UPDATE: Shortages in the Scientific Supply Chain

Scientists, we want to give you a heads up. 

The scientific supply chain for lab supplies and equipment is continuing to see disruption. Your science may be affected. Please read this update and plan accordingly.

HappiLabs is seeing significant delays (aka backorders) for common items as they are no longer in-stock. This is verified with public statements from leading global suppliers, shown at the bottom of this post. Supplies that would normally ship in 1-3 days, now have lead times of two-plus weeks — this is our new normal.

Gone are the days of, “Oh s***, I’m out of (reagent X)!!!!, ship me more overnight or my science pauses for two weeks.” Say hello to “Oh s***, I’m out of (reagent X), my science will pause for two weeks.”

HappiLabs is warning you….Plan your lab inventory and purchases at least two weeks in advance. DO NOT wait until a lab supply is down to the last serving, and do not think “The world will never run out of these.” 

The list of affected items changes weekly, but common items include:

  • Nitrile gloves
  • All PPE, obviously
  • Filter pipette tips
  • Robotic pipette tips
  • Freezers (-20 and -80) and fridges (mini-fridges seem OK for now)
  • PCR tubes and reagents required for PCR
  • Many Corning plastics. Ouch!

And think about the trickle effect as manufacturers need to print more PCR tubes for the increased demand from COVID-19 testing labs, the “printing press” for 250mL conical tubes is repurposed for PCR tubes. Now 250mL tubes are short.

Who knows what item will be affected next? Maybe those cute little paddles used to press sealing film onto a 96-well PCR plate. 

NEVER FEAR!

HappiLabs always sees the positive….This will end, and not everything is on backorder.

We are here to work with your scientists and plan ahead. We have four recommendations:

  1. Know which supplies are critical. Review protocols and experiments to confirm items you should not run out of.
  2. Buy 3-6 months worth of items that are essential to your science. We will review your purchasing data to inform you “What quantity is 3-6 months worth?”
  3. Invite your Virtual Lab Manager to your recurring lab meeting, at least monthly, to make sure we’re all on the same page about what is “critical” as your needs change.
  4. Diversify your suppliers outside of the normal players like Fisher, VWR, Sigma.

If you have 20+ scientists in your company, it will also be wise to set up “Standing Orders” where a smaller quantity of items is reserved and scheduled to deliver on a fixed timeline. This helps manufacturers plan demand ahead of time.

WHAT IS HAPPILABS DOING TO HELP YOUR LAB?

Keeping our ears to the ground. Every day we interact with customer service, sales reps, tech support, and shipping companies (UPS/Fedex/Amazon). 

We are in constant contact with regional distributors who are not on the front page of Google such as Neta Scientific, Stellar Scientific, and Genesee. Quartzy has been helpful as well.

Our lab managers meet daily to discuss developments and supplier updates, and share relevant info with your scientists.

We check ETAs BEFORE placing the order. Don’t get fooled…”But the website said it was in stock.”

We can’t predict the future but we do see this continuing for six-plus months. 

HappiLabs is working hard for our partners and scientists to manage your lab through a difficult time. We’ll continue to keep you updated on need-to-know shortages within the scientific supply chain.

Again, invite your Virtual Lab Manager to your next lab meeting and we’ll get through this together. 

Fist bump,

HappiTom and the HappiLabs team of Virtual Lab Managers

=====SUPPLIER PUBLIC STATEMENTS===========

Message from Corning via email:

Some of you have experienced delays getting Corning, Falcon and Axygen brand products over the past couple months and this is due to our relocating to a new warehouse and unexpected issues. This Corning flask backorder is unrelated and the Falcon flask alternatives will be shipped from our previous, unaffected, warehouse. We are getting caught up on these shipments from the new warehouse. If you can switch to the Falcon flasks for now and plan ahead just a little, that will help ensure your flask supply.

Message from Rainin via email:

Our biggest challenge to date has been the rapid and large increase in demand for our tip products. The need for COVID-19 testing has created a global shortage of pipette tips, and Rainin as well as other tip manufacturers have been unable to keep up with the enormous increase in demand. Through quick actions to expand capacity we have been able to increase our output by about 60% and we have planned further capacity increases but are awaiting the delivery of additional tools that are currently in very high demand.

Even though Rainin has significantly increased production, the need for tips continues to grow. Therefore, if our delivery times are longer than you have come to expect from us, we appreciate your patience and understanding!

From Eppendorf:

From USA Scientific

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.

