When you own a lab, you know it is crucial to keep your equipment and facility clean and maintained for your experiments to turn out accurate and reliable. For most science experiments, getting precise measurements is critical. Failure to maintain your facility and your equipment can derail an entire scientific study. Your lab results may also be completely invalidated if there is contamination. Keeping your lab and equipment clean is not a very glamorous part of working in a laboratory. However, it is just as important as the experiments themselves.
Laboratories rely heavily on the ability to deliver accurate results quickly. Efficient lab equipment is crucial for making sure these goals continue to be met. There are various reasons why lab equipment and facilities need to be maintained and cleaned. Below are some of the most important tips on maintaining your lab’s equipment and facility to make sure your experiments are accurate and reliable.
One of the easiest ways to keep your lab equipment maintained is to keep everything clean and sanitary. Surprisingly, many labs overlook this important task. To keep your equipment and your lab in great shape, it is important to wipe down the exterior of all equipment each day and do a thorough, detailed cleaning at least once a week. Some types of equipment will need to be cleaned using a specific cleaning process. Be sure to consult each lab equipment’s manual to ensure they are cleaned properly.
Another tip for maintaining equipment is to ensure they stay calibrated. Failure to do this regularly can corrupt your data and lead to inaccuracies in your experiments. Calibration can range from basic preventive maintenance to advanced accuracy verification procedures. When you keep up with the calibration of your equipment on a regular basis, you will hardly ever need more than quick preventive maintenance to get back up and running.
If any of your equipment is not working properly or providing accurate results during your experiments, it is important to have that piece repaired or replaced in a timely manner. Many types of lab equipment can be salvaged by replacing simple parts or repairing necessary components. The earlier you fix an issue with your equipment, the less likely you will need to fully replace it.
For many labs, the refurbishment of equipment is an ideal option for some pieces of equipment that aren’t running quite as smooth as they used to. The process will involve taking apart each piece and fully cleaning the components. Once they are clean, they can be re-lubricated and put back together. During the process, you can identify any parts that are showing signs of wear and that may need to be replaced before reassembling the equipment. When this process is done, some equipment will work just as good as when it was brand new.
Special note on Electronics in the lab
Maintenance of electronic devices in the lab is similar to general lab equipment. The three biggest enemies of electronic devices are dust, heat and (ironically) electricity. Dust mostly collects in the computer cases so it’s a good idea to open the case from time to time and clean it. Heat can cause overheating of devices and damage the electronics. Keep your places well ventilated and keep the electronics away from the sources of heat. Too much electricity can also kill your devices. The best way to prevent this is to use surge protectors on electricity sockets.
Tablets and smartphones are much safer to use in the lab though. They are mostly resistant to dust, water and electrical surges since they are only plugged in while charging. Some tablets are extremely robust and even resistant to some tough liquids, such as ethanol, acetone or acids.
The most common cause of damages in electronics remains the human factor. Simply, don’t drop your tablet on the floor, and you’ll be OK.
Maintaining Software in the lab
Many computers attached to instruments have disabled updates and antivirus software to improve performance and prevent software errors introduced by updates. While this is necessary, it is also a bad idea. Therefore, when buying new laboratory instruments, make sure they don’t break with system updates and ask for explanations about this from vendors. Computers without critical system updates and antivirus software are a big security threat to your network and organization, therefore you need to treat it carefully.
If you certainly need to disable system updates and antivirus, try to at least schedule an antivirus scan on the computer on a weekly basis. You can also prevent spreading computer viruses by:
- Limiting internet access.
- Enabling a safe data transfer, such as uploading to a server through FTP or Dropbox.
- Disable USB storage capabilities of the computer. This prevents using USB keys, which are the most common source of virus infections.
- Limit access to approved users that are trained on how to safely use the equipment.
In some cases, proper maintenance and refurbishment repairs will not be enough to get equipment working the way it should be. In time, certain pieces of lab equipment will need to be replaced. When this happens, some labs might be tempted to choose new equipment that is less expensive than their previous model in order to save money. Choosing new lab equipment should be done carefully. High-quality equipment, even when a little more expensive, is crucial for ensuring that it is durable and will offer accurate results for all of your experiments and testing needs. Equipment that is of higher quality is typically easier to find replacement parts for. Additionally, they’re usually easier to be refurbished and clean.
Many laboratories decide to outsource lab maintenance and cleaning duties. Repairs and maintenance should always be done by a qualified professional. In-house maintenance professionals typically cost more than third party companies. Each choice has benefits and the route you choose to take depends on your preferences and your budget. The reputation of a laboratory facility can only be as strong as the accuracy of its lab equipment. Because of this, regular cleaning, maintenance, refurbishing and the calibration of all equipment pieces is crucial.
Tips for Laboratory Efficiency
There are three different variables that dictate how efficient laboratory experiments will be. These include the people working in the laboratory, the processes they all follow and the equipment they have available to use. Below are some tips for keeping your lab processes efficient.
Hire the Right Staff
Nothing is more important to efficiency in the laboratory than the people running the tests. It doesn’t matter what sector the lab is working in; the team needs to be strong and have all of the necessary skills and knowledge to achieve the lab’s objectives.
Within a lab environment, it is important that each person is accountable for areas in terms of organization and cleanliness. Doing this will ensure the whole environment stays working efficiently.
Keep an Eye Out for New Products
Each year, new types of lab equipment pieces make their way into the marketplace. Keep an eye out for lab equipment that you can replace with more efficient and reliable qualities. Some manufacturers allow their customers to suggest modifications to make equipment more suited to your specific lab procedures.
Brittany Waddell is a contributing writer and media specialist for Loc Scientific. She often produces content for a variety of scientific blogs.