Outsourcing Makes CENT$ - 9/13/2007
Some analytical methods or techniques, such as pH determination, are quite simple and require little training or knowledge to accomplish. Other techniques, such as liquid chromatography or particle size analysis, are more complex and require years of experience in which to become an “expert” analyst. For example, if you are performing particle size analysis on a new material, experience and training are required to select the proper dispersant and dispersion energy as well as the most appropriate analytical technique. Finally, after collecting the data, a decision must be made regarding the quality of the results. Are the results appropriate for the technique used and the type of sample analyzed? Are there anomalies that cannot be explained? Are there any indications of erroneous data? The ability to answer these questions requires skills, which are learned over time and require continuous training in order to maintain an acceptable level of expertise. This adds a significant cost to any new system(s) the laboratory is planning to purchase.
An alternative is to outsource the samples to a lab that specializes in the technique and has the experience and expertise in-house. Using the particle size example above, the contract lab is responsible for selecting the appropriate scientific technique such as laser light scattering, Coulter principle, sedimentation, microscope, dynamic image analysis, or sieves. The outsourcing lab is also responsible for providing qualified, trained, and experienced chemists to analyze and approve your sample results.
Most outsourcing laboratories also provide consultation services should you require additional help with data interpretation or explanation. Effectively, you are hiring a team of scientists who has a unique set of experiences and judgments that can help solve your most demanding problems. You can acquire additional resources without adding personnel, all for the cost of having your samples analyzed by an “expert.”
Business Economic Factors
The process of selecting and purchasing new capital equipment is a daunting task that consumes many months. Often, no single technique or instrument fits all your applications perfectly; either a compromise must be reached or more than one type of instrument will be necessary. Most contract laboratories offer a wide variety of instruments and techniques so this is not a problem.
Significant advancements in technology are occurring constantly. The instrument you purchase today may be obsolete tomorrow. For most industrial and academic labs, it is not feasible to purchase new equipment every year or two. Therefore, it makes CENTS to select an outsourcing lab that has the resources and financial motivation to keep up with changes in technology and is equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation.
Hidden costs associated with capital equipment, and sometimes overlooked, are for consumable items and maintenance contracts. Consumable costs vary depending on the type of system, but can approach several thousand dollars each year. Lab managers also must budget for instrument maintenance costs. Expenses vary greatly, depending on the cost and age of the equipment, but you can expect to pay several thousand dollars for the more basic service plans. Some analytical systems also generate hazardous waste that can cost thousands of dollars each month in disposal fees.
Other hidden costs are the additional sample analyses associated with running calibration standards and the repeat analyses for questionable results. How often are reference materials or calibration standards necessary - every day or every week? Staying with the particle size example, every sample should be analyzed at least twice to demonstrate the stability of a particular sample’s dispersion. Contract laboratories do not typically charge for that extra analysis, but it takes extra time for you to complete.
It makes CENTS to transfer these costs to an outside analytical lab, where you pay only for the number of samples you have analyzed. There are no surprises, no annual fees, and no unexpected equipment failures at the most inopportune time. There are also no added costs when additional personnel are necessary. As an added benefit, the contract laboratory is responsible for the recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and training of new chemists as needed.
ISO 9001, ISO 17025, cGMP, GLP, and ASQ are just a few of the regulatory documents or guidelines which seem to affect every industry and laboratory. Some of the governing bodies, such as the FDA, have specific controls, procedures, and quality system procedures that are necessary for a lab to operate in compliance. Thousands of dollars are spent each year to achieve and maintain compliance with these regulations. This does not include the additional time and anguish when auditors show up to inspect laboratory systems. If you are outsourcing some or all of the analytical work, a majority of the compliance issues is the responsibility of the contract laboratory, saving you time, money, and headaches.
There are many very good reasons to consider outsourcing some or all of your laboratory analyses. In today’s dynamic business environment where technology is changing rapidly and everyone is responsible for keeping an eye on the bottom line, outsourcing laboratory analyses is becoming a more viable economic and scientific option. However, should you choose to purchase laboratory instrumentation instead of outsourcing; a reputable contract laboratory should be used to compare critical samples before deciding on an instrument purchase.