An Analysis of Women-owned Scientific Suppliers

Summary

When a lab hires HappiLabs to be their virtual lab manager and do their lab shopping, we want to make sure we buy from suppliers who fit the values of the lab. Recently, one of our customers asked, “Who are the female owned suppliers? We’d like to buy from them.” Therefore, we hired Dr. Vidhya Sivakumaran (above photo), a cardiovascular–focused postdoc from Loyola University, to do research on the topic. This is an informal study assessing the population of women-owned suppliers of scientific supplies, services, equipment, and reagents.

happilabs shops for women-owned scientific suppliers
The 70 companies that were surveyed for this analysis

Methods

  1. We selected 70 suppliers with whom HappiLabs has purchased from over the past 6 months
  2. Scanned their website to identify the sex of ownership
  3. If it wasn’t clear, we confirmed website findings with a phone call or email

Note: If we missed any women-owned business beyond the 70, please notify us: hello at happilabs.org

Discussion

It is well know that most industries are male-dominated. However, this is slowly changing and with this many labs are looking to buy and work with women-run scientific suppliers when it comes to purchasing pipette tips, chemicals, antibodies, centrifuges, etc. It was our hypothesis that there are few women-run businesses. Based on our research, this is true. However, science is doing better than the Fortune 500.

Lab shopping for female owned science businesses
92.9% male vs 7.1% female owned scientific suppliers

From the sample we looked at, 5 out of 70 or 7.1% of science suppliers are owned and/or run by women: DotScientific, Chemglass Life Science, Gilson, Macherey-Nagel, and Science Exchange. This is slightly higher than the 4.8% of fortune 500 companies run by females (Catalyst.org). Yay science!

happy labs shopping for women-owned scientific suppliers

We did find out through the course of our study that women-owned businesses out-survive male-owned businesses in several industries and areas, such as education and restaurant establishments (Kalnins et al, Journal of Business Venturing, 2014).

We also observed that only 16.9% of corporate board seats were held by women in 2013, with little progress in narrowing the gender gap (Huffington Post). Michelle Rowley, a tech entrepreneur and founder of Code Scouts (a non-science business), knows this feeling all too well. She was quoted in Entrepreneur magazine as saying, “that is a weird dynamic – being the only woman in the room – and they are all staring at you because they have to. I thought, I wonder how the dynamics would change if we could get more women involved.”

How does HappiLabs want to help? HappiLabs is interested in supporting women-run companies by making it easier for scientists to purchase supplies and services from them. We also plan to reach out and possibly work with several groups that promote women in science, such as AWIS Chicago, the Field Museum Women in Science, Women in Bio, and the Chicago Collaboration for Women in STEM.

Please share this post with other scientists who might be interested in knowing about women-owned scientific suppliers. And sign up to receive our monthly newsletter with updates about tips and suggestions for being a conscious shopper (and user) of scientific supplies:

 

#LabShopping Tip Number 1

chuttersnap-233105-unsplashLab supply shopping can be a time-consuming task. For example, at least 17 companies sell 50 mL conical tubes. So how do you avoid low-quality, experiment-ruining brands? Which supplier has the best price? That’s where we come in. At HappiLabs, we know how to get these answers efficiently and fast.

Over the next few months, we’ll share #LabShopping tips we swear by for buying the highest quality and most affordable equipment and supplies for our scientist friends. If you have any recommendations of your own, we’d love to hear them! Please tell us in the comments or tweet us @HappiLabs_org using #LabShopping. Now, on to our first tip:

Never Pay List Price…

….without asking for a lower price. Many companies sell the same product, competition is high and there is always someone willing to give you a discount. Just ask.

If you’d like help with searching or shopping for lab supplies, get in touch!

What’s in the Box?

Quantities matter in science. Ordering the requisite items for present experimental needs is efficient, avoids clutter, and reduces waste.

The language of quantities when ordering lab supplies, however, is often ambiguous:

“Order a tube of Taq.”

“Get three boxes of serological pipettes.”

Some suppliers are easy with quantities designated by unique catalog numbers (Thank you NEB and Biolegend).

Some make it harder.

Each, Pack, and Case

Each, pack, and case can all be considered a box of an item and sometimes one catalog number corresponds to all three tiers (e.g. some listings at VWR).

boxes-1170966_1920 Pixabay CC0
What and how much in each box?  Photo credit: Pixabay, CC0

Packs and cases can also contain single items. Requesting a case of media supplied one bottle per case will result in receiving one bottle. Unless the request was stated in number of bottles, less media than requested will arrive.

The good news there: ordering more is easier than having too much and trying to return some.

Item quantities are variable and every supplier is slightly different.

Check the Amount

Virtual Lab Managers meticulously checks quantity when ordering.

Asking the requestors to clarify is a best practice:

“This media is sold 1 bottle/case. Do you need more than one bottle?”

“A case contains 3,000 syringes. Do you need that many?”

Ordering the right quantity is good science.