Traceability is a fundamental requirement in highly regulated testing labs. The ability to accurately document and track reagents, consumables, in-house prepared solutions, and other inventory items is not only required for regulatory compliance reporting, but also for overall efficiency of day-to-day operations. New developments in data management are helping labs automate many of the traditionally manual inventory management tasks.
Manual vs. Digital Consumables Tracking
Current solutions for managing inventory, GxP regulatory compliance, and safe storage in testing labs fall into two categories: manual and digital.
- Manual Tracking. Manual entry into paper or spreadsheets remains the oldest and most common method of tracking consumables. It is time-consuming and prone to human error.
- Digital Tracking. Digital systems offer superior accuracy and a host of other benefits compared to cumbersome manual systems. Systems with barcode labels were the first commercial solutions for digital tracking, but these continue to be limited by static data encoding and line-of-sight requirement for scanning. New solutions using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology address the limitations of manual and barcode systems to deliver a digitalized inventory with smart, seamless real-time tracking.
Downside of Manual Consumables Tracking
According to a survey of laboratory professionals, most labs continue to use manual methods of recording and tracking consumables data. These methods result in significant workplace inefficiencies, not to mention, inventory waste:
- 85 percent of respondents currently use manual and Excel files to manage consumables’ data
- 70 percent manually inspect records for root cause analysis
- 52 percent waste 2–5% of unused, expired stocks
- On average, respondents spend 25% of their work hours on the tasks related to managing consumables
Labs that rely on manual methods of consumables data management devote a significant portion of work hours to manual registry of stock items; manual calculation of open and expiration dates; and manual tracking of consumables used in experiment workflows. These methods cannot adequately support audit-readiness, requiring more effort to upkeep and access compliance documentation. Data accuracy is of concern as there is more risk of transcription errors.
Features of a Smart Tracking System
The ideal data management solution replaces repetitive manual tasks with a paperless one that tracks information digitally. New technologies for integrated inventory, safety, and compliance management use RFID labels on consumables for real-time tracking on a mobile device.
- Real-Time Inventory Management. New RFID-based systems digitally capture and track the complete information history of reagents and consumables. Scanning the RFID label displays real-time information about open dates, expiration dates, and location, eliminating the need to search paper records. Systems employing a tamper-proof Smart Seal technology can auto-register the open date and calculate the expiration date based on when the seal is broken, avoiding costly calculation or transcription mistakes.
- More Productivity, Less Waste. Digitalization and automatic tracking replace error-prone tasks and improves lab efficiently. Smart solutions also aid experiment workflows with instant identity checks and built-in safeguards that alert users if a scanned reagent is expired. Additionally, systems that operate on a ‘first-in/first-out’ principle automatically keep track of expiration dates and help reduce inventory waste.
- Audit Readiness. Digitalization ensures accuracy and traceability of compliance documents for all workflows and inventory stocks, including solutions prepared in-house. On-demand access to audit reports facilitates audit-readiness.
- Enhanced Workplace Safely. Systems that Integrate product safety data sheet (SDS) and chemical incompatibility information foster safety compliance in the lab. Real-time storage monitoring and automatic alerts help prevent labs from storing chemically incompatible reagents in the same cabinet.
Usability Always Comes First
An intelligently designed digital system for inventory, compliance, and safety management is easy to use, without requiring exhaustive training. Additionally, it should allow secured access to multiple users, with built-in features to assist in experiment planning.
- Complete Lab Coverage. A vendor neutral inventory tracking system provides complete inventory coverage and is not restricted to specific vendors. Additionally, the ability to track custom intermediates prepared in-house further facilitates audit-readiness and better equips testing labs to conduct root cause analysis.
- Easy to Use. New smart systems for consumables tracking easily capture data using an intuitive mobile app and RFID labels placed directly on bottles. A secured web interface with multi-user access is also important in a collaborative lab setting.
- Remote Access. The ability to manage inventory, plan experiments, and assign tasks from any location is vital as it gives labs the flexibility to remain operational under varied circumstances.
Digitalization of inventory, safety, and compliance management leads to dramatic gains in productivity in testing labs. Real-time access to accurate consumable information means more confidence in the data generated by testing protocols and easier traceability in case problems arise.