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Does Outsourcing Sample Labeling Improve Lab Costs and Efficiencies? 4 Reasons Manual Labeling Might be Slowing you Down

Process Planning, Diagnostics & Discovery | 6 March 2017

Posted by David Richmond

Does Outsourcing Sample Labeling Improve Lab Costs and Efficiencies?

The Computype Healthcare Team of labeling experts works with labs all over the world who are consistently expected to perform more research in shorter amounts of time, often with fewer dedicated resources and budget. A common challenge in both the discovery and diagnostic world is that researchers don’t always have the necessary tools or time to perform seemingly tactical administrative tasks like container labeling with the necessary accuracy. 

Researchers are oftentimes too busy with other work to manually label samples, and investing in label automation isn’t always within budget or scope. This then poses the question, ‘how do we reduce lab costs and improve efficiencies without adding staff or capital expenditure?’

What many labs don’t know is that there are labware barcode outsourcing programs available. Partnering with the right label solutions provider will enable your facility to achieve high throughput labeling, consistency, and manage costs. In this article, we’ll outline the 4 ways by which adopting an outsourcing labeling strategy may help your lab reduce costs and improve efficiencies. 

1. Skilled Staff

From small, startup lab, to global diagnostic operations, it’s not uncommon that skilled scientific staff are also responsible for nominal activities like labeling or tare weighing of containers. Although these tasks are critical to maintaining accuracy and proper chain of custody, they take time away from your team’s central research goals.

The opportunity cost of enlisting a PhD level scientist to spend even just 1 hour a week on labeling tasks is monumental when you span that out over the course of a month, year, or even 5 year time frame. Depending on your process, it’s non-negotiable that activity surrounding labeling or tare weighing has to occur, so then the question becomes, ‘Is there a better, more efficient means of accomplishing this?’ 

Outsourcing the activities associated with container labeling enables scientific staff to focus more of their time on the productive, skilled work their experience and education have qualified them for. Think of the added research or faster time to market that your group could achieve if ancillary tasks were no longer a distraction. Additionally, it’s likely that job satisfaction will improve when container labeling is removed from the ‘other duties as assigned’ element located within many of our job descriptions.

2. Throughput

Simply stated: manual labeling limits throughput speeds both in terms of how many containers can be labeled within a specific amount of time, and as it relates to performance with downstream automation. 

Even the fastest folks we’ve encountered can only apply labels to tubes at a rate of 10 per minute. Add gloves to the equation and that number dramatically decreases. One labeling error (wrong label for that tube), and now you’ve got the dilemma of trying to relabel vs. throwing the entire container away. The point remains that manual labeling is inconsistent. As it relates to both throughput and placement, it’s hard to measure exactly how much time it should take to complete a labeling project. 

From a bigger perspective, it can get really nerve wrecking if your process includes downstream automation that relies on automatic scanning of a barcode. If labels are manually applied and incorrect placement of a barcode label results in a non-scan, an entire process could come to a grinding halt.   Outsourcing your labeling process virtually eliminates unscannable barcodes, and ensures your barcoded containers integrate efficiently with your automated processes. 

3. Inventory & Space 

Physical space is a challenge we see in labs all over the world. Especially for those that are rapidly expanding or growing, it can be difficult to stay organized in a cluttered or chaotic space. While it may not be feasible to break your lease or completely change locations to achieve extra real estate, reducing inventory and adopting lean methodology can help in the short term. 

Aside from housing labware, rolls of labels, and potentially the technology associated with printing them, you also have to clear out space to actually perform the task of labeling. We typically see this process taking place at either a dedicated table in a common area, or at individual work stations. Either way, your space is valuable, so it’s worth reconsidering how you utilize bench space and supply rooms.

When making the consideration to outsource, take into account more than just the space of the labels themselves. A good supplier can procure your specified labware, apply barcodes, custom pack the finished product, and ship them when needed. This means that labs only have to inventory what they need in the short term, in the form of a finished good as opposed to component parts. 

4. Administration 

Reducing and streamlining the number of suppliers you work with is almost a surefire way to save costs, gain buying power, and streamline administrative work. A barcode label is no good without its complimentary container, just as the best glass labware is worthless to your lab if you can’t track it. Consider sourcing materials and supplies from partners that offer solutions as opposed to just singular products. In addition, assessing how you utilize common lab supplies and plotting out how, when, and who they are sourced from can provide big wins as it relates to costs and administrative effort.

 

If you’ve been considering a different approach to labware labeling, hopefully this article has provided some insight regarding how you may improve efficiencies and reduce costs through implementation of an outsourcing strategy. It is important to find the right outsourcing balance for your organization. While it can be a convenient means of streamlining processes and increasing accuracy, you are releasing some control of the labeling processes to a solutions provider. In addition, outsourcing is only a viable option if your labeling strategy doesn’t include on-demand information. 

Keep in mind, the right partner must have the capacity to handle your workload, offer the technology and resources to fulfill its promises, and be flexible to provide a consistent solution that enhances your existing processes. In this way, choosing a suitable partner sets your organization up for success in improving labs costs and efficiencies.

 

Still not sure if outsourcing is the best option for you?  Check out this article entitled 3 methods for barcoding tubes and vials:  Which is the best option for your lab?’ 

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David Richmond

David Richmond is one of Computype’s Regional Sales Managers. David is based in South Carolina, and has nearly 15 years of experience in providing labeling solutions to Healthcare customers. He works closely with labware manufacturers and end users in biopharmaceutical, diagnostics, and life sciences.