COVID19 updates 4/3

Science goes on and most life sciences suppliers are considered essential and remain operational, though operating more slowly as they practice physical distancing (i.e. customer and technical services work from home).

Supply Chain Updates

Items outside of PPE and patient sample collection items remain largely available and the normal supply chain is operational, if slower.

Worth repeating that PPE and patient sample collection items like masks and flocked swabs are are in short supply and often on backorder.

For PPE requests with reputable suppliers, HappiLabs recommends the following:

  • Don’t believe a supplier website about their availability/lead time.
  • Calling customer service is also often not reliable at the moment.
  • Get an order in anyway for the PPE item you want.
    • This might prompt an estimated delivery date and gets you on a waiting list.

Carrier Updates

FedEx has a page dedicated to how COVID-19 is affecting their operations and deliveries. Highlights:

  • FedEx has options to re-route packages for local pickup if a delivery is missed
  • They recommend letting vendors know a lab is open for deliveries (for HappiLabs, we’ve got you covered!)
  • Cashback guarantees and delivery signature requirements have been suspended.

UPS has a similar site minus the help with delivery options. And as we reported last week, our anecdotal experience is that UPS seems to be having more delivery disruptions and problems than FedEx.

While most of the carrier industry is still working, their operations *are* often affected, especially in the final miles of delivery to a specific address.

We still recommend when placing an order scientists let their supplier know they are open and to place obvious signage stating that fact for the benefit of delivery people.

The Happi Note

COVID-19 is still around and physical distancing orders have been extended in many places around the world, including the United States.

The recommendations we made in our last COVID-19 impact post still stand. Keep washing your hands regularly.

We’re still working. Many labs are still working, even if limited just now.

Most items are in stock at suppliers and passionate scientists are continuing to work, including many on the novel Coronavirus, working toward solutions.

We’re here to improve scientists’ happiness and quality of their research and are thankful to all of them who provide a positive vision of the future, especially in times of uncertainty and disruption.

COVID19 Life Science Supply Chain Impact March 27, 2020

Our Coronavirus Task Force is keeping up-to-date on the scientific supply chain. Read about our goals and team here.

As we gather supplier statements about their operations during the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the world, here is what we’ve learned this week about Suppliers and Shipping companies.

Supplier Operations

Most scientific suppliers remain open as essential businesses to the healthcare industry. That doesn’t mean everything is operating as normal though.

Suppliers are operating a little slower due to working from home, and people working from the office while following social distancing protocols. This means customer service and other departments are often not as easy to get a hold of by phone or chat. Therefore, processing orders at some vendors is slow. It varies by supplier and changes by day.

PPE like masks, gowns, gloves, soap, and sanitizers are still in short supply. Many suppliers are limiting the amounts of PPE scientists can buy at one time or reserving the supply for hospitals and governments first.

Other notes:

    • 80% of the top 70 scientific suppliers have provided statements about their operations.
    • ULine, Teknova, and Fisher Scientific have stated they are prioritizing supply for those working directly on the COVID-19 outbreak.
    • Teknova has gone so far as to set up a dedicated email address for those labs working on COVID-19 (Covid19@teknova.com)
    • Of the suppliers with no statements thus far, most we have ordered from this week are open and processing order requests.

Suppliers who have announced closure/limited operations due to COVID-19:

New benefits from suppliers:

Amazon

Though not an essential warehouse for critical supplies, Amazon extended the closure of a warehouse for deeper cleaning in Kentucky today. And such incidents are what led BioLife Solutions, in heavily affected Seattle to announce closing of operations until May 4.

Shipping Operations (UPS, Fedex, etc.)

The “final mile” of deliveries are facing some issues. At HappiLabs, we have noticed that UPS in particular is having deliveries not attempted or instantly returned to the sender with no re-attempts made.

In general, note that shipping companies are having some ‘final mile’ issues delivering to varying degrees.

