As pharmaceutical and other science-focused organizations restructure in this era of consolidation and outsourcing, the need to relocate laboratories is increasing. Relocations can occur for many reasons – whether it’s moving due to the refurbishment of an existing lab, an expansion at a current facility, or even to optimize utilization of capital investment and shift production to geographies with lower costs. Whatever the reason, the impact of relocating your facility can be enormous and felt across your entire organization. Whether academic or commercial, quality control or R&D, 20 instruments or 2,000, your lab needs to get up and running in its new location with as little disruption as possible.
Far too often there’s an assumption that these moves are simple endeavors. Relocation requires deliberate, careful, and documented steps, and entails many facets, all of which must be addressed in a manner that ensures maximum uptime at both ends of the process. Instruments must be inventoried and decisions made about what to move versus what to retire and how to best deploy assets at another facility. Protocols must be followed for decommissioning and recommissioning. Significant care must be taken in preparation and transport of scientific instruments and valuable samples.
Laboratories, regardless of size or field, can minimize the financial, scientific, and regulatory compliance risks associated with relocation if they make the right moves along the way.
Utilizing a Third-Party Relocation Specialist
Organizations have a tendency to underestimate the complexity and time required for relocations. Despite the fact that a typical laboratory relocation can take up to six months, many try and handle the process themselves. However, it’s a challenging undertaking that can cause significant disruptions to operations if not performed correctly. Downtime leads to increased time to market for drugs, resulting in lost customer business or loss of revenue. Additionally, there are still salaries to pay even if your facilities aren’t up and running, and your scientists are unable to work.
In-house relocations also take your key staff away from their core responsibilities. Rather than running experiments and conducting research, scientists are bogged down with tedious tasks such as coordinating with dozens of OEMs because of the complexity involved with decommissioning and recommissioning instruments. Not only that, but for every instrument that has a PC attached to it, the PC also has to be decommissioned and recommissioned. And these PCs are not regular office PCs; they’re often running highly specialized software that most internal IT teams don’t have the capacity or expertise to handle. These types of challenges end up preventing scientists from focusing on what they were hired to do, causing delays across the organization.
One of the most important steps you can take is to find an experienced scientific laboratory relocation specialist. The use of a specialized relocation service provider can do much to streamline the transition process, ensure the safety of instruments and samples, maintain your a laboratory’s compliance standing (where necessary), and provide your lab manager with real-time visibility throughout the process.
Benefits of Using a Relocation Specialist
Knowledge of Regulatory Compliance
In the pharma space, the vast majority of vendors only offer moving and packing services. When a relocation needs to occur, there’s much more than the physical aspect to consider. One of the biggest advantages of working with a relocation specialist is their knowledge base and expertise. The more experience they have, the greater their ability to mitigate risk. Moving samples across international borders introduces additional complexity, including customs regulations and specialized shipping documentation.
Challenges are ramped up another notch in heavily regulated industries that necessitate compliance with good manufacturing practices (GMP). Relocation specialists can offer knowledge of compliance requirements and the technical expertise and resources to handle analytical instrument validation/qualification across a range of technologies and manufacturers.
A partner who provides end-to-end turnkey service can help guide you through the early planning stages to full operation of the lab in your new location. A multivendor approach enables the management of everything under one purchase order, with one point of contact – eliminating fragmentation of multiple service providers. By having one provider, there are fewer people coming in and out of your lab, resulting in fewer interruptions. Utilizing skilled engineers who are trained to work on multiple types of instruments helps to reduce the number of hours required to complete the job cost effectively.
Global, Standardized Approach
When you have multiple facilities globally, utilizing a specialist can offer a standardized service no matter where the site is located. With a global, uniform approach, your facilities are more likely to be moved on time and under budget, even if there are delays, which can be a common occurrence.
Broad Perspective with Lessons Learned
An additional benefit of having a third-party specialist is the ability for them to offer a broader view of the process. Having worked with various companies that have had similar challenges means the specialist is able to bring those lessons learned and expertise to your relocation project. Often lab managers are too focused on their own piece of the process and might not be able to see the big picture. A partner can look at it from a different perspective and bring lessons learned from other projects to ensure the relocation runs smoothly.
