Proven Strategies to Improve Efficiency in Your Lab

Achieving accurate results depends on having an efficient and productive lab. Lab professionals must minimize waste and implement operating procedures to maintain a standard of excellence. While you likely already know efficiency is a goal you must achieve, you — just like many other lab professionals — may not know where to begin.

Understanding the needs of your lab and staff will help you design a productive space. Keep reading to learn more about how to create an efficient laboratory.

Understanding Lab Efficiency and Productivity

Part of running a successful lab is having an efficient operation. The productivity of a lab plays an essential role in the success of research and development outcomes. An efficient lab can reduce errors in research and development results, improve outcomes and save money in the research and development process. It's important to minimize errors and maximize productivity to produce quality results.

Overall, increasing lab efficiency means implementing quality assurance that ensures the lab meets specific standards. As a result, lab workers can produce reliable and consistent results.

Common Lab Efficiency Challenges

Certain efficiency challenges slow down your lab operations, waste time and compromise overall performance. To maintain scientific rigor, you must address inefficiencies. Here are some of the common efficiency obstacles that laboratories face: 

  • Routine inventory upkeep: Scientists spend a lot of time doing repetitive manual tasks, such as documenting inventory, marking opening dates and tracking expiration. Errors in the manual entries filter down into the rest of the workflow, compromising data integrity. Human error can skew results, causing you to repeat the process.
  • Disorganization: When you spend time trying to locate inventory and equipment, it wastes time you could dedicate to the research and development process.

Time-Management Strategies for Lab Professionals

It's essential that lab professionals find ways to manage workloads and use their time wisely and efficiently. As a result, they can find the balance between improving efficiency and generating quality results.

1. Prioritize Tasks

Lab professionals can adopt a triage concept for tasks by identifying the most important ones to complete first. When working on several projects, organizing tasks from the most important to the least important helps lab professionals stick to deadlines and maintain faster workflows.

2. Use Scheduling Techniques

Scheduling creates designated time slots for tasks throughout the day, allowing you to balance completing crucial tasks with taking breaks and taking care of administrative duties. Set time limits for your tasks — getting carried away is easy when you're deep in the research and development process. If you work over a specific time limit, you can adjust the rest of your schedule accordingly, keeping the process efficient yet flexible.

3. Avoid Time-Wasters

It's often the small tasks that waste time in the lab. Before rushing to start, plan to maximize your time in the lab. Some basic time-saving tricks include:

  • Making stock master mixes
  • Labeling reagents clearly
  • Restocking reagents and supplies during downtime

If your lab operates on single entry and exit boxes, the time wasted going from point A to B will cause inefficiencies. Consider redesigning your laboratory so employees can seamlessly go from one area to another without wasting steps in between.

Multitasking causes a 40% decrease in efficiency. When you place all of your focus on one task, it improves accuracy, decreases errors and increases turnaround times. Have strategies in place that can help you stay focused, such as eliminating distractions in the lab and letting colleagues know when you are and aren't available.

How to Streamline Lab Workflows

Designing a plan for your week will give you a sense of control and decrease the feeling of being overwhelmed. At the same time, you can boost productivity. Here are several strategies to help you streamline your workflow in the lab.

1. Use Process Mapping and Optimization

Mapping your schedule will help you track your project goals and stay on top of the steps you need to take to meet them. For example, it's wise to plan out each experiment and how long you expect them to take — remember to be realistic with your time estimates.

Process mapping has several benefits, including increased lab efficiency, minimal time wastage and better employee results. Here are a few steps on how you can create a process map in your lab:

  1. Identify the process: Write down the process you want to map out along with details such as a project name and date that make it easier to reference the process map.
  2. List the activities: Write down all activities that form the project. Include the person responsible for the activity and where it will take place.
  3. Determine the start and finish of the process: Decide on the parameters of your process and decide what triggers your process and when it ends. These details will help you keep your process map clear and understandable. 
  4. Put activities in a sequence: Create a flowchart that shows the order in which your activities will happen — you can include as many details as you'd like about the actions and decisions at each point.
  5. Draw a process map: Use the appropriate symbols to show the beginning and end of the process, activities, flow and inputs and outputs.
  6. Review process map: Verify your process map with other stakeholders. They should be able to tell you if there are any gaps and whether you've prepared it appropriately. Check that all of the information you've filled in is correct.
  7. Improve and re-evaluate the map: The processes in a lab change continuously, and your map should change with them. Having a dedicated process owner in your lab will ensure your maps are updated as activities evolve in the lab.

2. Implement Standard Operating Procedures

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are essential for performing experiments safely and effectively. They detail how to perform an activity and include instructions for performing processes involving chemical, biological, physical and traditional hazards. Having clear, detailed SOPs ensures the following:

  • Consistency: SOPs ensure all staff complete a task exactly the same way so they achieve the same results. When tasks follow the same SOP, you can observe changes over time, and it enables you to compare the results. 
  • Accuracy: Following SOPs helps workers produce accurate results. When workers can reference a specific SOP, they can take the same steps to produce the same results every time, helping eliminate inaccuracies.

