Laboratory Equipment Maintenance: How to Properly Maintain Instrumentation
Last updated on February 2, 2023 by
Scientists and researchers use a diverse range of instrumentation and laboratory equipment in various scientific fields and industries, from chemistry, biology, and engineering to biotechnology, biopharmaceuticals, and more.
These pieces of equipment are crucial for conducting experiments and research and are used to measure, analyze, and manipulate various samples. In many cases, lab equipment accounts for some of the most significant investments a company will make in its lab and operations. Thus, proper maintenance and management of your investment should be a top priority.
Like all machinery, lab equipment requires regular maintenance to ensure it functions properly and safely. With properly working equipment, reliable data and accurate results can be generated, leading to wasted effort, time, and money.
Practicing proper equipment maintenance procedures, scheduling, and record-keeping is essential to protect your research and equipment investments. Taking care of your instruments ensures proper functionality and increases the span of the equipment’s useful lifecycle.
This article overviews equipment maintenance and how to maintain lab instruments and instrumentation. With diligent equipment care, you can improve quality control, meet industry quality assurance standards and extend the lifespan of your laboratory’s old and new equipment.
Lab Equipment Maintenance vs. Management
Laboratory equipment maintenance refers to the activities performed to ensure your equipment is in good working condition and operating safely. This includes regular equipment calibration, cleaning, lubrication, inspection, testing, and more.
On the other hand, laboratory equipment management refers to the overall management and oversight of your laboratory equipment. This includes maintaining inventory, tracking equipment usage and maintenance schedules, coordinating repairs and replacements, and ensuring compliance with regulations and safety guidelines.
Equipment management also includes ensuring that the equipment is appropriately allocated and utilized, budgeting for equipment purchases and upgrades, and identifying and addressing any equipment-related issues.
Simply put, lab equipment maintenance focuses on the upkeep of the equipment, while lab equipment management focuses on the bigger picture. Both are important for maintaining the integrity and safety of a laboratory, but they have different focuses and responsibilities.
Lab managers often rely on LIMS, or Laboratory Information Management Systems, to manage equipment and ensure operations run smoothly. With LIMS, you can automate the calibrating, maintaining, and monitoring of your equipment. This guarantees that your equipment is running at optimal performance and saves you time and effort by eliminating the need for manual tracking.
A good LIMS can also help you avoid common headaches that come with managing lab equipment. For example, it can automatically schedule regular maintenance checks, track inventory and usage, and provide real-time performance data.
This allows you to focus on your research while the system takes care of the tedious equipment management tasks. Generally speaking, investing in a LIMS can be a smart move for any lab looking to streamline its operations and improve its equipment’s lifespan.
Why Is Maintenance Important?
Equipment maintenance is essential for several reasons: it leads to increased uptime, more working hours, and fewer repair costs, ultimately resulting in increased revenue. Improperly maintaining your equipment can result in operational inefficiencies that negatively impact run time, decrease output, and increase costs.
When equipment is well-maintained, it runs more efficiently, regardless of the type of machine. For example, clogged air filters can make the mechanisms of a piece of equipment work harder for the same results. Dirty oil doesn’t lubricate as well as clean oil, worn belts slip, and hoses develop leaks, resulting in increased fluid usage.
In the lab, you might experience one of your centrifuges breaking down. If it is not regularly cleaned and maintained, small particles and debris can build up in the machine over time. This can cause the centrifuge to vibrate excessively during use, potentially leading to mechanical failure. Furthermore, if the seals and gaskets on the centrifuge are not regularly checked and replaced as needed, they can become worn and damaged, allowing fluids to leak out of the machine.
Not only is the centrifuge damaged, but the lab technician using the equipment will also find themselves in a hazardous safety situation. Regular cleaning, inspection, and replacement of broken or damaged seals and gaskets would have prevented the breakdown and potentially led to increased uptime and improved efficiency, which means more hours of operation and better performance during those hours.
More uptime and better efficiency can lead to increased revenue and reduced operating costs, including the cost of running equipment, replacing or repairing parts, or potentially losing productivity to unexpected downtime. These savings can make a significant impact on a business’s bottom line. The difference is even more substantial if a company uses a large amount of equipment.
Types of Maintenance & Repair
While some experts may disagree about how many different types of maintenance there are, it’s possible to categorize maintenance into a few common types. These can include:
- Preventative maintenance
- Predictive maintenance
- Corrective maintenance
- Condition-based maintenance
- Run-to-failure maintenance
There may be troubleshooting and maintenance issues your laboratory staff can tackle in-house that include simple preventative maintenance procedures. However, more complicated equipment maintenance procedures and repairs will most likely require the help of a certified technician, whether they work for a third-party or for the equipment’s manufacturer.
