Tips for Proper Lab Equipment Maintenance

March 13, 2022 | Buyers' Guide

Lab equipment is considered as an investment for many laboratories and firms in the scientific sector. As much as possible, these devices are maintained in peak condition to ensure the longevity of their operating life. This being said, there are many influencing factors on a lab equipment’s life span. 

Before anything else, the quality of the equipment itself must be considered. To guarantee quality construction, order only from reputable manufacturers or distributors. Locating vendors online is actually ideal since it minimizes legwork on your part. Moreover, trusted and reliable distributors are conveniently searchable online. Performing a background check on potential distributors is also easy to do since they are already well-known in the industry and are most likely listed in authoritative sites, as well. For purchasing new or used lab equipment, choose distributors who are GSA approved and ISO certified.

Aside from ensuring the quality of your equipment, allotting time for maintenance is very important especially when its condition affects performance and your application’s results. To make the process easier for you, we listed down the things you should remember with regards to properly maintaining the equipment inside your laboratory.

Follow Operation Protocols and Equipment Manuals

Your laboratory equipment is built for a specific application. Utilizing them for a procedure not within the range of their declared capability can take a toll on its condition especially when repeatedly performed. To prevent this from happening, always refer to the guide or manuals that come along with your equipment. Check your equipment’s features and capacities beforehand. For devices with LCD or LED screens, it is also important to be aware of the different danger and warning symbols that are shown on your device. These may appear when your equipment is incorrectly loaded, not fully closed, when your instrument has been damaged, and the like.

Additionally, you need to have the discipline to follow operating protocols, making sure that the procedure you are performing is within the scope and function of your equipment. For instance, if you know that your equipment is not heavy duty, allow sufficient time for it to rest to prevent overheating and malfunctions due to overuse. As a general rule, users and laboratory staff must also be properly trained in operating the equipment to ensure that guidelines and protocols are fully implemented. Also keep in mind that damage due to incorrect use (not in accordance to the manual) may void the manufacturer’s warranty.

Routine Cleaning and Preventive Maintenance

Naturally, laboratory equipment is subject to wear and tear upon regular use. Numerous types of laboratory equipment are required to be in excellent working condition in order to perform with precision and accuracy, and generate reliable results. These include Chemistry and Testing instruments such as centrifuges, analytical balances and chemistry and hematology analyzers which are highly dependent on precision. Keeping these equipment clean and properly maintained helps avoid operational problems and malfunctions, resulting in error-free and accurate analyses. Doing this may seem like a simple step but it does affect your device’s performance, especially in the long run. This is one the most basic ways to prolong your instrument’s service life. Cleaning your device after use or on a designated schedule is typically accomplished in-house and in most cases, does not require the assistance of a third-party service provider. However, certain specialized equipment also requires specific actions in cleaning so make sure to consult your manual or a qualified professional first.

Before deciding to implement preventive maintenance on your valuable laboratory equipment, it is also important to consider whether you have the resource and expertise to perform such evaluation or assessment, testing, and overall maintenance on your device. There are sophisticated models which have complicated and delicate requirements in terms of upkeep. The maintenance for these kinds of equipment are best left in the hands of technical experts and consultants specializing in these product lines. 

Different types of lab equipment also have varying needs when it comes to maintenance. Repair and support services are typically offered by laboratory equipment manufacturers and distributors who are equipped with the technical know-how and have access to replacement parts and accessories.

Calibrate Your Instrument Regularly

Calibrating your device is a crucial step in maintenance that should not be skipped. In order to determine whether or not your equipment is functioning properly, you may configure it with another instrument. Results obtained by your device should be within the acceptable accuracy range. Another way of executing calibration is by using known values to test your instrument’s reliability. Ideally, the results generated by your device should be within acceptable standards. In order to gain accurate calibration results, the measurements must be traceable back to protocols from agencies such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). If your equipment is out of calibration, identification of errors and repair of the instrument should follow.

The frequency of calibration and its intervals vary for every instrument. To decide on the frequency of calibration, you may follow the recommendations of the manufacturer. However, you should also be able to discern and have the initiative to perform calibration when you suspect that the level of accuracy of your equipment is declining. It is also advisable to carry out calibration before conducting projects that require highly accurate measurements or after instances of unanticipated accidents such as dropping or exposure to high temperatures. Moreover, you also have to consider your usage. Logically, an instrument that is frequently used will have shorter intervals between calibration.

Evaluate Your Instrument’s Performance

Regular evaluation of your equipment is performed to optimize its performance and determine system or hardware issues. There is no doubt that having an equipment operating effectively and efficiently can increase the overall quality of work in a laboratory. There are numerous performance metrics you can use in your evaluation:

Uncertainty Analysis

In documenting application results, it is a general practice to assign a quantified estimate of uncertainty in your study. This measure connotes the confidence and reliability of your process. Thus, a lower level of uncertainty is equated to higher quality in results. It is essential to identify the uncertainty in your equipment’s output and develop actions to reduce this ratio.

Turnaround Time

The quickness of response and delivery of results is a major deciding factor when acquiring an equipment. Knowing and tracking the turnaround time of your instrument is also crucial to gauge whether your instrument is in good condition or not. Having a lower than usual turnaround time is a sign that there is an issue with your instrument.

