Although you probably could pick up the phone and order the first plate labeler you see online, it is highly recommended you don’t do that. There are a lot of things you need to keep in mind to ensure you are choosing the right labeling method for your lab.
We’ve already covered microwell plate labels, your options when it comes to applying them, the features and benefits each has to offer, as well as what kind of environment each is best suited for. Now, it’s time to think about your own strategy.
In case you missed any of the prior posts in this series, check them out here!:
Here we’ve highlighted eight steps we encourage our customers to follow to make sure they choose the right microwell plate labeling method for their facility. If you’re thinking about implementing a new strategy, you can get a head start by taking these steps into consideration:
1. Analyze Your Current Processes
Your current processes as well as future growth goals and plans will dramatically affect your choice in labeling method.
- How many sides of the plate do you need to label?
- How many plates do you need to label per day?
- Do you require variable information to be printed on-demand?
- Will your labeler need to tie into external automation processes?
- Will your plates be exposed to any extreme conditions?
If you find you’re processing less than 15 plates a day that require variable information and won’t be exposed to downstream automation, you might find manual labeling will continue to work for you.
If you find that you have the space, require variable information and are utilizing downstream automation you might find that automation is your best option.
If you don’t have the room, or simply don’t require variable or time sensitive information but still need that barcode, you might want to look into a pre-barcoded labware program.
2. Set Expectations
Once you’ve taken into account your processes and needs, you’ll need to set expectations so you know which features to look for in a prospective solution.
Make a list of the features you would like to have. Determine which of these features are necessary and which are desirable but unnecessary. This list will help guide you through the buying process by prioritizing your needs over your desires and ensuring those needs are met.
3. Allocate Space
Most automated microwell plate labelers share a similar footprint suitable for benchtops, so they are fairly compact. However, if you plan on adding additional external automation equipment, that footprint will grow.
If you don’t have a benchtop to spare and manual labeling is no longer an option for you, a pre-labeled labware program might be a more suitable choice.
Pre-labeled labware may even save space as your current label and labware storage space can be converted to house your pre-labeled labware, and in cases where entire rooms are currently dedicated to labeling that space can be utilized for more value added operations.
4. Reallocation of Staff
Automation and pre-labeled labware dramatically increase the efficiency of your labeling strategy, so be prepared to dedicate fewer employees and time to labeling. Think about other areas in your lab that could use an efficiency boost where automation or outsourcing might not be practical. Consider whether it might be reasonable to reallocate staff to those positions.
Reallocating staff can actually play a role in helping reach a return on your investment faster by improving efficiencies in more than one area.
5. Create a Budget
Now that you’ve decided on a method, have considered reallocating staff, and have an idea of what features you’re looking for it’s a good time to create a budget.
Try to keep your budget somewhat flexible as once you begin researching and speaking to suppliers you may find prices are subject to change depending on your needs and potential customizations.
The first step to creating a budget is to consider what you’re already spending.
- What are you spending on your consumables each month? That includes labels, inks, ribbons etc.
- How many employees do you have labeling?
- How many hours do those employees spend labeling each week?
- How much are they being paid per hour to label?
Next you’ll want to do the math and calculate how much you’re actually spending on labeling per month. Once you’ve calculated how much you’re currently spending you’ll have a point of comparison when looking for solutions, and a point of reference for ROI.
Calculating ROI won’t be as simple as comparing the price of automation equipment to your current monthly labeling expenses and figuring out how many months it will take to make up for the price, there are a few costs in addition to the capital expenditure you’ll want to factor in if you’re looking into automation:
- Consumable costs
- Maintenance costs
- Physical space
- Costs associated with current errors & or waste
- Administrative & procurement costs
Look around at a variety of source options and build a list of the ones you find best meet your needs. Once you’ve compiled a list, compare each equipment model or service plan to your ideal strategy and try to narrow it down to one or two that most closely meet your expectations. You can find a list of microwell plate labeler providers here, and a list of pre-labeled labware providers here.
7. Reach Out
Now that you’ve narrowed down your options, reach out about your favorites. If there are any changes or additional features you might need, or anything you’re unsure of, ask about it!
Depending on who you work with, your supplier may want to perform a site visit to see your processes firsthand. They’ll want to do this to ensure they’re helping you make the best possible decision for your facility.
You may be advised to try something different from your original plan, but don’t worry. As long as you’re working with a trustworthy and experienced supplier you can trust they understand what challenges their product or service is and is not equipped to overcome.
If you’re not confident in the suggestions made you can always jump back to the research step.
8. Create a Plan
At this point you’re done researching and you’ve made a decision. Now it’s time to create an implementation plan. Your supplier should provide assistance during this step when it comes to the actual implementation of your system, but there are some additional factors you’ll want to work into your plan.
At this point you’ll want to ensure you have a plan to reallocate employees if you’ve decided to do so. Make sure to create a training timeline as well for employees to grow familiar with their new equipment and/or roles.
We hope these eight steps will help you find the most suitable labeling strategy for your lab. If you’re curious about any of our offerings here at Computype we are happy to answer any questions, no matter what step you’re at in your decision making process.
Our goal here was to cover everything you need to know about microwell plate labeling, from what it is to your options when it comes to getting it done. We hope we were able to answer your questions, but if you have more please leave them in the comments below!