Preventive maintenance (PM) is scheduled in advance and aims to prevent equipment failures before they occur. This includes regular inspections, cleaning, and replacement of worn or damaged parts. The goal of preventive maintenance is to extend the life of the equipment and minimize downtime.
It is often planned and scheduled at regular intervals, from weekly to monthly to annually. By performing preventive maintenance, equipment can be kept in good working condition, in turn improving productivity and reducing repair costs.
Predictive maintenance (PdM) uses data and analytics to predict when equipment will fail. This allows for repairs or replacements to be made before a failure occurs.
Predictive maintenance uses tools like sensors and monitoring devices to collect data on equipment performance, which is then analyzed to identify potential issues. PdM can help determine which equipment should receive maintenance before it breaks down, reducing downtime and repair costs.
Corrective maintenance (CM) is used to fix equipment that has already broken down or is not functioning correctly and is typically unplanned. It includes repairs, troubleshooting, disassembly, adjustment, replacement, and realignment.
This type of maintenance is often performed due to equipment failure or when an unexpected breakdown occurs, either due to a lack of a maintenance plan or because a piece of equipment fails before its scheduled inspection or maintenance. It is more expensive than preventive maintenance.
Some labs often rely on CM more than any other type of equipment maintenance. However, solely relying on corrective maintenance instead of a balance of preventive and corrective maintenance has drawbacks.
While corrective maintenance can be effective for quickly fixing equipment that has easily accessible and replaceable parts, it can also lead to unexpected and costly downtime. It is generally recommended that 80% of maintenance efforts focus on preventive measures and 20% focus on corrective actions.
Condition-based maintenance (CBM) is based on the equipment’s condition, using data and monitoring to determine when exactly care is going to be needed, and is similar to predictive maintenance. However, it doesn’t rely on scheduled maintenance. Instead, it uses monitoring and data to identify when equipment is likely to fail and schedule maintenance at that time.
While condition-based and predictive maintenance are often compared due to some similarities, there are some key distinctions between the two. Specifically, the method of measurement that is used.
Predictive maintenance involves using specific formulas and sensor readings (such as temperature, vibration, and noise) to determine when maintenance is needed. Maintenance tasks are then executed based on the analysis of these parameters, making predictive maintenance more of an exact form of care as it anticipates future maintenance requirements.
On the other hand, condition-based maintenance relies solely on real-time sensor readings. Once a reading exceeds an established threshold, maintenance personnel are dispatched to address the issue. This approach means that lab equipment maintenance is only performed when necessary, unlike predictive maintenance, which anticipates future maintenance requirements.
Run-to-failure maintenance (RTF) is the opposite of preventive maintenance and involves waiting for equipment to fail before performing any repairs or replacement. It is a deliberate and considered strategy designed to minimize total maintenance costs.
The run-to-fail method involves having spare parts and personnel readily available to replace failed components and ensure equipment availability. This approach should not be mistaken for reactive maintenance, as a deliberate plan is in place to allow the asset to operate until failure. This strategy is helpful for any equipment that does not pose a safety hazard in the case of failure or breakdown and does not considerably impact production when it breaks down.
RTF is not usually recommended, as it increases the chance of equipment failure and downtime (in fact, it almost bets on failure happening), and it can be more expensive and time-consuming in the long run.
Is There a Difference Between Repairs & Maintenance?
Repairs and maintenance are both essential for equipment to function optimally. However, there are some differences between these two terms.
Repairs are actions taken to restore the proper functionality of the equipment. They are meant to bring something broken back to optimal working conditions. The extent of repairs needed depends on the type of equipment failure that has occurred. Some repairs can be more expensive than others, and the cost will depend on the root cause of the failure.
There are two main types of failure: complete and partial. Complete failure refers to situations where the equipment is entirely unavailable for use and cannot fulfill its intended purpose until it is repaired. A total failure generally leads to unplanned downtime and emergency maintenance, which can be costly.
Partial failure refers to situations where the equipment is still functional to some degree, but it is either unsafe or not working as effectively as it should. It is generally recommended to resolve partial failures as quickly as possible, as doing so will prevent the failure from leading to a complete breakdown at an inconvenient time.
In contrast, maintenance preserves equipment’s functionality, performance, and safety over its lifetime. The primary objective of maintenance is to prevent major or unplanned repairs from occurring by keeping assets in good working condition. Preventative maintenance is performed regularly to ensure that equipment remains in optimal condition, as many equipment failures can be prevented through regular equipment maintenance.
