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

Time to Vote. HappiLabs will be short-staffed on Election Day

From the CEO, Tom Ruginis….

Following up on our Black Lives Matter commitments, HappiLabs is giving employees the time they need to vote with an extra paid holiday. We will be splitting the holiday across 2 days in order to maintain our commitment & responsiveness to our customers. On November 3 and Nov 4, we will be short-staffed. We want to warn our labs:

There will be a limited number of Virtual Lab Managers available. On the day your lab manager is off, only urgent matters will be addressed. All regular communication channels will be monitored. If you do need HappiLabs, another Virtual Lab Manager will be here, but please plan accordingly.

We urge your labs to do the same. Make sure your scientists have time to exercise their right to vote, and select leaders who believe in science and fact-based decision making.

Go vote!

====ABOUT HAPPILABS====

HappiLabs is a small business focused on changing how science labs are operated. We work with a mission: to improve the happiness of scientists and the quality of their research.

The mission guides our day-to-day decisions when managing a lab, and it keeps us focused on improving long-term innovation and funding in the sciences. We are always looking for our next Virtual Lab Manager or our next lab to manage. Please reach out if you have any questions or want to work with HappiLabs.

Enjoy your day and here are cool microscopy photos from Efra Rivera-Serrano, PhD:

HIRING — Support Virtual Lab Manager

Support Virtual Lab Manager at a growing life science company

If you have experience with lab management, purchasing, basic accounting, or customer service, apply!

ABOUT HAPPILABS

HappiLabs is a small business with a startup mentality in Chicago that provides a service to scientists called the Virtual Lab Manager. We support scientists in various ways, virtually, which includes acting as an outsourced purchasing department (some might say a Personal Shopper) for biotech companies and scientific research labs.

We have a mission: to improve the happiness of scientists and the quality of their research.

By helping scientists do their job, we are helping all the people on the planet who benefit from inventions, creations, and knowledge that scientists create.

Purchasing and Customer Service ScientistYou will work out of our Chicago office where you’ll support our Virtual Lab Managers (who are PhDs or long-time lab managers) as they manage labs across the country. You will be interacting with suppliers, freight companies, accountants and scientists.

You will be trained to be one of the best lab managers in the world.

EXPERIENCE

A strong candidate will have one of these backgrounds:

  • Lab manager or tech experience in a lab
  • Logistics or customer service experience (does not need to be in the sciences)
  • Purchaser or bookkeeper
  • Minimum Bachelor’s degree

RESPONSIBILITIES

  • Utilize various apps and software for managing labs
  • Communicate with suppliers (sales reps, technical help & customer service) to obtain pricing and technical info, place orders, retrieve order updates, and solve logistics and supply chain problems
  • Keep detailed accounting records
  • Report progress and solve problems at team meetings

TIMEFRAME

Looking to start now, preferably in Chicago.

COMPENSATION

  • Full-time, salary
  • $35-55k, depending on experience
  • Medical and Dental health benefits
  • Company swag, coffee and snacks at the office, and weekly lunch

SKILLS AND TRAITS YOU SHOULD HAVE

We want a long-term commitment, someone who will help a small company grow into a large one.

  • Tech savvy (very good with a computer, its keyboard and multiple monitors)
  • Proactive mentality – help without being asked to help, and an ability to predict problems
  • Knowledge of hardware or mechanical engineering, and/or chemistry, and/or molecular biology
  • A passion for science and desire to make a difference in the world.
  • Confident presence on the phone. We frequently call suppliers

===== APPLY NOW! ======

CLICK this link –> HAPPILABS JOB APPLICATION (VIA A GOOGLE FORM)

It will not hurt to connect with Tom on LinkedIn.

Too Subtle Product Differences

Mimicry is pretty common in nature. As in nature, so with lab supplies.

An ever-evolving ocean of distinct products exists. No one scientist needs all products available in their career, of course. However, even when focused on basic items, confusion can occur due to what is essentially mimicry, AKA “branding”.

For example:

WhySimilarItems

That “plus” makes all the difference for whether tissue will stay on the slide’s surface or if it’s just a slide where tissue won’t adhere.

It’s easy to see a lab stocking both kinds of slide for various purposes.

This issue could easily come up when ordering too. “Get me more Superfrost” slides…and the “Plus” gets left off.

Solutions

A lab manager could store each slide in separate places, or mark the Superfrost Plus slides to be distinct when they are delivered.

Manufacturers could help by making packaging distinct (in this case, they don’t).

Fisher and other suppliers can do better.

In the mean time, lab managers and scientists will have to be hyper-vigilant in making sure they order and use the right product for their work, especially when near-mimics exist.

Photo credit: Heliconius butterfly mimicry. Wikimedia commons, CC 2.5, from Meyer A, PLoS Biology, Vol. 4/10/2006, e341 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0040341.

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.