Laboratory equipment is highly detailed and precise, needing the strictest cleaning and maintenance protocols to ensure accurate readings. Maintaining used laboratory equipment is a multi-step process completed by every member of your laboratory team. Ongoing laboratory maintenance should include regular training, cleaning, calibration, and repairs.
Training, Training, Training!
When it comes to properly maintaining your used laboratory equipment, the best and first step should always be ensuring everyone using the equipment has proper training. Remember that several people may come into your lab; students, professors, doctors, and professionals. Everyone will have a slightly different understanding of laboratory equipment, so prepare everyone with thorough training and practices. Read below about some aspects of training that you can expect when handling laboratory equipment.
Before anyone works with technical lab equipment, be sure to read the manual. The manual could potentially be found online, although a physical copy may have to be purchased. If you have an older piece of equipment, try contacting the manufacturer for a copy of the manual. Not only will a manual explain the equipment, but it might also have tips for simple maintenance or troubleshooting.
It's one thing to read about a piece of equipment and quite another to get hands-on practice. Have an experienced user or the manufacturer give your team a step-by-step walkthrough detailing how to use and clean the equipment. One of the easiest ways to damage used laboratory equipment is improper handling. Assume everyone in your lab is new to the equipment and start hands-on training with the most basic applications.
Regular Training Refreshers
Most laboratories see constant turnover, with new people coming in and out all the time. Be sure to offer training refreshers frequently. This ensures that everyone handling the used lab equipment stays up to date on the proper procedures.
Keeping your lab equipment in good shape involves maintaining routine cleaning, calibration, and communication practices. The better you care for your equipment, the longer it'll last. Some excellent best practices for maintaining used laboratory equipment include:
While it may seem like common sense, dirty equipment is a leading cause of damaged laboratory equipment. Several compounds and chemicals used in laboratories can be corrosive and lead to clogged or corroded equipment. When cleaning, be sure to:
- Clean both before and after use.
- Use the appropriate cleaning compounds, aids, and reagents explicitly designed for the piece of equipment you're cleaning.
- Follow cleaning instructions provided by the equipment manufacturer.
- Understand how to disassemble complicated equipment for cleaning to ensure a thorough and complete cleaning.
Cleaning used lab equipment takes time and patience, but it'll lead to more accurate test results and longer-lasting equipment.
Sometimes used equipment will start to wear down in certain places. If caught early, faulty or damaged pieces can be replaced or repaired without jeopardizing the entire piece of lab equipment. It's essential to do regular inspections of the lab equipment to make sure everything is in good working order. You’ll want to inspect the equipment that you use daily, but it’s vital to not forget your rarely used equipment. Sometimes if the equipment is put away dirty or left to sit, signs of wear and damage can become more apparent in seldom used tools.
Keeping lab equipment properly calibrated not only gives more accurate test results but also keeps equipment working better for a longer period of time. Calibrating equipment becomes more critical with used equipment because it sees more wear and tear.
It's important to calibrate equipment every three to six months. If you notice equipment loses its accuracy sooner, you may need to calibrate more often.
Some best practices for accurate calibration include:
- Always re-calibrate used lab equipment if it's dropped or becomes struck with force.
- Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for calibration periods.
- Calibrate equipment if you notice unusual patterns with your test results.
- Always calibrate before highly accurate or precise experiments or measurements.
- Always use the provided manufacturer calibration blanks or compounds if applicable.
Maintain a Log
A great practice is keeping a log that records who uses the equipment and when. Keep accurate records of the date, experiment type, calibration, and cleaning. Logs are a productive way to track usage trends and calibrations over time. If a piece of equipment starts to give false readings, having a log book to reference can help diagnose a potential issue with the equipment.
It's inevitable that something will go wrong with your lab equipment forcing a repair. Making repairs fast can prevent future problems and can keep equipment in good condition for longer. Some excellent best practices when it comes to repairs include:
Every so often, it's a good idea to refurbish your equipment. Have a leader in your lab disassemble the equipment to inspect and clean each component. While the equipment is in pieces, you'll be able to notice if specific parts need repairing or replacing. This time is the perfect opportunity to replace wear and tear items like rubber gaskets and o-rings.
You'll want to keep a small toolkit with the right tools for minor repairs in each lab. Sometimes screws need to be slightly tightened, or a gasket needs to be cleaned. A suitable laboratory toolkit should include:
- Allen Keys
- Duct Tape
- Electrical Tape
Modern technology has given our world the ability to craft 3D parts. If you notice part of your equipment is starting to wear thin or has completely broken, consider using a 3D printer to craft a new replacement piece. Equipment parts can be expensive, especially for older equipment models. Often, you can design and print your own pieces for around $100. If you don't have the skills to design your parts, check online databases and catalogs with 3D printing designs. There are often free or cheap designs that can be easily downloaded and printed using a 3D printer.
Remember that you don't need to troubleshoot every issue with your lab equipment. Sometimes, you just need a professional to help. If you have exhausted your options, never hesitate to reach out to customer support for your piece of lab equipment. Usually, a trained technician can help walk you through some troubleshooting steps. If they can’t help over the phone, they may schedule an appointment to come to your lab and fix your equipment in person. A small service fee is worth its weight in gold if you can get your expensive lab equipment up and running again.
Many laboratories see heavy traffic, with professors, students, and professionals regularly using the equipment. Maintaining used lab equipment with proper cleaning, training, calibration, and repairs can help make your equipment last longer. With your laboratory equipment in good condition, you can rest assured your tests will be as precise and accurate as possible.