Lab Management

The Case for Outsourcing Lab Equipment Repairs

When a vital piece of equipment in your lab goes down, your lab’s productivity can be sent into a tailspin. Unless you have experienced technicians on staff, outsourcing the repairs to a third-party service contractor may be the most efficient and cost-effective option to get your lab back up and running.

“Why not just call the original equipment manufacturer (OEM)?” you may ask. Here are a few scenarios in which you may opt to outsource repairs:

  • Warranty expired or was otherwise invalidated
  • OEM service calls may be pricier than third-party providers
  • The equipment is a few generations old and no longer supported by the OEM
  • Lots of demand for OEM service calls, which will lengthen your equipment’s downtime

It should be noted that outsourcing repairs should not be viewed as a last resort. From quicker repair times to more efficient scheduling, there are several benefits to outsourcing repairs instead of repairing in-house or through an OEM service contract.

Benefits of outsourcing repairs

Quality assurance

Equipment repair and maintenance can be incredibly complex, especially when it involves precise robotics hardware, like liquid handlers, or sensitive systems, like dual-stage cascade refrigeration loops found in ultra-low temperature freezers. In most cases, none of the lab staff will have the technical or mechanical expertise to carry out such repairs successfully. At best, they may have lots of experience as a user and can carry out routine maintenance, calibrate the instrument, and perform simple repairs. However, problems outside their scope of ability, recurring malfunctions, or issues requiring special tools all signal that it is time to call in a specialist. Hiring a dedicated service company would then be the only option to ensure a high-quality and efficient repair.

Quick repair time

Unless an organization is large enough to justify having a full-time equipment maintenance/repair specialist, third-party repair companies will be able to fix equipment faster than lab staff. Even a repair that is not technically complex may still be too time consuming to justify carrying out internally. For instance, tracking down a pinhole leak in a freeze dryer’s vacuum system can take an inordinate amount of time with conventional methods. Third-party repair companies will have the experience and specialized tools, such as helium leak detectors, that quicken the troubleshooting and repair processes.

In short, spending more upfront for a service call that minimizes downtime will likely be a wiser use of funds than paying a lab employee to attempt fixing it.

Coverage if something goes awry

Increased downtime aside, assigning the repair to an employee may worsen the problem. Without the right expertise, the employee may inadvertently aggravate the problem or break other components in the process. As a result, the lab is stuck paying for those problems on top of the original problem, along with the increased downtime associated with the new issues.

Not only are service companies much less likely to worsen the problem, but they will also cover their mistakes if they do.

Lower capital expenditures

While having in-house repair technicians allows for immediate responses to equipment malfunctions, the logistics of the repairs are considerably more complex. The facility must keep an inventory of spare parts and specialized tools on hand, as well as handle all the other expenses and planning associated with having an employee. These costs would go further if reallocated into other areas, such as purchasing new equipment to increase throughput, hiring more employees to continue growing, upgrading network infrastructure to support the new equipment and users, etc.

More efficient scheduling

Relying on instrument OEMs for all repairs means that you will have several different points of contact. Having so many contacts will make coordinating service calls more complex. “Significant savings are the result of having a single point of contact for all service-related events, which eliminates time spent communicating and coordinating with multiple OEMs,” says Lab Manager’s creative services mager Michelle Dotzert, PhD.

Finding a reputable service provider

Here are some questions to consider when searching for the right repair company:

What do their reviews say?

Pay attention to the company’s Google reviews and website testimonials. If most reviews are positive and you don’t see any recurring complaints across them, the company is likely a great option.

Do their specialty areas overlap with your equipment?

Some service providers have areas of specialty among a wider portfolio of supported products. These specialties will receive the most thorough repair processes. Check that the provider you’re considering specializes in the equipment you need repaired.

How far away are they?

You may have to pay more for a service call if the company is far away. The travel time will also increase your instrument’s downtime, costing you more money. Try looking for local companies first. If you’re in a biotech hub like Boston, MA or San Diego, CA, there are likely several local options to choose from.

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