Samples are the essence of laboratory life. All the tests performed, equipment required, and regulations followed; everything revolves around them.
So, managing these samples and the materials that go along with them is paramount. When contemplating streamlining lab processes, this area is often sidelined, but paying your lab inventory minimal attention whilst going through your daily workflows can be detrimental to progress.
Let’s explore some practical scenarios in the lab to highlight how a properly managed inventory can benefit your lab.
Protect your experiment’s data accuracy and integrity
According to studies conducted on the frequency of transcription errors, three in a hundred characters are incorrectly entered by manual processes.
Imagine labels containing wrong information and data sets riddled with inaccuracies and errors. This, in turn, can potentially skew results and in the end, impede decision-making. The outcome? Newly discovered chemical entities that are undergoing rigorous testing and regulatory scrutiny could be tossed aside as a result of false analysis.
Using automation and innovative technology to capture data electronically removes these bottlenecks. Simple changes, like adding barcodes to your labels and scanning them, eliminates the need for manual data entry, and therefore reduces the risk of transcription errors.
In just a second, a barcode scanner can capture and populate the required fields in a spreadsheet with vital information including the batch number, sample ID, its genealogy, creation date, and expiry date.
In addition to reducing the chance of accidental human blunder, it saves scientists time, which would have otherwise been spent painstakingly entering the information by hand into an Excel spreadsheet or similar data processing software. Better still, you can go further by introducing a single platform on which your instruments generating data are connected and communicate.
Know what materials you have, and where, at all times
Have you ever ordered a reagent only to realize you already have enough stock for a year? Or gone to fetch a piece of equipment you need but discover that it has been damaged?
Samples are an incredible asset, accounting for billions in value. In fact, Stanford University estimated the total value of their samples to be $2.8B across their research labs. Not an insignificant figure.
Therefore, it is worth investing in a sample management system with an effective inventory to monitor all your samples, equipment and materials, their location and status, and keep track of all the critical information like how much of something you have and key properties of your inventory items.
By managing your inventory in an efficient manner, you can allocate available locations for your new sample, and even distinguish a used bottle from an unopened one. Knowing what you have, how much of it and if it’s usable, can help you efficiently plan your resources.
For example, if you want to find a bottle of acetonitrile in your lab, an inventory system such as IDBS’ Inventory module enables you to narrow your search by selecting a supplier, such as Merck. From here, you can see where the bottles are stored, whether they are unopened, and a clear indication of its remaining available quantity down to the last gram or milliliter. If there isn’t enough for your planned experiment, being aware beforehand means you can order the required amount well in advance and avoid delays.
Detect anomalies effortlessly and in a timely manner
With an electronic data management system, you can set a process in place that notifies you of any inconsistencies or deviations. Scientists can see if any of the reagents involved in their experiment are past their expiration date or simply the wrong ones, before the fact.
In the same vein, any instruments or equipment that are not calibrated are flagged immediately, alerting you for correction. This helps to protect the integrity of the process.
For example, when scanning a balance that has not been properly calibrated into your inventory system to be used in an experiment, there’ll be a warning of the issue, and you can remedy it before proceeding. The same process applied to reagents such as buffers.
Given that reagents and samples are expensive, being aware of any potential issues with the experiment before testing procedures saves both the cost of re-ordering reagents and time running the assay a second time.
Moreover, if something goes awry during the experiment, scientists can trace the experiment back to the point where it deviated and perform a rerun from that point, saving on costly reagents and time.
Trace your item back with hierarchical relationships
Being able to track each level of the relationships between your samples, equipment and materials, enables you to create a report with minimal effort. This is particularly important for compliance and regulatory purposes, on top of reporting.
You can trace a sample back to where it came from and how it was prepared. If an uncalibrated balance was used, you can go back and see the reason why, which experiments it’s been used in, and who ran those experiments. All activity is visible on the inventory system, a convenient and effective way to ensure all affected experiments are flagged and investigated.
Say you’re running a chromatography test on a drug sample to separate it from its impurity, but your results demonstrate there was no contamination. In this case, you might become suspicious regarding the buffer used in the experiment.
Checking the inventory to see exactly what was used and the status of each item at the time of testing is the first step. From this list of materials, you can see that the sodium phosphate buffer used doesn’t look quite right, and you can search through its record to check if it is faulty. Is it expired? What components were used to make this buffer? Was something off with them? In which other experiments has this used and were those experiments affected? More traceability reduces the necessity for repeat work down the line.
By tracing the origins of your materials through inventory, it is not only possible, but easy to view the hierarchical relationships between all the materials used and where the point of issue falls. Instead of dedicating large amounts of time investigating the source of the problem through trial and error, finding and setting the course right is painless and takes significantly less time out of your day.