If you don’t take the time to get the hang of it, laboratory inventory management can become a burden to deal with. If you find yourself constantly asking what the stock level is, if anyone has calibrated the equipment or the location of samples, it shows you are not doing things right.
If you hold a managerial position in a laboratory, you will be the go-to person for any challenges with equipment, supplies, employees and other everyday struggles. If you want to make your job easier, you need to know more about laboratory inventory management and some tips to help you in your job duties.
Check below to find out all you need to know about handling lab inventory.
Firstly, we start with the meaning of inventory management.
What is Inventory Management?
Inventory management is an aspect of supply chain management that ensures the laboratory maintains many products and items. Hence, nobody runs out of resources while doing their job. Inventory management appropriately done will help you:
- Optimise your workspace
- Reduce ordering costs because you will only get the right amount of quality resources
- Improve productivity
- Decreasing excess stocks in your inventory
Guide For Laboratory Management
Across laboratories, retail and manufacturing, you will find out that many inventory management techniques are similar. All of the principles are to achieve one goal – ensure appropriate stock levels at all times. Follow the tips below for excellent inventory management.
Create a Stock List
It is essential to start every operation with planning, including inventory management. It would be best if you started with creating a comprehensive list of all your requirements in the lab. This is a stock list, and it helps you:
Forecast Demand: Putting everything down on paper can help you spot items that you use more quantities of and will need more in the future. It helps you plan your current stocks per future projects to accurately forecast demand and order only the appropriate amount of assets.
Assign Stock Level
After listing your stock correctly, you should use it to assign minimum stock levels. It is always better to use LIMS for this and other tasks in the long run. It helps you automate tasks that you would have had to do manually on a spreadsheet otherwise.
Minimum Stock Level: This is the least amount of stock and materials you need to operate your lab. Examine each item on the list individually and access the most extreme value where your team cannot do their jobs if it crosses that point.
It would be best if you worked with every member of the team to assign stock levels and get the proper range. Ask for the quantities of each material or product they use for their jobs. In prioritising the stock level, it is essential also to consider ordering time and continue to track your stock levels.
Group Inventory Items by Categories
To make your stock list easier to use, grouping the items into categories is more detailed. Use priorities, type and value to categorise your stock. An example of the metrics you can use to arrange your list is:
- Biological Assets or Consumables
- Active vs Non-active assets
Organise The Lab Workspace
You should then use your stock list to organise your workplace. Place items strategically in your laboratory. Put less frequently used things you want to store on upper shelves and keep active items at eye level in easy to reach areas.
Label all of these assets properly. Since it is a laboratory, it is not uncommon to have some hazardous materials that cause accidents. Labelling also makes it easier for people to look for and locate items. Apart from the materials or samples, label the shelves and cupboard using a standardised format.
Also, remember to keep everything clean and out of the way at all times. Ensure unused equipment and utensils do not cover your workspace, which extends to notebooks and glassware. It helps keep your space tidy, increasing overall safety and productivity.
Develop Procedures and Processes for Inventory Management
You may have procedures at your lab that include all the protocols you should follow when performing a specific task or delegation. Apart from having these rules and procedures in place, you must write and document them. Your team members should also have access to all of these documents, so it is advisable to keep them online.
Make sure to list your procedures as step-by-step procedures that your scientists and researchers can follow. It should have the equipment, research steps, and the exact location of every item needed for operations. This also ties back to keeping everything organised, so everything you need is handy.
This document will guide team members on what to look for and where they should look for it. Remember that team members should place the items back in the exact location to work as intended.
Keep Your Equipment in Good Condition
Keeping your equipment in good condition reduces waste and the cost of replacement or repairs. It also improves the safety of working at your laboratory. Since your equipment is part of your inventory, you should manage it with care.
Some duties such as equipment maintenance, calibration and optimisation should not be time-consuming. You should begin with setting the dates in your calendar and include them in your workspace optimisation procedures. Every time your lab gets audited, make sure to get the proper maintenance.
Invest in Lab Inventory Management Software
Even though spreadsheets are an accessible way to handle your inventory management, they are also prone to many errors involving manual data management. Inventory management software is a far better choice and can help you mitigate mistakes. As more industries go digital, it is more accessible and affordable to connect all your devices in a shared system and automate all data inputs.
A Lab inventory management software will allow you:
- Get access to laboratory management across all areas
- Please keep track of your stock levels and restock before it depletes
- Automate your data collection from all connected devices
- Track and follow procedures/processes
Populating a Laboratory Inventory Management Software
Before you start the process of populating your system, ensure you have clearly described the descriptive fields of inventory items and storage. If you have an organised list of storage and inventory locations, it will help populate your LIMS.
It would be best if you spent time learning how to use the import tools of your LIMS. Don’t be discouraged from asking the support team for guidance if you hit any difficulties. Understanding how the system works is essential, so, in your selection, look for an easy to use and intuitive system that will suit your needs.
Setup a Reordering System
Your stock list will tell you the items or products you run out of the most, and so on. You can use your LIMS system to help with automating reordering. Design the ordering system around your regular requirements to minimise shipping costs and order frequency. Implementing a reordering system with LIMS will ensure you never run out of the essentials for your lab operations.
Set Rules For keeping Your Inventory Organised
After you have uploaded and organised your inventory into the LIMS and everything is set, you need to set ground rules surrounding the use of the LIMS. Setting ground rules ensure everyone knows the proper processes for using it and that your efforts do not waste. You can rest assured that your inventory stays organised and documented online even when you’re not around.
No matter the size of your lab or the inventory you manage, setting down rules and enforcing them will get your inventory system operational, and you will start seeing considerable cost reduction and increased inefficiency.
This guide gives a general overview of the various steps and processes you will encounter in a laboratory. But it is important to note that every laboratory has different requirements. It may be necessary for some to stock more than others, and regardless of your setup, inventory management is required.
Do not be afraid to modify some of the tips above to suit your unique requirements and get your inventory management processes in order. As mentioned, a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) can make a lot of these tasks more manageable for you and help automate some tasks.
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