How to Work with Your Relocation Specialist
The biggest challenge – the make or break of a relocation – is planning. There’s typically a lack of knowledge around the details that must be sorted out before the physical activity of moving. Companies tend to plan too late – after the building has been built. Executing when you have a plan in place is much easier, and having a strong partner who can assist you through these activities makes it less daunting.
The first step is to conduct a thorough review of assets. Your vendor needs to understand the workflow of the lab, as well as the critical research and experiments that will be conducted during that period. Together, you can determine which activities can and can’t be postponed. For QC labs, overall capacity requirements can be examined.
At that point, you can evaluate the best way to reduce overall capacity and organize the move into phases. In some cases, you have to move a lab all at once. However, it’s better to break the move into pieces, allowing work to continue at the old facility for as long as possible. For example, a customer may normally need to use 10 HPLC instruments on a day-to-day basis. A third-party vendor can help assess their needs and develop a plan for reducing capacity in their original lab as some of the HPLC instruments are relocated to the new location. This allows for scientific work to keep progressing, and simultaneously allows the relocation to continue in a smooth manner.
Communication is key. There’s no question that having clear communication between all stakeholders can mean the difference between a seamless, stress-free move and one that’s nothing short of chaos. When there are clear expectations around services being delivered, the move becomes that much less of a nightmare. Downtime in the lab can have financial consequences across the entire business, making it critical to announce plans and schedules to all key stakeholders, ensuring everyone is on the same page.
Collaboration and Teamwork
As with any large and complex project, collaboration between your relocation partner and your internal team is a critical success factor.
An effective model is to establish a corporate team that includes a project manager and representatives from each facility, Engineering, and Quality Assurance and Compliance, along with scientists and the construction manager. The service provider should designate which scientists and customer service engineers will be supporting the project, along with who will be the onsite project manager.
To get a clearer understanding of how much is at stake when you don’t use a third-party vendor to assist with your relocation, below are several real-world examples that highlight how relocations can go wrong and what it can end up costing when mistakes are made.
- Example 1. Damaged Instrumentation
In this example, a mass spectrometer needed to be moved across the United States (roughly 3,000 miles). The company hired an office moving company, who came in and packed up the instrument after it had been decommissioned and then transported it by truck – the same way they would transport a normal piece of furniture. The outcome? When the company went to recommission the instrument, they discovered that critical parts of the instrument were irreversibly damaged. The value of the instrument plus repair was estimated at $500,000. To avoid this unnecessary and unexpected cost, the company should have used a relocation expert to decommission the instrument and have it crated properly. The sources should have been removed, the components and optics should have been secured, and there should have been a proper process of disconnection. To achieve this, it would have cost the company approximately $10,000, saving them around $490,000.
- Example 2. Chain of Custody
In this case, a company needed to move 2,000 instruments from the East Coast to West Coast, again roughly 3,000 miles. The relocation was handled by a combination of PerkinElmer, a logistics company and the customers’ in-house team. There was a full chain of custody in place except up until the time the assets went into storage. At that point, the customer wanted to assume control of the process. It was at this stage that a blood and urine processor was lost and never found, costing the company roughly $120,000. If they had done things differently – and had only one entity handled the chain of custody as recommended by PerkinElmer – they could have reduced the risk of losing instruments by using RFID tagging versus a manual approach. Savings could have been in the $100,000 range.
- Example 3. Safety and Experience
A customer needed to move a stability table from one building to a newly constructed facility, which was about 100 yards away. An internal contractor managed the move with a regular moving company. They decided to use a regular elevator to load the extremely heavy table. Unfortunately, the internal contractor didn’t have the experience or knowledge of proper safety procedures for this type of move. The result? The elevator shifted an inch under the weight of the table and the mover’s finger was partially severed. Rather than risk the safety of personnel and damage property, they should have utilized a specialist with experience and safety expertise who could have accounted for the weight of the instrument.
Moving analytical instrumentation is an innately complex process. It requires careful planning and execution to not only ensure that scientific instrumentation, laboratory equipment, and precious samples arrive at their destination safely, but also that the new laboratory is up and running quickly, with all instruments meeting compliance requirements.The management of the entire relocation process by a specialized laboratory relocation partner with dual expertise in scientific asset relocation and multi-vendor instrument services can help both scientists and laboratory managers focus on scientific and business goals, with minimal risk and downtime.