The Lab Facilities Summit, hosted by AMG World in Quincy, MA, was a single-day gathering of experts operating at the cutting edge of lab operations and management. Attendees represented a broad cross-section of life sciences, ranging from small research startups to some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.
The day’s discussions drove home two key themes: the universal nature of the challenges faced by labs of all sizes and how crucial data is in making proactive decisions as a lab matures.
The Challenges Facing Lab Operations
In the MachineQ-led roundtable, “Navigating Digital & IoT Transformation Initiatives for Lab Facilities,” participants helped elucidate the challenges they encountered. The biggest concerns facing Lab Ops professionals today (and only exacerbated by the stresses of the pandemic) include:
- Inventory management: lead times, stock location, reactive ordering
- Equipment availability: scheduling, maintenance (planned or unplanned), downtime for calibrations
- Space utilization: expansion (or contraction) of workforce, workflow optimization
- Workforce reductions, turnover, and expectations to do more with less resources
- Increased pressure on scientists to deliver new science faster
- IT closet creep: fragmented systems stemming from multiple point solutions creating data silos
Roundtable participants and speakers throughout the day confirmed these issues can afflict labs of all types. Additionally, the challenges posed by each item above grow more acute and expensive as labs grow. While Krisha Panchalingam, Senior Manager of Lab Operations at Abata Therapeutics, reminded Summit attendees, “You build a lab for the future, not today,” it can be challenging to predict all the contingent ways a lab might grow in coming years. Further, as a business builds momentum, the operational focus inevitably lies in supporting research and production activities — meaning there’s simply no time for deep analyses and redesign of spaces and workflows.
So, how do you get ahead of your chicken-and-egg operational cycles of reactivity? When’s the right time to intervene?
Data is the Evergreen Answer in Life Sciences
Participants and speakers at the Summit agreed on one deceptively simple means of breaking through this reactive cycle: data. As Anthony Navarro, Head of Facilities & Lab Operations at Evelo Biosciences, pointed out, “Data is ever important.” And it’s never too late to start capturing data that is invaluable to labs of all sizes and levels of maturity.
But how do you get data? And, assuming you can begin this process, what data should you collect? Start building the foundation for your digital transformation by identifying use cases that will generate valuable data to solve business challenges. Real-time tracking, for example, is a use case that serves as a great starting point for extrapolating resourceful insights to solve for pertinent obstacles related to resources, productivity, and expenses.
Specifically, Internet of things (IoT) enabled real time location systems (RTLS) can be leveraged to identify equipment status and location data, which saves critical time – and money – needed to expedite research and development activities, streamline maintenance and calibration schedules, inform purchasing decisions, and enhance overall utilization rates. With RTLS, scientists drive ROI while fostering smart workflows to future-proof operations with granular, data-backed intelligence.
What’s more – if you find a provider with the sophistication and modularity for integration with existing systems and the ability to provide value at any point in a lab’s lifecycle – you don’t have to solve a multitude of problems in one monumental undertaking. You can deploy solutions dictated by the priorities of your science with rich, meaningful data readily available to you and your business through a single pane of glass.
By the end of the day, it was made clear that in order to cut through the noise accompanying rapid growth, lab and facilities managers need scalable, end-to-end solutions that enable them to address multiple operational pain points today, while providing the foundation to solve for the challenges of tomorrow. They also need a technology partner who can deliver everything needed to go live quickly – from hardware to software to deployment services and ongoing white-glove service (although the author is a little biased on this front).