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Inventory management

The mantra in successful laboratory management is systematic organization – be it personnel, up keeping of equipment, or inventory management. Whatever may be the size of the lab, a systematic and efficient inventory management will cut down the wastage factor, avoid unnecessary delays, increase efficiency, and reduce costs. This laboratory inventory management encompasses not just the reagents but equipment, stationery, and infrastructure too. Whether one is going to open a new lab or is working in an existing lab, one may be at sea in the beginning not knowing how to handle the inventory. It is a continuous and yet a vital process for which sound background knowledge of requisites of the lab as well as creativity is required. There is currently a lot of lab software available with or without payment, but one has to be adept in handling it. Now that most of us are tech savvy, we can afford to begin with MS-Excel and free lab software.

Inventory management begins with stocking. Stocking has to be done under different categories, e.g., equipment, consumables, furniture, stationery, and everything under the roof. The next step is to organize things and utilize the storage space maximally so as to have those things in the most accessible areas, which are most frequently used, and things that are rarely used can be pushed into cabinets. This allocation job can be done by using one’s own creativity based on similar expiry, types, or similar frequency of use.

After proper stocking and allocation of space, based on the past six-month use of reagents and consumables, a separate list has to be made. A minimum requirement is set and a minimum threshold has to be set, beyond which the indenting should be done. Though it can be done manually, taking help of software is quite prudent, which will create an alert when the stock goes down. Studying the trend of consumption, it can be decided as to whether it should be ordered in bulk or as a standing order. If small-size packs or quantities are required, then they may be clubbed with the entire consignment and a discounted price can be settled for.

Though lab equipment maintenance does not come under lab inventory management, maintaining a routine maintenance schedule will obviate lot of hassles and increase efficacy. Maintaining records of all purchases in hard copies and their soft copy in the system will help in future referral for assessment and contacting different vendors.

Now this all takes a lot of organizational efforts and the duties should be evenly distributed amongst different personnel. Everyone must understand their role and there should be no overlapping of assignments. Thus, each personnel would be accountable for their assigned job. Once-a-month meeting on summating the data and accomplished job should be a must. An audit also should be conducted annually or half-yearly as per the requirement of the laboratory.

Different software are available for inventory management. Few of them are free and few are integrated parts of LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System). Some may manage with ELN (Electronic Lab Notebook). These software take care of real-time tracking, mobile accessibility, sorting and filtering, bar coding, multi-platform support, managing sales and purchase orders, generation of sales and profit reports, e-mail orders and managing database, and more.

Out of many such software, eLABINVENTORY and Listum, and the like, are free software which can be accessed in mobile app to scan barcodes, retrieve information, and perform sample actions. There are many paid software, which can take care of minute details of the lab.

Each laboratory has its own requirements and system. However, one requirement is common for all, i.e., low cost with high gains. As per the requirement, the lab software may be chosen or a simple desktop spreadsheet can be used for efficient laboratory inventory management. An efficacious inventory-management system not only helps you gain financially, but also helps in locating records and preventing wastage of consumables.

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