Maintenance Procedures & Documentation
There are often different maintenance procedures for different pieces of equipment. These can be based on the exact type of the instrument and its usage. The procedure can include cleaning, lubrication, inspection, testing, calibration, and more.
The manufacturer will often include or provide recommendations for maintaining the equipment. However, each piece of equipment should have a detailed maintenance schedule in place, and these schedules should be followed and recorded to ensure regular maintenance is performed. This can include a set of instructions or steps that are followed to perform maintenance on a specific piece of equipment.
The different types of maintenance procedure documentation varies and can be as simple as a checklist of tasks to be performed or as complex as a detailed process with troubleshooting steps and diagrams. This can include:
- Checklists: Simple documents that list the tasks required for a particular piece of equipment. They are generally used as a quick reference guide for performing maintenance tasks.
- Maintenance manuals: Detailed documents that provide information on the specific maintenance tasks required for a particular piece of equipment. They typically include instructions, diagrams, and troubleshooting steps.
- Maintenance schedules: Documents that outline the recommended maintenance schedule for a piece of equipment. They can include the frequency of each task, the expected duration of each task, and the specific tools and materials required.
- Work instructions: Detailed documents that provide step-by-step instructions on how to perform specific maintenance tasks. They often include diagrams and pictures and are used to train technicians on how to maintain equipment properly.
- Safety data sheets (SDS): Documents that provide information on the safety hazards associated with a particular piece of equipment or a specific chemical or material used in maintenance.
- Maintenance records: Records for keeping track of the maintenance that has been performed on a piece of equipment. They include the date, time, the task completed, and the technician who performed the task.
Whatever form of documentation you have access to should outline the tasks that need to be done, the tools and materials required, and any safety precautions that need to be taken. It should be designed to ensure that the maintenance is performed correctly and efficiently, to prolong the equipment’s life, and prevent breakdowns.
Equipment maintenance schedules outline when and how often equipment should be inspected, maintained, and repaired. They ensure equipment is kept in good working condition and minimize potential equipment failures and unexpected downtime. These schedules can vary depending on the type of equipment, how it is used, and the environment in which it operates.
There are several factors to consider when setting up equipment maintenance schedules, including:
- Equipment usage: How often the equipment is used and the intensity of its use can impact the frequency of maintenance. Equipment used frequently or operating in harsh conditions may require frequent maintenance.
- Manufacturer’s recommendations: Manufacturers often provide recommendations for maintenance schedules based on their knowledge of the equipment and the environment in which it operates.
- Equipment age: Older equipment might require frequent maintenance as it is more likely to experience wear and tear or already have significant wear and tear from previous usage.
- Environmental factors: Instruments that operate in harsh environments (for example, areas with high temperatures, high humidity, or lots of dust) may require more frequent maintenance.
- Safety: Equipment that is used in safety-critical applications, such as in construction or medical equipment, requires more frequent maintenance to ensure safety.
Consider these factors when you create a maintenance schedule. It should include the type of maintenance required, the frequency, and the person or team responsible for performing the maintenance. The program should also have a plan for addressing any issues that arise between scheduled maintenance.
Equipment maintenance schedules are not set in stone, however. They should be reviewed periodically and updated as necessary to account for changes in equipment usage, age, or environmental factors.
Keeping detailed records and logs of the maintenance performed on an instrument is an essential step to properly maintaining equipment. You will want to include any repairs or issues that arise, calibration and testing results, and additional information regarding replacement parts or upgrades made to the equipment. Assigning responsibility to a specific individual or team for maintaining equipment maintenance logs can help ensure they are accurate and up-to-date.
These records allow for a clear understanding of your equipment’s maintenance history and identify patterns or issues that may need to be addressed. Well-kept records can be used as a reference in case of equipment failure.
For example, keeping track of calibration and testing results can provide valuable information about the equipment’s performance over time. This information can be used to detect any changes in performance, which indicates a problem that needs to be addressed. Records of repairs and issues that arise can be used to identify common problems and track the repairs’ effectiveness.
Moreover, keeping detailed records of equipment upgrades and replacements can be helpful in understanding the equipment’s maintenance history, providing information on how often parts are replaced, how long they last, and even identifying whether the equipment is reaching the end of its useful life.
Having maintenance records on hand can also be beneficial in case of equipment failure. If properly documented, the record or records will provide valuable information for the technician working on the equipment. Records can also be used to demonstrate that the equipment was properly maintained, which is vital in the case of warranty or insurance claims.
Establishing a system for keeping and updating these records regularly is also essential. A robust LIMS can help you with your record keeping. However, other methods exist for keeping and maintaining maintenance records for all your equipment. These can include:
- Creating a spreadsheet using spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets to record equipment information such as model, serial number, purchase date, maintenance history, and next maintenance date.
