ARTICLE

Dairy Dilemma: Upgrade or Completely Replace Your Lab Instruments

Introduction

Like food producers across the planet, dairy manufacturers want to milk every ounce of productivity they can get from their existing instrumentation and control systems. Continued improvements in technologies, efficiency, safety and cost control are important influences to any processor operating in a highly competitive environment.

Unfortunately, regardless of your foodstuffs, over time there will be either a drop-off in processes’ efficiency or an uptick in the cost of operation and maintenance – or both. At this point, management will find themselves at a crossroads: having to decide whether to extend the lifetime of current equipment (hardware and software) or to invest in completely new instruments along with their new processes and methods.

Keeping abreast of advances in technology may help inform decisions between whether to invest in new technologies, refurbish an existing system with new parts or software or whether replacing the system with its current equivalent is the smarter option.


Weighing your options

There are a number of factors that should be considered before deciding whether to replace or upgrade an instrument – with overall return on investment (ROI) driving plant and process managers: the cost of the capital and its implementation, the cost of any materials required for operation, and often uncalculated… the cost of maintaining the instrument.


Implementation

Implementation is dependent on how easy the technology is to deploy. Instruments that can be tailored to the specific needs of your lab should go right to the top of your procurement shortlist. After all, a system that works right out of the box is invaluable when cost is a key consideration. Accuracy of results and impact on production are also concerns, especially for large dairy processors where even the smallest adjustment may impact large profit margins.


Asset utilization and maintenance

To help you decide whether to upgrade or sunset and replace, it’s useful to refer to asset utilitization and maintenance records. Not knowing how frequently an instrument is used will make it difficult to assess its workflow importance.

Maintenance records are an essential datapoint – a time-tested accounting of the cost of upkeep and repair vs. the cost of “new.” No doubt that proactive, scheduled checks help ensure an instrument is running optimally - as even a slight decrease in the performance can add up over months, cumulatively impacting production – but these checkups become checkpoints. The information available from these regular maintenance records can be instrumental in your decision to upgrade or replace.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to key stakeholders involved in the process and, ideally, the data they can bring to inform those decisions. Data may include ROI modeling and full-cost disclosure, current system usage and maintenance records, and the proposed savings or increased value that improved accuracy can bring. All this data can help ensure the most appropriate decision is made.

Here are some other issues to bear in mind when contemplating a refurbish or replacement system:


When to refurbish?

  • Backup instruments are needed to ensure continuous operation
  • Installed instrument is still the solid technology
  • Approved methods/validated methods require the identical platform
  • It would be difficult to retrain staff

When to replace like-for-like?

  • Replicating processes at additional sites
  • Adding a system for future deployment
  • Increased capacity is required for an established test
  • It would be difficult to retrain staff
  • Approved methods/validated methods require the identical platform

When to invest in new technology?

  • New technology offers advanced efficiency
  • Smaller footprint is needed
  • Simpler technologies make it easier to train staff
  • Adding digital data recording and informatics
  • New testing capabilities are needed
  • Requiring online monitoring for improved efficiency
  • Portable devices for testing closer to source/incoming materials

Preventative maintenance plans can help avoid system issues before they occur and may provide indications of when a replacement or upgrade should be planned. Routine instrument checks and records help optimize the performance of instrumentation, minimize unplanned downtime, increase the efficiency of a facility and helping to identify any problems that need to be solved.


How to facilitate a refurbishment, replacement or upgrade

Communication is vital in any system upgrade or replacement. Involving the right people from the start can add confidence to any decision and ensure that frustration is avoided down the line.

Equipment suppliers can facilitate the decision-making process, working alongside their customers to help them make the right choice for their facility. An experienced supplier is able to make the transition to new instrument smoother by offering extensive expertise that can help customers through the entire process. Understanding the common pitfalls, what kind of equipment is needed and how to integrate that equipment into existing infrastructure, is crucial to ensuring the success of a transition to a new or upgraded instrument.

Experienced suppliers can help their customers understand how a certain process works best from learnings they have gained in the past, but also by taking the time to understand their customer. When looking to optimize a certain process, it is essential that all stakeholders understand what their needs are - and are able to ask the right questions. Taking a go-it-alone approach to critical scientific instrumentation and information technology decisions may not be the best avenue.


Upgrade vs. replace / win vs. win

Having a reliable partner to aid your journey through an upgrade or replacement means that in addition to gaining invaluable expertise, you can be certain that everything you need for refurbishing or replacing an instrument is available from a single source. A trusted service engineer will be able to offer extensive knowledge and experience across a variety of instrumentation, significantly reducing downtime and ensuring that any problems are resolved quickly.