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Feb 15, 2008 (Vol. 28, No. 4)

Lab-Asset Management Gets Smarter

Organizations Need to Garner Appropriate Information to Improve Costs and Productivity

  • Intelligent is the new buzz word in lab-asset management (LAM) services. In an environment in which clients come for the cost savings and stay for the improved productivity, lab-management services are developing smarter tools, increasing automation, and expanding their services and the types of instruments available.

    “Lab productivity is what the game is all about, increasing the return on investment from capital equipment,” emphasizes David Heiger, Ph.D., director of services marketing for Agilent.

    “Lab-asset management is often the first step customers take toward cost savings and productivity improvements,” notes Fraser Black, general manager of scientific asset services at GE Healthcare.

    “These opportunities for improvements are identified by the ongoing gathering and analysis of business intelligence information and are implemented based upon their effect on a client’s total cost of ownership,” explains Luis Rodriguez, national service sales director, Thermo Fisher Scientific. “By evaluating instrument performance and service-provider performance, we can make recommendations on how to reduce instrument purchasing costs (including chemicals and reagents), increase productivity, and improve administrative processes.”

    Expense Considerations

    Much of the industry, however, lacks detailed information regarding asset use, deployment, maintenance, downtime, and run states. “Without this information, it’s difficult to justify new instrument purchases, system retirements, increased operator training, and even whether to purchase service agreements,” Dr. Heiger says.

    The first step is to gather that information and to determine how much money is actually spent on services, including service occurring outside those contracts, continuing education, support services, and processes outside the break/fix paradigm like productivity.

    “Practical process improvement is where the industry is heading,” notes Dawn MacNeill, marketing manager, services marketing, Thermo Fisher. Through process improvement methodologies like Six Sigma and LEAN, “we can give you the intelligence to make more informed business decisions,” she says. That intelligence is based on metrics of individual instruments, the entire lab, or that piece or type of equipment from one’s own data or from Thermo Fisher’s 30 years of experience managing the assets of hospitals, imaging labs, and research facilities, says MacNeill.

    In the past year, Thermo Fisher implemented a new service model that allows companies to use in-house service technicians–—trained either at Thermo Fisher’s training institute or on-site—as first responders, with Thermo Fisher’s multivendor service engineers as backup. One of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies has used this successfully for about eight months, MacNeill and Rodriguez confirm.

    This March, Thermo plans to launch a web-based asset and service reporting tool dubbed, The Scientific Resource Center, which will allow managers to get instant access to asset and service performance metrics. The company also has expanded into Puerto Rico and is continuing to expand throughout Europe.

    Remote Tracking

    Other firms are also enhancing their tool sets. Last year, Agilent launched remote diagnostics and management tools that track such metrics as system configuration, utilization, and maintenance needs and generate lab or company-wide automatic reports that are available securely over the Internet or can be delivered to the desktop.  This system will eventually lead to predictive maintenance, notifying users or vendors before equipment fails, according to Dr. Heiger.
    “In one report, you can see all of the Agilent-covered lab assets, where they are located, serial numbers, configurations, how they are used, and if unused, whether they are in a ready state, error state, or off,” Dr. Heiger notes. “That information is difficult to obtain by manual tracking.”

    Receiving real-time alerts is another valuable option for lab or project managers. As Dr. Heiger explains, it’s not unusual for lab personnel to drop in after hours to check the status of a long-running process. Sending real-time equipment-status reports directly to one’s cell phone or e-mail provides the assurance that processes are continuing as planned, thus eliminating trips to check the lab and increasing productivity by alerting personnel to equipment errors so issues may be resolved earlier.

    One of the most valuable features for lab personnel, Dr. Heiger says, is the remote assist function. This feature sends a help request along with contact information and comprehensive instrument information including log books and diagnostic files, but not testing data, to Agilent’s technical experts for a call back, usually within 30 minutes. The benefit is that technicians can evaluate the equipment remotely and more quickly than the alternative options, notes Dr. Heiger.

    “This technology is used routinely in many industries including the financial sector,” Dr. Heiger emphasizes. Of the top-tier pharmaceutical companies, “there has not been one company that has not approved it after technical review.”

    Boosting Infrastructure

    The depth and breadth of experience on multiple types and brands of equipment varies considerably among LAM providers. Agilent boasts a center of excellence with more than 200 models of other vendors’ equipment as well as its own, Dr. Heiger says. Consequently, Agilent ensures that its technicians receive the same level of training on multiple vendors’ equipment that they receive on Agilent’s. “They must be certified before they can work on other vendors’ equipment,” he elaborates.

