Welcome to the third post in our series designed to discuss practical issues facing you and your lab. In this post, we explore the topic of laboratory equipment. We’ll discuss how to choose the equipment that’s right for you as well as maintenance and servicing of equipment. There are a lot of factors to consider and we welcome your feedback on what is most important to you.
Purchasing laboratory equipment is a significant investment which is likely to represent a large proportion of your budget. Of course, this means you want to make the right choice. As well as affordability you will need to consider reliability and the cost of any consumables required to operate your equipment. For example, some systems are “closed” to consumables from other brands meaning you must continue to purchase consumables from a specific brand even if they are no longer the most innovative or cost-effective option.
Maintenance and Servicing
To prolong the life of your equipment you should also consider implementing rigorous maintenance routines which are incorporated into laboratory life. When purchasing equipment, you may wish to explore the option of a servicing programme from your vendor. You should also take advice regarding daily, weekly, or monthly maintenance programmes which complement any servicing you can commit to. It is logical that regular maintenance will assist with prolonging the life and reliability of your new purchase. However, unfortunately, equipment failures will occasionally happen.
When the equipment you rely on breaks, it can cause huge disruption. Malfunctions can range in severity; some may be solved by simple troubleshooting whereas others may require the equipment to be sent away for repair. When purchasing equipment, it is important to consider whether you have a backup option in case of failure, and how long this backup option might last.
It is common in any workplace to find that certain members of the team will have an aptitude for coaxing troublesome equipment to perform. Unfortunately, this can lead to over-reliance on an individual who may have other things to do or will occasionally not be around when the problem occurs. You may wish to consider blocking time to allow that person, or your vendor, to produce a troubleshooting guide so any “tips and tricks” can be captured. This could save time and money if an expensive call-out fee can be avoided.
Introducing new equipment can present challenges and if you have chosen to upgrade an older piece, you may find that you need training to get the most out of your equipment. Without some help it can take longer, or seem impossible, to make the most of special features. When you consider training you should think about who is best placed to have the training and remember to ensure an even spread of individuals across multiple shifts and relevant departments. By having multiple people involved in a training session you will be best able to communicate the information to the rest of the team. Only sending one person to a training session puts a lot of pressure on the individual to learn everything they and their colleagues need as well as to communicate it accurately. If this happens too often, staff may be less likely to volunteer for training on new equipment if they feel that it will end up becoming their responsibility. If you feel the introduction of new equipment may be met with resistance in your lab then it makes sense to do what you can to avoid this.
Our research has shown that professional forums receive a large proportion of questions which ask for help from other users regarding equipment. Of course, this is an excellent example of the resourcefulness of the Histology community but if this situation happens regularly, it might be worth considering additional user training from the vendor.
Resistance to change
Resistance to change is a fairly common experience, and if you are in a management position you may find it helps to consult with your team about what they would like from new equipment. Are you looking for equipment that replaces your current equipment “like-for-like”, are you looking to upgrade an existing unit or introduce equipment you’ve never used before?
If your new equipment will perform differently, you may wish to consider a handover period between your old and new equipment. Of course, if you are buying new equipment to replace broken equipment then this does not apply to you. You may wish to decide if you will be retaining your old equipment alongside your new equipment permanently or if you will eventually be getting rid of it completely. Be sure to plan ahead and prepare your workforce effectively.
If you are purchasing a particularly transformative piece of equipment you may even wish to review your workflow. Although this is potentially a lot of work when you introduce new equipment you have the opportunity to review your workflow and look for ways to optimise your processes.
Utilising Space Effectively
As your workload increases, you may need more equipment but only have the same amount of bench space. In these circumstances, you may wish to consider pieces of equipment with a smaller footprint. The same could be said if you have a laboratory move coming up and will have the opportunity to reconfigure your operations. Would it be helpful to have smaller pieces of equipment at more regular intervals throughout the lab or would you prefer to have one high capacity unit? Is there any wasted space in the lab that equipment add-ons could help with?
For example, the Slide Drying Workstation which complements the CellPath or LED Digital Tissue Section Bath allows you to maximise your bench space by utilising previously wasted space with a temperature-controlled drying area for up to 12 standard slides.
Being a part of the laboratory with such an important role, the consequences are inevitably severe if your equipment fails. It is important to mitigate these risks as far as reasonably possible and the guidance of topics to consider offered in this piece are about this article series, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org