Your lab's SOPs should have the following features:

  • They should be detailed, precise and concise, making it easy for staff to follow and complete related tasks.
  • They must be easy for new staff and students to understand.
  • The laboratory manager should approve the SOPs by signing and dating them.
  • Staff must update SOPs regularly.

Inventory Management Techniques to Save Time and Reduce Waste

Every lab needs an inventory management system to keep track of supplies and equipment. Failure to keep track of supplies can be costly and increases the risk of runouts, which can disrupt workflow. Having too much stock can increase its risk of becoming obsolete or expiring. A successful system will ensure you have the right amount of inventory when needed.

1. Try Just-in-Time Inventory Practices

A just-in-time inventory system improves efficiency, reduces waste and helps minimize the cost of carrying inventory. This system ensures you only receive the supplies as they're needed in your process. In an ideal just-in-time system, you hold no stock on hand, which requires a close relationship between you and your suppliers so you can coordinate the delivery of supplies.

The main advantage of this system is there are no inventory handling costs. You only receive supplies when needed, so you don't incur the costs of storing supplies. It can also help to minimize waste and improve the operational efficiency of your lab.

2. Employ an Inventory Tracking System

When you're establishing an inventory system in your lab, there are a few essential steps you need to take: 

  1. Assess your current situation: Locate your storage areas and assess their condition. Any disorganization will make it difficult to locate supplies and waste time in your processes. Check your quantities on hand to see if any supplies are expired or obsolete. Asses how much you typically order and how long the lead time is. It's also good to get input from staff about the inventory systems to decide whether there are areas for improvement. 
  2. Determine inventory levels: Understand how much you must have on hand for your processes to run smoothly. In an ideal just-in-time inventory system, you have no stock levels, but in many cases, that's unrealistic. Determine the minimal stock you need on hand to operate efficiently. 
  3. Establish controls: Once you know how much stock you need at any given time, establish a system that ensures replenishment occurs as and when necessary. 

Once you have a system in place, train your staff to use it and monitor its effectiveness so you can make continual improvements. 

How to Maximize Space and Workflow With Efficient Lab Layout Design

Your lab's layout is essential for efficient operations and lab management. It should be a functional space allowing employees to flow seamlessly from one work area to another. You can design an efficient and functional space by following good laboratory design principles and safety procedures.

  • Involve stakeholders: Staff will have varying opinions on the design of the space and how it should be used. Gathering their thoughts and considering all of them can help you create a lab layout that works for everyone.
  • Size the lab: Effectively size the lab to meet user requirements. Failing to size the lab correctly can lead to bigger problems down the line, like inadequate storage space and limited growth potential and functionality. When a lab is too small, activities may spill over into other undesired spaces, which can be a safety hazard.
  • Plan for storage: Safely storing hazardous material is essential. It eliminates the potential for dangerous storage and creates a safe and effective environment in your lab.

How to Choose the Right Equipment for Efficiency

Automation is a great way to reduce errors and minimize waste in a lab. Deciding whether to automate is not a simple yes or no answer — you need to consider your lab's needs and assess the return on investment from automation.

Assessing Lab Activities for Automation Potential

Start by evaluating your lab's needs. If your lab's activities are not yet standardized and rely heavily on human intervention, you might not be ready for automation. You need to have well-defined and documented processes to make a seamless transition to automation.

If your lab grows quickly, you may notice inconsistent results — a sign that it is time to automate. Precision is essential in a lab environment. If your staff has to prepare thousands of samples at a time, maintaining a degree of accuracy can be tedious and difficult. You can automate tedious tasks, which will help your team to complete them quickly with greater consistency and accuracy.

Overspending on labor costs is another sign that it may be time to automate. In your lab budget, you need to be able to balance staff costs, lab supply and equipment costs, and other variable expenses. You can use equipment to automate your workflow, allowing you to increase your outputs while keeping costs low.

The Role of Used Lab Equipment in Cost-Effective Automation

Once you decide to automate your laboratory, implementation begins. Purchasing lab equipment is a significant investment, so you want to ensure you gain a return.

Purchasing used lab equipment gives you access to automation while also making automation affordable. Investing in used lab equipment can have a significant positive influence on your lab operations:

  • Reduces testing costs: By using sorting and aliquoting systems, you get access to a large test menu with a limited team. You can also perform testing in a limited space, reducing water, power and equipment costs.
  • Creates faster processes: Lab equipment can prepare specimens for testing faster, which means you can do testing faster than if you do so manually. Faster testing means faster turnaround times for results. Automation ensures staff completes their testing with greater accuracy and consistency, ultimately improving lab productivity and outcomes.
  • Offers customization: You can customize your lab equipment to match your needs. As your lab evolves, so can your processes. By leveraging the flexibility and customization of your laboratory systems, you can enhance your efficiency and improve testing accuracy.

Improve Your Lab Efficiency With Used Equipment From New Life Scientific

An efficient lab can meet the quality standards it sets out to achieve. When your processes run efficiently, you are more likely to see accurate and consistent results.

Automation is an investment that reduces lab waste and minimizes human error. Investing in quality used lab equipment allows you to access affordable automation that helps you realize your return on investment sooner.

At New Life Scientific, we supply an array of used lab equipment that can help you streamline your process and contribute to a more efficient lab. Contact us today to learn more and find the best equipment for your needs.