Investing in laboratory equipment enhances your lab’s ability to generate new data. It also means you have a new piece of shiny equipment to explore. Since your team has invested hard-earned budget into purchasing this equipment, it makes sense to maximize its use. You don’t want it to end up in the equipment graveyard.
A few threats to your equipment include - an untrained user breaking it, the machine running down from lack of regular maintenance, or worse, nobody knows that it exists and it goes from new and shiny to dusty with lack of use.
The good news is that a simple, low-tech sign-in sheet, like our free asset management templates (here), can give you the information to protect your equipment and manage use. The information required is simple - name, date, and start and end time. Even this relatively simple information can help you make decisions on how to best use your asset.
Pro tip: For large fleets of instruments, you should use a holistic instrument utilization solution, like TetraScience Utilization.
Asset Management templates in practice
Who is using my machine?
At a glance you can see who is utilizing the machine. Are there too many? Congratulations, it looks like you picked a worthy investment! If there are users who aren’t certified to use it, now might be a good time to hold a training session. Based on your sheet, you know exactly who to email with a gentle (or not-so-gentle) reminder to attend training or forgo their rights to the machine.
If the users outnumber the available machine time, investigate whether it's worth getting a second machine or extra accessories to increase throughput. Ask your list of users if they anticipate their needs increasing or tapering off. They are also the perfect resource for determining whether extra bells and whistles would increase the usefulness and availability of the machine.
If there aren’t enough people using your machine then you could have an awareness issue. Send out an email reminding colleagues and collaborators about new or updated equipment to get the word out. Use our Asset Inventory Template to remind researchers about all of the equipment at their disposal. Scientists also don’t mind traveling a bit to access equipment. (I remember trekking through a snow storm for a particular cell sorter and it was totally worth it, we got great data).
If demand still appears low, check with the remaining users to uncover why. Everyone tends to know which balance/FACs/NMR/pH meter is the “good” one and which is the “bad” one. If yours is the “bad” one, it might be time to invest in some maintenance, calibration or repair. The notes section of the asset management template can provide information on possible malfunctions and when they cropped up. If an older piece of equipment is not working correctly and past saving, it might need a trip to the dreaded equipment graveyard. The good news is you already know which researchers need a replacement solution.
When is it being used?
The second set of critical information you can gather from tracking your assets is when and how long the equipment is being used. First, consider the element of safety - knowing if people are using it at the appropriate times. Depending on the machine and your company policy, there may be usage restrictions during low volume time to prevent a lone worker in the lab. This is especially true if the equipment has lots of moving parts, high voltage, or other potentially dangerous features.
Now you can look at how long the piece of equipment is being used. A couple of 15 minute sessions might not be a lot. However, if multiple users are running multi-hour or even multi-day experiments, that’s a lot of instrument use. It could be time to double check on when it needs calibration/maintenance and consider moving it up a bit.
Need more information?
There are more data points that can help you make wise equipment management decisions. More detailed usage tracking can let you know which capabilities are the most important and direct future investments. For example, if you know that the majority of your scientists need analysis but don’t need cell sorting, you don't need to worry about retiring that overworked FACs. You can skimp on all the "extras" of a decked out cell sorter and invest in a simpler analyzer.
Also, there is a bit of an elephant in the room to address. Scientists aren’t always the most reliable at filling out logs. In the rush of completing experiments, it’s very easy for us to forget to sign a log. Physical login sheets can easily get stuck behind or under machinery and quickly forgotten.
You can get a wealth of instrument utilization insights without placing the burden on your scientists. Check out TetraScience’s cloud-based instrument utilization dashboard.