The life science industry is experiencing watershed changes that are directly driving the need to increase research efficiency while minimizing costs. This “perfect storm” includes pressure to reduce the cost of healthcare, blockbuster drugs reaching their patent end of life, biosimilar proliferation, and weak pipelines—to name a few issues. For individual laboratories, these complex factors often are resulting in ambitious cost saving requirements. One place to look for cost savings is in your equipment and instrument maintenance and repair processes to determine the optimal service levels, service providers, and service types to satisfy those needs most cost-effectively.
1. Repair Price Ceiling
Set an appropriate equipment replacement price ceiling below which equipment and instruments should be managed on a “run-to-fail” basis and simply replaced upon failure.
Determine the “criticality” (low, medium, high) of each instrument or piece of equipment to your organization. Base the criticality assessment upon a combination of the availability of an alternate instrument/equipment item; availability of an alternate technique to derive the same or similar information; and the impact of the unavailability of the item to your processes and productivity. Never ask a researcher to assess the criticality of a piece of equipment, because the answer will always be that the item is highly critical.
3. Risk of Failure
Determine the risk of failure (low, medium, high) of each piece of equipment or instrument. Risk, in this context, is primarily about the age of item, the maintenance history of the item, and the presence of components that would be very costly to replace if a failure occurred.
4. Service Level
Determine the appropriate service level for each piece of equipment or instrument according to the criticality and risk assessments. The service level should detail the required response time for corrective maintenance (24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours) and the type of support:
a. Run to Fail (replace when fail)
b. Run to Fail (repair when fail)
c. Time and Materials (preventative and/or corrective maintenance)
d. Preventative Maintenance Only contract
e. Full Service contract
5. Preventive Maintenance
Determine the number of preventive maintenance events required for each piece of equipment or instrument. Bear in mind that the original equipment manufacturers’ (OEMs’) recommended number and frequency of preventive maintenance (PM) events are not always appropriate. When determining the proper number of PMs a piece of equipment or instrument should receive, consider such factors as frequency of use, use of fluids in the equipment, number of moving parts, operating environment, and the type of science being conducted.
6. Service Provider
Determine the appropriate type of service provider for each piece of equipment or instrument. Service provider types include in-house (if available), depot services, third party, and OEM. The type of service provider should be based upon the factors of criticality, risk, and technology level (low, medium, high) of the item. Low-technology equipment includes general lab equipment, freezers, hoods, incubators, centrifuges, etc., while medium-technology equipment includes HPLC, liquid handlers, spectrophotometers, etc. High technology equipment includes spectrometers, analyzers, mass spec, sequencers, etc.
7. Critical Parts
Design and implement a critical parts and “hot swap” program. Critical parts should include PM kits and essential parts for equipment and instruments. Care must be taken in balancing the cost of the parts kept on hand versus the availability and lead time for delivery of critical parts. Some high risk/highly critical equipment such as ultralow temperature freezers used to store irreplaceable samples should be kept ready for immediate use in case of a failure.
8. Computerized Maintenance Management System
Utilize a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) to keep track of your laboratory assets, warranty periods, designated service provider, service level agreements, service history, PM schedule, services metrics, etc. While Microsoft Excel can be used to manage some maintenance processes, a true CMMS will manage more information and provide better data and reporting.
9. Equipment Maintenance Program
Put in place the appropriate resources to manage and run your instrument and equipment maintenance program. Researchers and scientists should never be responsible for the running and managing of the maintenance program as this is not their core function and will consume valuable scientific time, thus reducing their effectiveness. You may want to outsource the management and implementation of your instrument and equipment maintenance program to companies that specialize in this function and free up research staff to focus on their work.