    Agilent maintains a sizable infrastructure in non-Agilent parts. “We can ship parts anywhere within 24 hours,” Dr. Heiger says, “and have defined emergency order procedures for parts not stocked.” The company operates its multivendor business “primarily in the U.S. and Central Europe, but we’ll go anywhere the need is.”

    GE Healthcare also has expanded its options, offering a cradle-to-grave asset-management program that includes the newly added asset financing and leasing, multivendor validation, performance asset consulting, disposal, and recovery to its program, notes Black. To do this successfully, GE leverages its experience managing multivendor programs for more than 750 hospitals worldwide.

    The AssetPlus™ software is one of the key elements of GE’s plan, providing “instant access to instrument-service data and providing regulatory compliance support, essential reports on service performance, and asset life-cycle cost data to help customers make informed decisions,” Black says.

    The results show a 90% first-time fix rate and a two-hour fix time, Black reports. One large North American pharma company “has seen a 15% instrument improvement in productivity and uptime over that of previous years, compared with their largest OEM service provider.” They also netted a 20% cost savings, he notes.

    In Europe, Black says, a biotech cluster has a dedicated engineer to support four sites. “By sharing this maintenance model as a group, they could benefit with cost savings of up to 15%, better instrument-service levels, and improved productivity, as scientists at smaller sites were focusing on the science and not on administrative chores.”

    OneSource Services

    PerkinElmer has expanded its OneSource services in the past year, supporting four new multivendor technologies and tripling the number of engineers in the field, according to Dusty Tenney, president and general manager of PerkinElmer’s laboratory services business. Of those, “about 35 percent are trained to service a broad range of multivendor equipment,” Tenney says. That lets 60–70% of the equipment under contract be maintained directly by PerkinElmer technicians and the remainder to be managed under the contract by other specialists.

    The growth of PerkinElmer’s OneSource lab-asset management service is fueled by continuing pressure on the industry. “The top line is affected by generics and the large base of expiring patents,” Tenney notes. At the same time, companies are forced to become more efficient and productive in a regulatory environment. That combination, he says, is driving change that often appears in the form of consolidations, layoffs, and closed facilities. It also results in improved business processes and the decision to outsource noncore elements of the business.

    The desire to improve processes “aligns well with OneSource by helping companies better understand what’s going on with their assets,” Tenney continues. “Our goal is to help companies identify more opportunities using the Six Sigma continuous improvement framework.”

    The industry, he says, is clamoring for a broad range of services including training and upgrades. PerkinElmer’s knowledge- based tools provide data about how the equipment is used, the frequency of maintenance, and the asset’s susceptibility to downtime. Web-based reporting provides near instantaneous access, whenever and wherever the customer needs it, reports Tenney. The company’s global approach meets the needs of multinationals, he asserts, with support available in North America, Europe, and the Pacific Rim through a combination of on-site and local on-call technicians.

    Multivendor Downside

    While the major LAM providers service multivendor equipment, this isn’t necessarily the best option, according to Dave Terricciano, vp, global operations and support, Waters. “Third-party service engineers cannot be expected to be experts on all technologies,” he points out.

    Another potential issue is that some providers may use nonmanufacturer parts. “We find that many corners are cut on service delivery by third-party service providers to meet cost targets promised to customers,” he continues. “As a result of subpar service by third-party service providers, the challenge for Waters is that our systems may not meet customer expectations.”

    In contrast, Terricciano comments, “when a customer invests in a Waters system, the expectation is that the system will function in the manner promised. The focus for Waters Global Services is to ensure that the integrity of that trust is not compromised,” he explains. Consequently, Waters only manages and repairs its own instrumentation.

    One of its goals is to eliminate the cause of downtime. Waters’ Field Service Reporting System has accrued a large database of metrics that can be mined by a site, a specific system, an individual module, or the entire equipment population. That addresses the root causes of downtime, explains Terricciano.

    “Service and support are inextricably linked,” he says. “A diagnosis cannot be determined without understanding the symptoms of a problem.”

    With the field service reporting system, “Waters service engineers are updated daily on the numerous trips and tricks that our global customer base supplies us with.” End users find that their systems are more robust, as many simple issues are basically avoided due to the previous experiences passed on by others, reports Terricciano. “In this way, we minimize the bulk of expected system failures, proactively.

    “To help our customers reduce costs, Waters provides custom, flexible service options including dedicated metrology/inside service cooperative programs to help customers support their systems in the most cost-effective manner possible.”

    Regardless of what type of LAM companies choose, MacNeill advises them to take a close look at their request for a proposal. “Being fully aware of their service needs such as repair and preventive-maintenance methodology as well as frequency requirements will minimize the need for LAM vendors to make assumptions and will make it easier for companies to evaluate their proposals and choose a partner. Companies think this is a commodity, but it isn’t.”



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