Non-conformance to Standards and Declared Capacities

The stated capacity and functionality of your equipment based on the manufacturer’s manual or guide can be a benchmark for evaluating your equipment’s quality of performance. Document your instrument’s findings and statistically monitor its operations. If your device is not meeting acceptable standards, you must determine the root cause of this issue.

Equipment Failures and Interval Analysis

Over time, equipment failure may become more frequent. The ability to predict failure can help you prepare for it by having a backup ready. In order to accurately forecast when your equipment will fail, you can perform an interval analysis. You must track and record the occurrences of equipment failure and develop ways to prolong the intervals.

Evaluating equipment performance is an indispensable step in maintenance yet many laboratories overlook this action. If performing tests and evaluations on numerous laboratory equipment is something you would rather have someone else do, you can seek out companies who offer instrument evaluation services, among other repair and laboratory support services.

Timely Repairs Carried Out by a Qualified Professional

After evaluation and rooting out the cause of equipment malfunctions or errors, repairs must be executed in a timely fashion. When an equipment breaks down, you will likely need to replace or repair some parts in order to fix it. Avoid jumping to conclusions especially when it’s the first time your equipment stops running. Sometimes, having repair work done is adequate to salvage your equipment. Small repairs like adding accessories to support equipment parts is easy to do and can prolong the operating life of your instrument.

On the other hand, larger equipment with numerous working parts require more effort in repairing. Some pieces might wear out rapidly compared to other parts so you have to inspect and regularly check the condition of your device’s parts. Another thing you have to consider when having an equipment repaired is whether it will be performed in-house or through outsourcing. Having an in-house maintenance team can actually be more costly compared to outsourcing. Unless you have all the equipment needed at your disposal, have experts willing to spend a significant amount of time on repairs, or have your own maintenance team assembled to specifically care for your equipment, going for a third-party service provider would be the best option economically.

Reputable service providers are equipped with a highly-specialized set of skills and are experienced in repairing numerous types of lab equipment. Their competence in this line of work enables them to repair your equipment more efficiently and effectively. Moreover, repair companies will also thoroughly examine, monitor and re-configure your equipment to operate in its best condition. While minor repairs can be performed in-house, most laboratories are left with no choice but to hire a professional when repairing more sophisticated instruments which are complex and more technologically advanced. These kinds of devices require proper scheduled and preventive maintenance to make sure that it is optimized and in top condition. Upon purchase, distributors and manufacturers will most likely have you consult with their experts about scheduling and maintenance of your high-end device.

Refurbishing Your Lab Equipment

If you are using an outdated model or if your equipment is not operating as seamlessly as it used to, you should consider refurbishing your device. Instead of buying a new equipment with improved features, you can simply replace some of your equipment’s existing parts with newer, more powerful variants. This will allow you to upgrade your equipment at a much lower cost compared to purchasing a new one.

There are also times when your equipment does not need any replacement parts. You can refurbish them by disassembling the pieces of your equipment and cleaning each component thoroughly. Metal parts and gears are polished and re-lubricated while parts that has to do with precision must be re-calibrated. You must also identify faulty parts and decide whether or not they need replacement or additional accessories for support. After fully cleaning and inspecting the parts, it should be re-assembled and tested. At times, this simple action can have your equipment running as well as when it was newly-purchased.

Maintaining a Well-Kept Laboratory Environment

Keeping a clean, contamination-free laboratory environment is crucial for obvious health hazards but this also plays a role in maintaining well-functioning laboratory instruments. Having an organized laboratory lessens the risk of breaking an equipment due to careless handling and interaction with chemical spills that may harm your equipment. You cannot be certain with how your equipment will react once dust or laboratory chemicals come into contact with its functioning parts. 

The cleanliness of a laboratory can even affect the accuracy of your results. Having unclean sample containers, for instance, can generate incorrect measurements or even false positive/negative results despite using equipment for processing. Moreover, keeping your laboratory environment organized can also help improve workplace and equipment efficiency since having everything in its place enhances workflow and saves your valuable time. 

In order to keep your workplace tidy, you should also safely and appropriately decommission and dispose faulty and old equipment. This may seem simple but its complexity arises once we take into consideration the regulation compliance and documentation required in highly-regulated industries.

Take the Alternative: Renting/Leasing Laboratory Equipment

Purchasing equipment is better if your objective is to use it regularly. However, for short-term and temporary usage, you should consider renting or leasing the laboratory equipment you intend to use. This can be a cost-efficient decision especially if you are in need of higher end and state-of-the-art models but is limited by your lab budget. Renting and leasing will allow your scientists and laboratory staff to gain access to newer and updated technology without spending up to hundreds of thousands of dollars upfront and breaking your lab’s bank.

Moreover, renting or leasing eliminates or reduces the demand for thorough, costly, and time-consuming instrument maintenance. When renting, the cost of maintenance is shouldered by the owner and the equipment is guaranteed to be in great working condition before being turned over to you. You can also use the duration of your rent/lease as a trial period to gauge the performance of a specific equipment before committing to a purchase.

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