Actions to take

    • For items in transit, let suppliers know your address is open to deliveries.
    • Post clear signage at your door:
We are open. Call 555-1234 if the door is not open. Science must go on!
    • Bribe UPS or Fedex drivers. With food! And kind words (“thank you!”). A snack tray by the door can help ensure future deliveries occur without issue.

Those are the updates for today. Tune in next week as we continue to report our findings.

The HappiLabs Coronavirus Task Force.

Don’t Default to One Supplier

A woman stands in front of two doors, one blue, one red

A request comes in. It’s a supplier with an eCommerce site. To get the item ordered, the lab manager clicks a few times on a supplier site and the order is placed! Done. 

Except. It can pay to slow down a little and do a bit of comparison shopping. 

For example, this GeneJET kit is available through both Fisher Scientific and Thermofisher Scientific’s websites. Fisher wasn’t having a sale on this item, but Thermofisher was. By changing a website, money was saved! 

Item from Fisher Scientific Catalog. Source: Fishersci.com.
The same item on sale at Thermofisher.com (aka Life Technologies). Source: Thermofisher.com

EMD Millipore and Sigma are another example where this can work. EMD Millipore doesn’t often have promo codes. Sigma often does and EMD Millipore items are often available through sigmaaldrich.com.

Again, ostensibly, these are one company, Millipore-Sigma, but their web portals sometimes don’t behave that way.


These both are special cases of a general rule: if something is offered more than one place, definitely compare pricing, availability, and the lab’s relationship with supplier. Last: ask a preferred supplier to match a competitor’s better price when deciding where to buy an item. 

Cover Photo Credit: Letizia Bordoni on Unsplash.

Resolve to Organize Orders and Invoices

Keeping orders and invoices organized is as important as keeping a good lab notebook.

Keeping track of orders

Lab Manager Claudel Faugio placed an order – hooray! It arrives, the box is opened, and turns out half a sleeve cell culture dishes has been crushed into pieces. Assuming Claudel didn’t stomp on the box before receiving it, that means he needs to contact the supplier to ask for a replacement. The supplier is going to ask for a few pieces of information, including order or PO number, which the lab should easily have handy if it’s organized. 

An image of a Macbook air on a wood table with a phone and notebook in parallel and a coffee cup to one side.
Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash

Minimum order information to track:

  • Order date
  • Item description and item number
  • Confirmation number/PO number
  • Order subtotal
  • Tracking information
  • Whether items have been received (& some idea of where they are kept in the lab)

Having this information readily available will be helpful for inventory and should any issues arise with an order. 
There are several ways to keep track of this information from least to most complicated:

  • File any emailed order confirmations in an eponymous folder in the inbox
  • Set up a spreadsheet with the order information as columns
  • Procurement softwares
  • Keep a physical binder of confirmations and packing slips (this method is not as easy to search through). 

Keeping track of invoices & receipts

Now Claudel is rushing to place an urgent order through NEB needed for an experiment tomorrow. NEB is awesome and they get the order in. BUT! The order doesn’t get shipped because there is a hold on your account. The lab hasn’t been paying their invoices on time and now his labmate Chlobe’s experiments are going to be delayed. 

A jar of coins spilled on a floor. More coins are on the floor than still in the jar.
Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash


Keeping track of invoices and receipts doesn’t seem necessary when doing important science, but situations like this happen often if no one’s minding the books. If Net 30 invoices don’t get paid, a supplier can place a hold on your account until at least some of the outstanding invoices are paid. It is also necessary to have invoices and spending/financial information for taxes and if the lab goes through an audit. 

A basic first step is to get all invoices emailed to an inbox and filed in an invoices folder in the inbox. After that, some methods to keep track and organize invoices and receipts include:

  • A spreadsheet (e.g. add an invoice number column to the orders spreadsheet above)
  • A folder in your Google drive
  • Accounting software such as QuickBooks or bill.com
  • Procurement softwares
  • Accounting services like InDinero or Scrubbed
  • Hiring an in house accountant/bookkeeper to handle invoices/payments to suppliers.
  • Keeping a hard copy binder of receipts and invoices.

