Case Study

Ewing Biotech and Custom QC Inventory Management

Background

The Ewing Biotech and Custom QC group of MilliporeSigma/Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany performs a variety of techniques ranging from bacterial growth to molecular, immunological, and basic chemical analysis, as well as customized QC work for customers. Safety and ISO14385 certification require the lab to track current chemical inventory as well as to dispose of expired reagents on a monthly basis.

With approximately 2,500 items in stock, monitoring the status of every item in inventory was a time-consuming, manual process that required the attention of multiple employees. One particularly challenging area was the 4C walk-in cooler. Each month, two individuals were assigned to check a portion of the reagents in the cooler for expiration dates. Each reagent had to be checked to verify it had not expired, which took about an hour per person standing in the cooler.

Manually looking for expired reagents in multiple freezers and refrigerators posed other challenges as well. If the door was opened too long, the temperature would drop, potentially negatively impacting heat-sensitive reagents. In addition, chemicals and supplies were not always reordered when consumed, resulting in work stoppages and increased data delivery times.

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Executive Summary

A large biotech and QC lab uploaded their 2,500 item inventory to BrightLab, with the following results:

  • The time required to check for expired materials dropped from six hours for a partial review to 15 minutes for a complete review—a time savings of 95.8 percent!
  • The lab previously required multiple scientists to check inventory while in the cooler or freezer, and now one scientist can manage the task from a computer.
  • The lab plans to use the BrightLab mobile app and barcode scanning to realize additional time saving benefits.

Solution Implemented

In the fall of 2018, the Ewing lab began to implement the new BrightLab research platform into their workflow as a way to speed up and automate key inventory management tasks. With the primary workflow goals of tracking current inventory usage, being alerted when items are running low in quantity or nearing expiration, and reordering materials when needed, BrightLab offered a user-friendly, web-based solution.

To help ease the group into the new platform, the incorporation of inventory items into BrightLab was performed over several months. Inventory items were entered into the system using both the bulk upload and individual entry methods. The bulk upload process was especially useful for portions of the inventory already recorded in spreadsheets, as well as cooled or frozen reagents. One individual would read the information off of a container on ice while another could enter it into the spreadsheet template, along with the location of the item. New items are now entered by individual entry on the web app.

Results

After BrightLab implementation of the entire 4C inventory, the time required to check for expiration dates dropped from 150 minutes for a partial review to 5 minutes for a complete review.

In the new process, the chemist prints a report from BrightLab, goes to the cooler (if needed), finds the items and disposesof them. This 96.7 percent drop in time has freed up chemists to perform value-added tasks. An additional benefit is that all reagents in the cooler are inventoried, monitored and disposed of when expired, instead of the critical few that were inventoried prior to BrightLab. This success has been repeated with each area of the lab inventoried.

QC Lab Inventory Time Chart

» We used to have two to three people in each section—two people in room temperature, two people in cooler, and two people in freezer— taking two to three hours going through the entire inventory making sure we were getting the expired reagents out on a monthly basis. It now only takes one person about 15 minutes to do all three, so now those other chemists are able to do more value-added work. «

– Kerri Moore, QC Supervisor

As additional areas of the lab were placed into BrightLab, similar time savings as well as nonquantifiable benefits have been observed. Now, instead of opening and closing multiple freezer doors to find expired reagents and introducing potentially harmful temperature fluctuations, these storage areas are now incorporated into the BrightLab inventory and expired reagent searches last only a few seconds. The other benefit is that a chemist can search for a location of a reagent at their computer and retrieve it directly from its location and not have to search through multiple locations looking for an item that may not even be in the lab.

Conclusions and Next Steps

In summary, the lab saw improvements in safety, quality, and time savings due to the implementation of BrightLab. Safety was improved with reduced exposure to cold for the chemists as well as improved removal of expired reagents. Quality was improved due to reduced risk of heat exposure for sensitive reagents as well as reduced risk of using expired reagents in a QC test. An overall time savings of 95.8 percent after implementation of BrightLab was achieved. The overall task initially took six hours to complete on a limited number of items and now takes 15 minutes with a significant increase in the amount of items checked.

Based on the success of the BrightLab implementation and its continual customer-based evolution, the Ewing QC lab has planned to incorporate the new features into their reagent management strategy. These include:

  • Real-time reagent management—The QC lab is in the process of implementing use of barcodes, iPhones, and the BrightLab mobile app for real-time removal of reagents from the BrightLab inventory. 
  • Lean materials management—History of use and replenishment of reagents will be able to be monitored in BrightLab allowing the QC lab to optimize the amounts of reagents on hand and how much to be ordered combined with the low inventory flags already present in BrightLab is expected to yield additional cost savings and reduced work stoppages.

» The main thing BrightLab has given us is a better inventory system where we now know exactly where everything is in the lab. We were able to organize and label it with shelving components— what room it’s in, what freezer, what cooler—and be able to pinpoint exactly where an item is stored. «

– Kerri Moore, QC Supervisor

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