, extend equipment life and, ultimately, reduce R&D costs. However, preventative maintenance requires specific technologies and expertise that are not necessarily available in the average FM team.
Another advantage of preventative maintenance is that it helps prevent energy waste. Energy costs can be high in today’s technology-intensive laboratories, and both building and lab equipment wastes energy when poorly maintained. Conversely, energy waste drops when equipment is operating as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
Stay up to date on laboratory safety and regulatory compliance. A safe working environment is essential for researchers, when a malfunctioning fume hood or improperly stored hydrogen can lead to life-altering consequences. However, maintaining a safe lab is one of the most resource-intensive tasks of laboratory management. Ongoing compliance with laboratory safety regulations or responding to a time-constrained regulatory inquiry can consume many hours of valuable staff time.
Everything from safety showers to fire extinguishers must be checked and documented, along with storage, handling and disposal protocols for hazardous or flammable materials. Monitoring indoor air quality is a vital yet time-consuming job as well, requiring inspections and documentation of fume hood performance, ventilation and other lab components related to indoor air quality and safety. It’s also essential to maintain many other kinds of regulatory documentation, from storage and handling of controlled chemicals to protocols for shipping samples from one lab to another.
The frequent mergers and acquisitions of the life sciences industry can often result in inconsistent or neglected compliance activities. Following a major merger, a global biopharmaceutical company discovered regulatory compliance risks across its rapidly evolving business. Compliance practices were not standardized or necessarily up to date, even as regulatory inspections were becoming more frequent in light of the merger.
A compliance and quality control playbook can help ensure compliance and preparedness across your organization’s laboratories. For the global biopharmaceutical company, however, the fastest solution was to turn to its outsourced FM services provider to ensure consistent and well-documented facilities compliance among the company’s R&D and production laboratories.
Keep up to speed with glassware washing and research supplies. Mundane issues, such as a lack of clean glassware or ordering supplies, may not be disastrous, but can slow the mission-critical work of getting medicines and treatments to market quickly. In a typical laboratory, supplies come from numerous different suppliers, creating a supply chain logistics challenge that can drain hours of time away from the research focus. Your laboratories may not have a standard protocol for monitoring inventory levels and ensuring that adequate supplies are always available.
Glassware also can be an issue in R&D productivity, because it is essential to many R&D procedures—and glassware should serve as a neutral vessel to ensure accurate, unbiased and reproducible test results. Depending on the type of research being performed, your laboratory glassware sometimes may require specialized cleaning solvents, equipment or methods to prevent microscopic residues from interfering with analytical determinations. Even trace contamination may cause problems with highly sensitive experiments and procedures—which is why a qualified FM professional is imperative even for the smallest tasks.
Explore a laboratory FM partnership
Partnering with a laboratory-focused FM service provider can keep your labs operating smoothly and free researchers to focus on innovation. For example, a qualified partner will have the expertise to bring preventative maintenance practices to your laboratory equipment to maximize equipment uptime. Your partner will be able to ensure that clean glassware is always on hand and leverage a global supply chain network to ensure availability of critical materials.
A qualified partner also will ensure that your facilities are in compliance with standards and can help you respond to regulatory inquiries with minimum disruption. For example, one global biopharmaceutical company was able to reduce its facilities’ regulatory violations and findings down to zero by partnering with an FM service provider with specialized knowledge of life sciences R&D and manufacturing operations.
That knowledge proved invaluable again when the global company was building a new vivarium and research laboratory addition to a major West Coast research facility. By collaborating with the construction team, FM managers were able to ensure that the new facilities would meet regulatory standards and that equipment would be commissioned and ready for use on opening day.
In combination, these practices and others reduce R&D facilities costs while also improving compliance, quality and safety. Equally important, offloading the critical details of FM enables researchers to focus on the mission-critical work of developing life-saving medicines rather than on the minutia of keeping the equipment running.