Resolve to organize lab orders and invoices

Whether a lab of five or 50 people in a lab, organization of orders and invoices will keep the science going and scientists happy.

A chaotic world of scientists, suppliers, and lab supplies funnels through HappiLabs resulting in a much more organized picture where scientists are happy.
Hiring HappiLabs is also a way to organize your orders, invoices, and lab.

Glossary

Order – A request for goods/services from a supplier. 

Confirmation number – Unique coding of a specific order created by a supplier when an order is placed

Purchase Order (PO) number – Unique coding for an order created by the lab generating the PO

Subtotal – Cost of goods/services not including taxes and shipping. 

Tracking – A unique number to designate a shipment with a delivery company (UPS, FedEx, USPS, etc.)

Received – Confirming delivery of an item and coding it as received in the lab’s inventory system

Invoice – Request for payment from a supplier

Net 30  –  An agreement to make a payment in 30 days as opposed to upfront by credit card or check

Receipt – Proof of payment for credit card purchases. Proof you have paid. 

Accountant – Person at a company (or outsourced) that handles the financial aspect of the business. 

Spreadsheet – A matrix to track data, both quantitative and qualitative.

Procurement/Bookkeeping Software – Third party software designed to keep track or orders and expenses (e.g. Quickbooks, Coupa, Bill.com, etc.)

When the HPLC Water takes a Tour of Wine Country (Parcel Misrouting)

The item is in stock in the local warehouse, the order confirmation comes in, the item ships as predicted, and then it all goes sideways. The package has gone to the wrong place and the item you thought was a sure delivery is now not going to deliver as predicted.

A map of the San Francisco Bay area with a pin in Suisun City, California, near Fairfield north of Oakland and the bay.
UPS misrouted a package from Tracy, CA. Instead, it made it to Suisun City, CA. In this case, they caught their mistake and corrected it.

Managing Delayed and Misrouted Items

UPS and FedEx make mistakes. Busy times for them exacerbate these (e.g. holidays). 
The best defense against delayed shipping is planning ahead and not being in urgent need of any item/reagent.
However, once it’s shipped and misrouted/delayed, here are some actions to be taken.

  • Don’t panic
  • Check tracking page and see if it updates within a day: UPS and FedEx do catch misrouting and correct it.
    • This works if it’s a non-temperature sensitive item that can be delayed a bit
  • If other delays crop up, contact the supplier and have them contact UPS/FedEx (they have direct contacts with shipping scientists don’t):
    • Customs delays – ask what FedEx/UPS need (usually a form)
    • UPS/FedEx claim an incomplete address – ask supplier to inform of full address
    • Weather delays/system issues – contact the supplier for a replacement if item is temperature sensitive

If a scientist does need to contact FedEx/UPS, call and say “agent” over and over again to get a human. Sometimes you can get a human by interacting with their online chat and say “no” when their automated system asks if they answered a scientists’ query (the systems then ask for a phone number and will call you quickly).


Misrouting and delays is one strong reason to pay attention to tracking numbers.

A UPS tracking page indicating a delay in delivery. It also indicated the last scanned location as Suisun City, CA.
An example of a UPS tracking page with a misrouted parcel that UPS caught and was working to re-route.

In the end, the misrouted HPLC water did enjoy its tour of wine country and was only a day later than scheduled.

Glossary

Local Warehouse/Delivery terminal – a distributors closest warehouse/hub to a delivery location
Tracking number – an alphanumeric code that allows tracking of shipments with a delivery company (UPS, FedEx, USPS, etc) 
PRO number – an alphanumeric code that allows tracking of a shipment with a freight company (YRC, R&L, UPS freight, FedEx freight, etc)
Tracking page – web page to check status of a shipment and any potential delivery issues/delays
Temperature Sensitive – an item that is perishable/has to be kept cold for it to remain viable as a reagent