How to Improve the Usability of Your Lab Equipment

February 8, 2023  |  Technology

Buying lab equipment is a major investment for most labs, and scientists have to consider many factors before making the purchase. Modern laboratory equipment like liquid handlers, incubators, mobile robots, electronic lab notebooks, and other devices have been instrumental in helping scientists scale their operations, reduce errors, and maximize every hour. But even with the most careful planning, teams can find themselves saddled with instruments and software that are no longer used.

We regularly work with labs in this situation and have a few tips for improving the usability of lab equipment—or even getting it running again if it’s been going unused.

3 common reasons lab equipment goes unused

  • Equipment was bought for a specific purpose that no longer exists: During the pandemic, scientists around the world pivoted from their usual research to emergency work on diagnostic tests, therapies, and vaccines for COVID-19. Some labs purchased equipment to set up COVID-19 testing stations that allowed them to safely collect and process samples. Now, nearly three years after the start of the pandemic, many of those stations are no longer needed or are not used as frequently.
  • Staff leaves: Scientists sometimes have to go through specialized training to effectively operate lab equipment. That expertise is lost if the staff member leaves without training a new operator. If no one else is familiar with the systems, they can end up sitting unused indefinitely.
  • System is too complicated: Our teams see this often in their work with automation customers. Sometimes scientists abandon systems in the lab because they are too complicated or cumbersome for convenient use or because they lack the flexibility that teams need to pivot quickly to new projects. This may be because the system was cobbled together internally from open-source parts or is incompatible with other instruments and devices that scientists use regularly in the lab.

Donate or resell? There’s another solution

Donating or reselling the equipment might seem like a logical next step, but there are other options for improving the usability of your lab infrastructure. One is repurposing the equipment in a way that puts it back into regular rotation in the lab. For complicated software, the most effective solution may be to convert to a newer and simpler system that everyone in the lab likes and can understand. Let’s look at what each option entails.

Repurposing Equipment

Repurposing lab equipment allows it to be used for something similar to what it was designed for or even reengineered to do something different. Ultimately, it is an opportunity to leverage existing assets and equipment so that the original investment in infrastructure is not lost. Repurposed systems might need to be reprogrammed to communicate with lab instruments in new ways, and some workflows might need to be restructured to better fit the new interface. But at the end of the process, valuable lab equipment can be reclaimed and put back into service.

To make the process as seamless as possible, we recommend working with a partner that understands its intricacies. They can evaluate the system, suggest possible new uses, and help with plugging the reconfigured equipment into the lab’s workflow in creative ways.

Converting to new automation software

In some cases, repurposing equipment or software is not possible, but converting to a new automation system that incorporates some existing components is still an option. Similar to repurposing, it’s best to work with an experienced automation software provider. Biosero engineers have decades of experience with automation, and we have a tried-and-true process in place to help our customers navigate the transition to a new system like Green Button Go.

There are several reasons why a company might launch a conversion project. First, their current system may no longer be actively supported. That was the case for one of our large pharmaceutical customers. The scientists reached out to our team because they had several workstations that were no longer useful because their original integrator had closed up shop. With no one around to update the software and replace worn-out hardware components, the scientists found themselves struggling with outdated and inefficient infrastructure. Our team helped them convert to GBG and get back to researching new treatments and therapies

For conversion projects, our engineers’ first step is to work alongside our customers to evaluate existing hardware and software at the lab as well as the kinds of workflows they routinely use. Once they know what’s in place, they can come up with a transition plan that includes any needed changes to existing methods and protocols, so they work seamlessly with the new system.

Each project is different, but generally, automation conversion does not take as long as a new installation because many components are already in place. But if a customer needs new devices or instruments, we can bring those into the overall system, too.

A few things to consider before moving forward

If repurposing lab equipment or converting to a new system sounds like something that your lab could benefit from, the next step is to identify partners with the right expertise for the job (just to be clear, we’d love to help). But the fact is, there is no magic bullet to get automation working again without some investment from your team. Investment can take different forms:

Plan for downtime: It may take a few months to repurpose and test a system or convert to a completely new automation solution. Scientists may need to prepare for a few days during the process when they won’t have access to their usual workstations and equipment.

Make a budget: Although it will not be as expensive as buying a new system, repurposing or conversion requires funds. Budgets should include the cost of buying any new equipment that might be needed, as well as costs for training people on the new setup.

Breathing new life into an old system lowers expenses and helps your teams extend the use of every bit of infrastructure.

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