The role of a facilities manager is multifaceted, involving the oversight of various aspects of facility operations and maintenance. And in the fast-paced and dynamic life sciences industry, facilities management is especially complex due to strict regulations, sensitive environments, specialized infrastructure and equipment, and stringent safety protocols. With diverse responsibilities across a wide range of highly specialized environments, one critical aspect of facilities management that's easily overlooked is the simple need for proactive leak detection capabilities.
Water leaks can bear devastating consequences, as evidenced at the University of Cincinnati’s Kettering Lab Complex and at the David Rittenhouse Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, for example. Both incidents led to lab closures, lost research, and severe damage to the facility itself.
This article explores how the Internet of Things (IoT) can help facility managers protect sensitive lab environments and the significance of being able to swiftly identify, locate, and address leaks within life sciences laboratories:
- Safeguarding Experiment Integrity: Leakages, be it from equipment, faulty roofs, or plumbing systems, can compromise the accuracy, reliability, and timeliness of scientific experiments. Even a minor leak in a critical area can introduce contaminants, alter environmental conditions, or delay experimentation. By implementing a comprehensive leak detection solution, laboratories can proactively identify and rectify leaks, preserving the integrity and validity of experiments and research outcomes.
- Protecting Valuable Samples and Materials: Life sciences laboratories house a wide range of valuable and sensitive samples, reagents, chemicals, biological materials, and most importantly, irreplaceable data. Leaks within a laboratory can jeopardize the viability of these resources or compromise years, if not decades, worth of research. A reliable leak detection system can promptly alert laboratory and facilities personnel to potential leaks, enabling swift action to protect valuable samples, mitigate data loss, and minimize disruptions to ongoing research projects.
- Preventing Mold Growth: If water leaks aren't addressed quickly, they can swiftly lead to mold growth. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), mold can grow in as quickly as 24-48 hours if water-damaged areas aren’t properly dried. Mold growth poses several risks to life sciences companies. First, mold can negatively impact indoor air quality and present serious health hazards to personnel. Furthermore, it can potentially create sterility problems, resulting in drug recalls that are costly and damaging to a company’s reputation. In serious cases, mold growth can lead to laboratory shutdowns while the facilities undergo remediation. With an automated leak detection solution, life sciences companies can quickly detect leaks, enabling fast remediation to mitigate the risk of mold growth.
- Ensuring Personnel Safety: According to the National Safety Council, slips, trips and falls account for 25.8% of all workplace injuries, and laboratory environments have several factors that can exacerbate these hazards. Because laboratories deal with various hazardous substances, including chemicals, solvents, and gases, preventing wet surfaces that could lead to slip and fall hazards is vital for protecting personnel from exposure to these harmful substances. By implementing a robust leak detection solution, potential leaks can be promptly identified, allowing for immediate containment and cleanup, which can minimize the risk of accidents or injuries.
- Preventing Equipment Downtime: Leaks originating from, or affecting, laboratory equipment can result in equipment malfunctions and subsequent downtime. Early leak detection enables prompt maintenance or repairs, reducing the risk of extended equipment unavailability and minimizing disruption to laboratory workflows. It's imperative to proactively monitor high-risk environments prone to water issues, such as water pipes running through the ceiling above a laboratory. Embracing this simple, proactive approach can help prevent catastrophic damage and downtime.
- Driving Cost Savings: Unidentified water leaks can lead to substantial financial losses from increased utility bills, wasted resources, and the need for costly repairs or replacements. Between 2013 and 2018, the average loss of a commercial water damage claim was $89,000, and this number – along with the frequency of commercial water damage losses – is continuing to grow. In fact, according to research from Zurich North America, in 2021, water damage was the leading cause of property loss in commercial buildings. The same research cites that water-related claims are, on average, three times more expensive than those not involving water damage. Moreover, the indirect costs associated with downtime, lost productivity, and disrupted research activities can further impact financial resources. By implementing a reliable leak detection system, laboratories can detect and address leaks promptly, preventing financial losses and maximizing resource utilization.
- Promoting Sustainability: Lab optimization provides a pathway for labs to meet the growing demands for enhanced efficiency and productivity through sustainability efforts. While energy conservation comes to mind for most, water reduction is another big area for labs to focus their sustainability initiatives. That’s because water use is prolific in lab settings – from cleaning and sterilization to controlling environments. In fact, laboratories can use five times as much potable water as other commercial buildings of similar size. One easy, yet impactful, way to reduce water consumption is by mitigating water waste caused by leaks, which according to the EPA, can be the greatest source of water waste within a facility, accounting for around 6% of a facility's total water use. For example, with water leak detection in place, facility managers can monitor hard-to-reach or low-traffic areas such as utility closets, basements, or building risers. These are typically areas where water leaks can easily go unnoticed, which can lead to water waste, the potential for flooding, significant damage to equipment and the facility, and compromise research-related records.
Water leaks can cause significant damage in any environment, but their impact can be particularly damaging and costly in life sciences laboratories, underscoring the critical need for a comprehensive leak detection solution. However, life sciences organizations that want to future-proof their investments should look beyond point solutions and seek out scalable infrastructure that can support multiple use cases to maximize their return on investment (ROI).
Integrated Leak Detection and Monitoring Solutions with MachineQ
MachineQ offers an integrated suite of end-to-end Facility Wellness solutions including leak detection, temperature/humidity monitoring, and more. These solutions leverage the MachineQ platform, which powers several other IoT solutions for life sciences, such as MachineQ for Indoor Asset Tracking, a Real-Time Location Tracking System (RTLS). As a result, facilities managers can monitor their spaces utilizing the same platform used by other parts of the organization for tracking valuable capital assets.
This integration optimizes cost-effectiveness, simplifies implementation, and enables centralized monitoring and management, providing a holistic view of the laboratory environment. By correlating data from different sensors, this integrated approach allows swift identification and response to leaks while enhancing the understanding of potential correlations and root causes. For example, by understanding leak prone-areas or equipment, facilities managers can take proactive steps to minimize the risk of future incidents. Ultimately, this combined approach maximizes the value of capital investments by increasing data visibility, reducing the risk of environmental-related problems, improving the quality and safety of operations, and providing a holistic view of asset health, all with a low total cost of ownership (TCO).