- Using database software like Microsoft Access or MySQL to store data and allow for easy search and retrieval.
- Keeping paper records with detailed records for each piece of equipment, including information such as the maintenance date, description of the maintenance performed, and any replaced parts.
- Using a digital file storage to store electronic copies of maintenance records in a secure, shared location such as a cloud storage service or a shared network drive.
Get the Lab Equipment You Need & Protect It with Service Coverage
Laboratory equipment is essential for conducting experiments and research in various fields. But regular maintenance and general care are necessary to keep the equipment functioning correctly and safely.
Regular maintenance can also prevent costly repairs and replacements.
By taking care of the instruments you use, you can ensure you’re generating accurate and reliable results during R&D and creating a safe, effective, high-quality product during production.
Looking to add refurbished or new equipment to your laboratory? Is maintenance a significant concern of yours? Lease with Excedr. Annual service contracts and renewals can be pretty expensive. These costs will add up and often blindside lab managers and scientists.
Our leasing program reduces the upfront costs of service contracts by including equipment service coverage with each operating lease. This consists of a preventative maintenance program and covers repairs without additional cost to you, making it easier for you to create and stick to the manufacturer’s instructions and standard operating procedures for equipment care.
FAQs about Maintaining Lab Equipment
Frequently asked questions we receive about maintaining lab equipment properly.
- What is the importance of lab equipment maintenance?
It ensures accurate and reliable results, prolongs the lifespan of the equipment, prevents equipment breakdowns and downtime, maintains equipment safety and reduces the risk of accidents, and meets regulatory and quality control requirements.
- How often should lab equipment be serviced and maintained?
As a general rule, it is recommended to have the equipment serviced and maintained annually or as the manufacturer recommends. Some equipment may need more frequent servicing and maintenance, while others may need less. Establishing a regular maintenance schedule is important to ensure optimal performance and safety of the equipment.
- How can I ensure proper calibration of lab equipment?
Review the manufacturer’s recommendations and establish a calibration schedule. Determine the frequency of calibration based on the equipment’s usage, manufacturer’s advice, and regulatory requirements and perform regular checks.
- What is a maintenance schedule for lab equipment, and how is it set?
A maintenance schedule establishes the recommended frequency of maintenance and servicing for each piece of equipment in the lab. It is set to ensure that equipment is properly maintained and functioning correctly and to prevent potential equipment failures and downtime.
- How can I keep detailed records of lab equipment maintenance?
There are several methods for keeping detailed records, including spreadsheets, database software, paper records, digital file storage, and regular reviews. The best solution will depend on your specific needs and preferences. Using a combination of methods or a robust LIMS ensures your equipment records are accurate, up-to-date, and easily accessible.
- What common issues arise with lab equipment, and how can they be addressed?
Common issues can include calibration errors, mechanical failure, software errors, power issues, contamination, and incompatible components. To address these issues, create a comprehensive equipment maintenance plan that includes regular calibration, inspection, cleanings, and software updates.
- How can I prevent lab equipment breakdowns?
Preventing equipment breakdowns involves scheduling regular preventative maintenance, training users to use and handle the equipment properly, and using high-quality components, such as those recommended by the manufacturer. It is also important to regularly clean your equipment.
- How can I ensure that lab equipment is running efficiently?
Similar to preventing equipment breakdowns, you can ensure your instruments run efficiently by scheduling regular preventative maintenance and adequately cleaning the machinery. Additionally, ensure the equipment is used and stored in appropriate environmental conditions, regularly calibrated, protected against power surges or fluctuations, and routinely upgraded when new software is available.
- How can I find a qualified technician to service my lab equipment?
Check with the manufacturer if they have a network of authorized technicians that can provide maintenance and repair services, search online using directories, websites, and forums for equipment maintenance, or ask for recommendations from colleagues and other professionals.
- How can I determine when it’s time to replace lab equipment?
You can use several factors when determining if it’s time to replace a piece of equipment. These include age, performance, maintenance cost, availability of replacement parts, technological advancements, safety concerns, and compliance requirements. These factors can help you determine whether it is time to replace an instrument.
- What should I do if my lab equipment breaks down?
You will want to first identify the problem. This might involve listing all possible explanations for the breakdown, after which you should try to collect as much data as possible. This can help you eliminate possible answers and identify the issue. After identifying the cause, you should contact an authorized and certified technician or speak with the manufacturer. Depending on your service coverage, you can ask the manufacturer to provide a replacement instrument during repairs.