May 13, 2024 1:09:25 PM | Blog Streamline Your Lab's Operations with Robust Sample Management and Inventory Management

Sample management and inventory management are two essential but distinct processes that labs use to stay organized. Most labs make sample management a priority, using a laboratory information management system (LIMS) or other software to simplify the process. However, monitoring and managing consumable inventory is equally important for efficient operations, especially for labs planning to increase throughput or scale up their business. Despite the importance of inventory management, many labs use a piecemeal approach that could be improved with an all-in-one solution. 

What is sample management?

Sample management refers to managing the biological, chemical, or physical samples used in lab testing. It includes labeling samples and tracking their origin, chain of custody, storage location, and usage history.

The main goal of sample management is to safeguard the integrity and traceability of samples. Labs must have effective sample management to ensure that the right tests are performed on the right samples and the right results are sent to the right requestors. To do this, they need to be sure that sample testing follows standard operating procedures (SOPs), can be reproduced to confirm results, and complies with regulatory requirements.

What is inventory management?

In contrast, inventory management relates to managing all the items needed to operate the lab, such as reagents, pipette tips, and numerous other consumables. These items must be ordered, received, stored, used, and replaced in a timely manner so that lab tasks can occur as scheduled.

Tracking the stock levels of these items is important for several reasons:

  • Having enough inventory on hand. Labs want to ensure that production can run without disruption — for efficiency and to maintain the business’s reputation for quality and speed.
  • Not over-ordering inventory. Available space for storing inventory is always a consideration. However, labs should also be aware of expiry dates for items such as reagents. Waste is expensive, but there’s also the risk of unintentionally using expired reagents, which could compromise testing quality or integrity.
  • Managing the cost of goods sold (COGS). Accurately tracking the amount of inventory used per assay is important for profitability, particularly for labs that offer their services at scale, where under or overcharging could have a significant business impact.

Common ways to tackle sample management and inventory management in the lab

A primary purpose of a LIMS is to manage samples. If your lab tracks samples using spreadsheets or a paper-based system, you should consider implementing a LIMS. It could make your workflows more efficient, decrease errors, reduce unnecessary costs, and support increased throughput.

If your lab already uses a LIMS, you likely have sample management covered to some degree. However, depending on which LIMS you have selected and how it is implemented, several strategies could help you improve sample management further. For example, you could add barcoding for tracking items like samples, plates, and reagents, or integrate instruments and other lab software with the LIMS to reduce manual effort.

While most LIMS also claim to offer inventory tracking, their capabilities can vary widely. A traditional LIMS is generally designed to monitor a sample’s location and events on its journey through the lab, so inventory tracking is often limited to simple tasks such as recording the type of tip or reagent used.

Because there’s often no need to track the volume remaining of a sample for some laboratory analyses, many LIMS cannot adequately monitor depletion in the base product, even though doing so for reagents or consumables is required for reordering and cost analysis. Even if a LIMS can track volume, the level of granularity it can support might not be adequate in real-world scenarios.

For example, the LIMS might be able to recognize that a whole jar has been used, but not the volume within a jar used for a particular test. Or, it might be able to track depletion within an entire assay, but not within the individual steps within an assay. Imagine there is a re-process within an assay. In this situation, although twice the unit of a consumable would be used, only one unit would be recorded in the system.

Due to these limitations, many labs rely on spreadsheets and paper-based inventory management. These manual solutions introduce the same disadvantages as they do for sample management, including inefficiencies and being prone to human error.

An all-in-one solution to sample management and inventory management

Whether your lab wants to replace a manual solution or improve inventory management capabilities, consider if the following are possible with the LIMS you are using or have in mind:

  • Choosing what and how to model different items within the LIMS. Can we track depletion as consumables are used by an assay and forecast future usage?
  • Having multiple different depletion events for every assay and stage within an assay that uses an inventory item. Can we set which depletion events are valid depletions, or when the depletion event occurs after ‘claiming’ the inventory item?
  • Tracking depletion beyond a unit of stock. Can we track the actual depleted volume within a jar, not just the number of jars remaining or the number of specified uses?
  • Setting up automated event notifications or reordering. Can we receive alerts when stock is low so we can reorder inventory to keep production running without interruption or can stock be reordered automatically?
  • Adding new inventory items to track as the lab grows. Can we easily scale the solution and integrate it with other lab software to meet evolving business needs?
  • Identifying discrepancies and potential waste. Can we gain new insights to help us make proactive decisions to improve inventory management practices?

A full-featured LIMS such as Labbit provides robust sample management and inventory management in a single all-in-one solution that can be scaled with your lab as you grow. With a more nuanced real-time view of inventory levels, your lab can gauge when to order more consumables and how much to order to meet demand. You’ll be able to minimize the risk of using expired items, reduce waste, and keep inventory costs in check, all while keeping your lab running efficiently.

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Written By: Labbit