Almost every researcher has been in the situation where, halfway through an assay, he realizes that he doesn’t have the chemical he needs for the next step. Not only does this leave him tearing his hair out in frustration, it can be a major drain on lab resources. Especially in today’s economic climate, most labs can’t afford the loss, as research funding is simply too scarce. Both private organizations and government agencies are offering fewer grants and lowering award amounts1, and as more applications are submitted for review, competition is becoming so fierce that lots of deserving grant proposals simply cannot be funded. In order to adapt to this environment, lab managers and researchers need to make the best use of limited funding by maximizing the use of purchased chemicals. For this, many research firms utilize chemical management software.
Resources Down the Drain: What the Lab Loses When a Chemical Runs Out
When a researcher runs out of a chemical in the middle of preparing a solution, all of the chemicals that were already added have to be thrown out. They might also have to throw away other scarce resources, such as cultured cells or other solutions prepared for the assay. Even worse, some of the material might require hazardous waste disposal, which the lab pays for by weight or volume, so the cost of abandoning the experiment is even greater than the direct cost of the materials.
Abandoning an experiment part of the way through can also be a major drain on time. Not only does a researcher waste all of the time dedicated to setting up a particular experiment, but since so many experiments are multi-step, multi-day projects, they could lose weeks of work simply because one crucial chemical wasn’t available when needed. This can also affect the experiments of other team members working on the same project who need the researcher’s results in order to move forward with their own experiments. At best, the project is on hold until the right chemical can be ordered, and at worst, the researcher has to start over completely. Either way, when research stalls and time is wasted, the lab loses money on researcher salaries and the overhead costs of the day-to-day functioning of the lab.
Using Chemical Management Software to Avoid Unnecessary Losses
In order to prevent the significant losses that are incurred when the lab unexpectedly runs out of a critical chemical, many labs utilize chemical management software. Such a system makes it easy to keep track of how much of a reagent the lab has on hand. Researchers don’t have to search through all of the lab’s chemical containers in advance of every experiment in order to check whether they have the right amount of the chemical they need. In fact, since most labs own around eight thousand chemical containers2 , this practice can be as economically unfeasible as abandoning a partial experiment because the scientist wastes valuable research time rummaging through cabinets and verifying amounts.
Software for effective chemical management also makes the job easier for lab managers who are in charge of ordering more chemicals when supply runs low. Because the software keeps track of how much is left, lab managers don’t need to check each container individually or rely on lab members to report when a chemical container is empty and more needs to be ordered. They also won’t need to try to keep track of each researcher’s experiment schedule in order to make sure that the chemicals that they need in the future will be available. The management system helps ensure that the lab won’t unexpectedly run out of a chemical, so researchers should never need to abandon their experiments.
The Costs of Overstocking
Another aspect to consider is that some lab managers have become accustomed to periodically restocking chemicals without first checking the chemical containers to see how much actually remains. Examining each container takes time and if a chemical is frequently in demand, some lab managers just assume they need to order more. A common practice is to simply order large quantities of the chemicals that researchers most often use. These were reasonable strategies in the past, when most labs had expendable funds, because extra stock could simply be set aside until it was needed.
When funds are limited, however, labs can’t afford to accidentally overstock chemicals. Not only does it unnecessarily deplete the lab’s weekly or monthly budget, but there is also a chance that the chemical simply won’t be used. As research progresses and experiments change, chemicals that were once in high demand may not be needed as often. Overstocked chemicals could even expire before they are ever used, negating the benefit of ensuring that a researcher won’t run out part of the way through an experiment. Once again, chemical management software provides a simple solution. The technology makes it easy for lab managers to keep track of the amount of every chemical in real-time, so there is no risk of overstock.
Freeing Up Funds for Better Research
Software for effective chemical management limits unnecessary spending on wasted or unused chemicals and cuts down on wasted time, so the lab can focus its funds on the things that it really needs for cutting-edge research, like new technology, excellent personnel and shared machine time. As a result, research quality will improve, and development processes will move more quickly because less time will be wasted. This will put the lab in a better position when applying for funding in today’s highly competitive environment. Winning more grants will keep the research moving forward, which is what needs to be done so that other grants can be renewed and future proposals can be written. When the economic climate eventually improves, labs that chose to streamline chemical management by investing in software during tough times will actually have extra funds to fuel research that is more productive than ever before.
BIOVIA CISPro is a comprehensive chemical inventory management system that ensures that your lab maximizes the use of purchased chemicals so that you can direct funding toward better research. The system can help your firm stay afloat during challenging economic times and put you ahead of the curve when the funding situation improves.
1 “Budget 2017: Read our roundup of Obama’s science funding requests,” February 9, 2016, http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/02/budget-2017-read-our-round-obamas-science-funding-requests
2 “Webinar – From Receipt to Disposal: How to Optimize Lab Chemical Management for Life Sciences Companies,” November 3, 2015, http://www.labmanager.com/webinars/2015/11/webinar-from-receipt-to-disposal-how-to-optimize-lab-chemical-management-for-life-sciences-organizations#.V3XJSusrLIU