The laboratory sometimes functions as a tiny fiefdom, where each lab sees their needs as the most important and most pressing. The competition for funds, equipment, and manpower can become a battle of clout and politics. Which manager has the most clout? Who is the most persuasive? Unfortunately, it often boils down to who is the squeakiest wheel. Therein lies the problem with these fiefdoms. In a company with projects spanning across a number of labs and production goals relying on multiple departments, there lacks a single lab head that has a global view of where resources need to be focused to achieve these goals.
This is where finance teams come in. Finance and procurement groups act as unbiased strategic centers that appropriately allocate funds to meet company goals and maximize productivity. And yet a major challenge with this objective is finance's reliance on quarterly laboratory budget roll calls that result in purchase wish lists from the feuding fiefdoms. This bottom-up approach to assessing CapEx requests doesn’t necessarily reflect the needs and priorities of the greater company.
What pharma finance teams need is data detailing how capital equipment is being used across the company. Ideally, this data would provide an enterprise-wide view of resources. In the simplest terms, it would show which machines are being used and for how long.
The data on equipment utilization that is currently available to finance teams is provided by department heads, which was collected by the scientists. The problem with relying on scientists for utilization data is that scientists aren’t invested in the accuracy of utilization data. The detail, accuracy, and compliance for adequately tracking utilization can vary between departments, especially when the tracking methods rely on log notebooks and a collection of google or outlook calendars.
The calendars and logbooks are used by scientists to reserve time on an instrument, not track usage. This misalignment in objectives can translate to issues with:
- Incomplete data: Machines that are infrequently busy, or can be used quickly might not have logs
- Missing data: Temporary calendars like whiteboards or a piece of paper can be lost or disposed of immediately after use
- Detail of data: A notebook might only ask for a name and a time slot, whereas a logbook might ask for type of procedure, duration, samples, etc.
- Response time: Compiling utilization data from these varied formats and reporting back to the finance team takes time.
TetraScience removes the burden of responsibility from the scientist and collects the data designed to assist in capital and operational decisions. Instead of waiting for miscellaneous reports cobbled together from the different departments, TetraScience can provide an on-demand utilization report for every instrument. The metrics include on, off and idle power usage, associated metadata like vendor, last service date etc, and complementary resource scheduling reporting.
Beyond the raw data, TetraScience summarizes and analyzes the utilization data to provide insights into the instrument usage. For example, the same types of machines can be automatically grouped to compare the total hours and percentage used (Figure 1). This data directly feeds into the decisions finance needs to make. Now they can make strategic decisions faster and with the confidence that they have an accurate, global view of all instrument usage.
ROI from Utilization Data
TetraScience has identified seven ways that utilization data is being applied by finance teams:
1. Justify postponing new capital expenditures
In the absence of utilization data, researchers typically complain that one machine is always in use. In turn, their manager asks for a second one, and then it falls to the finance team to make the decision (and find the money).
With utilization data, the entire landscape for that particular type of equipment can be instantly compared. For example in Figure 2, Mass Spec 9 is heavily used. Based on the request alone, one could make an argument for purchasing a second Mass Spec. However, given a comprehensive view of all of the Mass Specs, it is clear that Mass Spec 005 is underutilized with only 5 hours of use over a 672 hour period. Mass Spec 005 can be redeployed, avoiding an unnecessary capital expenditure.
2. Reduce service contract tiers (e.g., reduce top tier "gold" plan to medium tier "silver" plan)
You change the oil on your car every three months or 3,000 miles. If you're like me, you go with the 3 month rule because it is easier to track. This might be a good system for you if you’re a daily commuter, but a poor one if your driving is variable and unpredictable.
Laboratory equipment use tends to be highly variable. Utilization data that tracks the hours of usage allows you to maintain your capital investments appropriately while avoiding costly, and unnecessary service. By changing service contracts to accurately reflect equipment usage, TetraScience customers have been able to reduce servicing of capital equipment by 13%.
3. Reduce frequency of preventative maintenance (PM)
Machines with service contracts are not the only ones that benefit from quantified usage tracking. Even the most diligent researcher-maintained google calendar does not compare to the ease and accuracy of TetraScience utilization reports. A detailed report is the easiest way to avoid both unreliable, uncalibrated equipment and unnecessary preventative maintenance that does not correspond to usage.
4. Proactively identify instruments that need additional preventative maintenance
Utilization tracking summarizes the trends so that servicing and maintenance can be ordered when needed. When instrument usage is increased due to data-based redeployment, or the power usage seems high, utilization tracking can provide the needed reminder to schedule maintenance. Furthermore, historical data provides insights into the optimal time to take a machine offline and schedule maintenance. 48 hours during a low-use period is very different then 48 hours in the midst of peak use.
5. Redeploy or sell underutilized equipment that is rapidly depreciating in value
In the world of fief-like laboratories, scientists are not going to voluntarily give up equipment, even if it isn’t being used. In the mindset of a researcher, just because it’s not needed now doesn’t mean it won’t be needed later.
However, in a global company, another researcher might need it now or costly maintenance could make it a target for sale. By grouping instruments by type, TetraScience dashboards make it easy to identify underutilized equipment that can be sold or redeployed. Then your company can avoid absorbing the cost of depreciating equipment that isn’t even being used.
6. Optimize scheduling of instrument use
A global view of instruments usage makes it easy to discern trends that would otherwise go unnoticed. Perhaps one core laboratory is underutilized because of ambient noise or irregular temperature cycles due to window placement. Shifts in production might overburden the production lab while the discovery lab two doors down has instruments sitting idle. TetraScience reports can help you fully utilize your existing equipment to meet company goals without additional expenditure.
7. Proactively identify instrument failures before they happen
Power consumption data is exceptionally useful because it can assist in predicting equipment failure. When a freezer fails, the cost is much greater than the surface cost of a $2k freezer. Reagents, raw materials, developmental products, and production outputs can all be destroyed affecting downstream processes. Pre-identifying an instrument before failure, allows you to either sell or dispose of equipment before it can damage costly materials or impact your production pipeline.
How these utilization-based decisions benefit Scientists
It may seem like the benefactor of these utilization reports are the finance team, but that’s only partially true. When all is said and done, utilization data and optimized instrument scheduling leads to better calibration and servicing to achieve peek performance - for the scientists.
There are fewer equipment off-line getting unnecessary maintenance or waiting for repair because they weren’t maintained appropriately. No researcher comes in Monday to find a puddle next to a broken freezer that now holds thousands of dollars of ruined reagents or the discovery team’s newest product ready for upcoming animal trials. Labs aren’t cluttered with underutilized equipment that is being held on to for sentimental reasons. And requests for urgently needed new equipment can be handled quicker because the finance team isn’t waiting for a cobbled together utilization report.
Removing the burden of tracking instrument utilization from scientists and giving accurate information directly to those making CapEx decisions results in better resources for scientists while maintaining lower expenditures.