The Hidden Costs of Biological Sample Inventory Management

If you are involved with managing the operation of a lab or biorepository, there are several productivity and profitability factors that you are constantly watching.  Like any operation, you are looking at capital costs, expenses and staffing, and you need to have good visibility on those costs to manage them.  For biobanking operations, there are several important cost factors that could be overlooked when managing a growing biological sample inventory.  Let’s look at some of the hidden costs that may not be fully evident on your balance sheet . . .

Hidden Capital Cost
Your sample inventory can be segmented and organized in a number of ways, including by project, sample age, client/user, staff responsibility, etc.  This commonly leads to the practice of dedicating ultra-low freezers by segment to simplify the management process, as in the example, “Only John’s samples are in freezer #15.” The problem with this example is that that the quantity of John’s samples won’t evenly match the storage capacity of his freezer(s), leaving wasted ULT (Ultra Low Temperature) storage space.  This unused volume often leads to the purchase of more freezer capacity, which leads to increased capital cost for your biorepository.  What is this actually costing you?  Just do the math . . .

                                                      (% Unused ULT Space) x (Number of Freezers) x (Cost per Freezer) = Wasted Capital

What if your sample management system allowed your team to continuously verify and “see” where samples are located without having to look inside your freezers? And what if physically finding those samples was just as quick and easy, regardless of freezer type or location, position in the freezer, density or distribution of inventory?  Knowing where every sample box is, in real time, would turn the natural reluctance of mixing John’s samples with others into a non-issue.  This would lead to full utilization of the available freezer space,  and would have the direct result of increasing your available sample volume, without buying more ULT freezers.

This is all possible with our RFID-based ColdSIGHT™ solution (more about that later).

Hidden Energy Use and Utility Cost
Did you know that a typical -80°C freezer uses the equivalent electric power of an average U.S. household even when samples are never accessed?  This power consumption increases even more when a freezer door is opened to access or add samples. After the door is closed, the cooling system works to return to the freezer setpoint, sometimes over the course of several hours.  Prolonged periods of open freezers, not only increases the risk of damaging samples, but also increases the power consumed for temperature pull down and recovery.  This cost is then multiplied by the number of times your freezers are accessed.

So, the sizable energy cost associated with operating ULT biobanks can be measurably reduced by opening freezer doors less frequently, and for less time. Our ColdSIGHT solution makes this possible by allowing specimens to be located without having to look inside the freezer. ColdSIGHT also uses visual cues to guide the user through the process of physically retrieving samples.  This eases and accelerates the sample retrieval process, dramatically reducing open door time and freezer energy usage.

Hidden Lab Staffing Costs
In a lab environment, human capital is at a premium and any activity that diverts resources away from critical research can represent a significant hidden cost to your operation. While increasingly important to biorepository operation, biological sample management can take more than its share of valuable staff time, especially if you don’t have the right management processes and tools in place.

Despite the time it initially took to carefully record, label and place the thousands of specimen vials in your ULT inventory, human error adds a significant hidden cost to this process. Consider the staff hours involved with taking physical inventories, validating samples and fulfilling compliance audits. This would be time-consuming enough if all samples were properly marked and placed in the correct location, but a surprising number of hours can be lost to tracking down misplaced samples and reconciling errors.  

Every time a sample is removed from the freezer, the tedium of recording chain of custody creates another opportunity for human error to drive up hidden costs. Accurate traceability is not an option for biobanks, due to the collective value of sample inventories and the necessities of regulatory compliance. The amount of staff time and cost devoted to searching for a misplaced sample could be unimaginable, depending on the value of the sample. Not only does this have a huge hidden cost potential for your biorepository, but the search for lost samples can create an unplanned staff burden on your entire operation.

Immeasurable Costs
It may be impossible to put a dollar value on a sample that is lost.  In a worst case, a missing sample could place important research in jeopardy, risk exposure to legal or regulatory liability or even risk human safety. With the immeasurable value of assets stored in biobanks, research organizations should demand the most robust sample management systems available.

The Solution: RFID-Based “Preservation Intelligence”
Considering the high stakes of relying on human validation to track biological samples, our “Preservation Intelligence” solution offers significant financial benefits for your lab or biorepository.

To find out more, contact us at contact@biotillion.com.