In laboratories with many pieces of capital equipment and a diverse group of users, it is often difficult to know when instruments are in use. Lab operations and managers struggle to obtain real data on instrument usage to inform new purchases and investments. As a consequence, many managers are relegated to soliciting the verbal input from team members to direct capital equipment decisions.
Ultimately, tens-of-millions of dollars worth of purchases in a given year are determined based on anecdotal, inaccurate data.
Not an ideal situation.
Anecdotes are appropriate when laboratories are small and capital equipment is entirely shared. However, as organizations expand - more people, equipment, and real estate - anecdotes fail as a reliable source of information. A major gap with this approach is proximity to the machine itself.
What about when people are not around? Mornings? Evenings? Weekends? Shouldn't those periods of time be accounted for?
The secret life of instruments
Having helped numerous laboratories to obtain intelligence on instrument utilization, we observed that some of the most actively used capital equipment are active during off hours. Usage during these "dark periods" are generally missed when relying on purely anecdotal data. Why? Because scientists aren't around to see that the instrument is actually in use!
How about an example? Below you will find a few figures of real instrument utilization data from a TetraScience customer. You can see how TetraScience lets them calculate instrument utilization as a percentage during a defined time range (e.g. working hours of 8AM - 6PM). Laboratories with multiple pieces of capital equipment can access fleet-wide analytics and managers get a global view of instrument usage.
In figure 1, we provide the utilization across five pieces of capital equipment. When bounding the time range of interest to working hours (e.g. M-F, 8AM - 6PM), we see that these instruments are used to varying degrees, from 6% to 41%. By setting this weekday/working hours constraint, we only see a portion of the utilization picture.
But let's take a deeper look at one particular instrument. A more granular view of this instrument's usage over the course of a week shows that there is, in fact, extensive use after hours. As the histogram below illustrates, though the device is not used often in the mornings, off-hour usage is substantial. In fact, off hours utilization is nearly as high as during work hours.
How can that be?
Well, for many classes of instruments, scientists perform longer runs overnight. For many, sample preparations begin in the morning, meetings in the afternoon, and automated measurement occurs over the course of an evening. This type of usage is quite common in labs. Unfortunately, if one was to rely solely on anecdotes to understand instrument usage, lab members would claim that this device was idle 80%+ of the time.
In reality, however, the data shows a completely different story. These "dark periods," like evenings and weekends, are critical times for instrument usage and researcher productivity. The challenge for lab managers and executives is to have real, tangible data to evaluate.
TetraScience provides the real-time dashboard that enables scientists and executives to have better visibility into laboratory productivity and better data to make higher quality decisions.
Prior to having the above reports, this customer would have recommended that the service contract be eliminated and have the instrument retired. But with the utilization data, management realized that their anecdotal evidence actually would have led them down the exact wrong path. In reality, the instrument is used extensively and is a critical part of their operation. Management now plans to increase the service contract, have more frequent PMs, and begin discussions around purchasing an additional unit in their next budget cycle to make this lab more productive.
You can download a sample TetraScience Utilization Report here.