Imagine you’re in the kitchen making one of your favorite dishes. You’ve prepared most things and started the cooking processes. You look into the refrigerator to only find out that you’re missing a necessary ingredient to finish the cooking! Not only is it annoying and inconvenient, you’re disappointed at yourself for forgetting. Now imagine that problem in a laboratory. If your team needs a certain antibody to run an experiment only to discover your laboratory is out of stock is not just annoying and inconvenient like in the kitchen, but this time it can cause losses in money and time only because there wasn’t a proper inventory system in place. As a lab manager, it is imperative that your inventory system is useful and straightforward. Below we will go over a few ways to put systems in place to make sure inventory is maintained.
To start, you must organize your storage spaces to be able to properly store materials. The laboratory equivalent of cleaning out the fridge, creating a system of arranging similar chemicals and reagents together whether they be on the same shelf, same room, or same building. This will go leaps and bounds ahead of any problems that may arise from a scientist not being able to find the correct material. It also is important to not only set up an organization system at the start of a lab but also have it remain organized no matter the experiments being run or the scientists running them.
For example, you may need to create separate rooms for refrigeration, depending on the temperature necessary for safe storage. Some materials may be needed to be stored at -10° C, others only viable at -30° C. You must have complete knowledge of the materials used in your lab to be able to create the necessary spaces to store them successfully and safely.
Now that your spaces are properly organized, it is time to sort your materials. They must be easily accessible by the scientists wishing to use them in their experiments. You don’t want scientists going on an Indiana-Jones-style adventure to find a commonly used reagent. Sort your most used and important supplies within easy reach from the workstations of the scientists that use them. Whether this is stored in the lab itself, or in a storeroom very near, it is important to have those in reach.
It can be cheaper to buy materials such as antibodies in bulk. So, it makes sense to have the open and used antibodies in a more sizeable reach, while having the unused materials hidden away further. This allows that a scientist only uses the open materials, rather than wasting inventory by having to throw out materials that are only half-used.
Once you’ve organized your materials the next step is proper labeling. Materials must be clearly specified exactly what they are, including any details pertinent to the experiments they are used in. This is quite helpful as well for scientists who keep their own stock of materials. Correct labels on your materials will take out any misunderstandings. This will heighten your productivity in the lab by spending less time wondering if the reagent in your hand is correctly the one you need to use in the experiment.
You put good systems in place for your inventory, and that’s a great start. For lab managers and group leaders, investing in software that keeps inventory can be quite helpful. Like using an ELN, switching to automatic inventory software can save time and energy. Also, it can maintain records of how much inventory is available without having to physically count each item in supply.
labfolder’s Material Database is perfect for this. When documenting experiments, you can link those experiments directly to the electronic database of Materials. These include various descriptions of the materials. You can use those exact descriptions to label the materials stored for your lab. They are the best way for this, as they give an accurate depiction of what the material is and when it might be needed.
When your lab has been running for some time, you will need to hire new scientists eventually. Although these new hires have good educational backgrounds, they do not know how your particular lab is run. You most likely know to onboard them on machine usage and company policy. But, you must onboard them on the inventory systems you have placed in your lab. This allows the laboratory to be productive whilst adding a new and productive member to your team.
With all these inventory systems in place, it might be thought that you can let them run on their own without direct influence. However, that is not always the case, unfortunately. Mistakes do happen at times. And, software and inventory applications can only go so far. That is why it is important, periodically, to physically check all materials and their amounts currently in stock. Then, you can record the discrepancies between the counted amounts and documented amounts. This can help eliminate discrepancies between the two amounts, and therefore you can keep better count of inventory. As so, it can help reduce costs by keeping up-to-date information on inventory numbers.
Keeping inventory is sometimes forgotten about when running a lab. When, in fact, it is one of the most important things for it to be successful. As a group leader or lab manager, you must create solid inventory systems that can be easily used and accessed by team members. You can use these tips to assist you. This will allow the lab to be successful through its organization.