April 10, 2020 by Adam Fisher

What Did You Do In World War Flu Grandpa?

My Dad enlisted in the US Army on October 16,1941.  His 'hitch' would have been up in one year had it not been for the attack on Pearl Harbor.  He wound up serving till mid-1945 and thankfully, returned to my Mom and lived many years.   He did his part and then some.

We've all seen the movies that show a child asking their grandparent, "What did you do in the war Grandpa?"  My Dad had a good anwer.  

No grandkids here yet, but when the day comes, I think I too will have a good answer. 

"Grandpa (my actual grandfather name will be '007'...) wasn't on the front lines during the COVID-19 war.  He wasn't a doctor or nurse, nor was he a first responder.  But, Grandpa did his part.  He kept socially distant from loved ones and friends.  When he did venture out to shop, he wore a face mask and rubber gloves.  He washed his hands until they  were raw and always coughed into his elbow.   He also was one of the few lucky ones who continued to work.  Unlike many, whose jobs were put on hold or eliminated when the economy came to a standstill, Grandpa worked for a company that provided equipment and services to pharmaceutical, biotech, government and academic research and testing labs.   Those labs were staffed with other brave souls who put themselves and their loved ones at risk trying find therapeutic treatments or vaccines that would save millions of lives."

"One day, Grandpa got a call from a very respected man at a lab in New Jersey who was trying to increase his companies' ability to test patients to determine if they had been exposed to this awful virus.  He needed a robot and he needed one fast.  He needed one that could transfer patient samples from test tubes into microplates so that they could be run on a Thermo Kingfisher Flex (it used magnetic bead technology to extract viral RNA to diagnose patients on a RT-PCR instrument).  They were doing this transfer manually and since the company was running '24/7/365' it took a lot people to prepare the samples    Grandpa's company was able to completely refurbish, configure, program and ship a Tecan EVO 150 liquid handling robot in less than 5 days (including a weekend).  His client was then able to use the robot to prepare close to 100 patient samples at a time, in just a few minutes.  Another nine duplicate robots were then ordered to increase that new capability."

"Everybody had a role to play in order to beat the virus.   Grandpa wasn't the person who refurbished the robot, nor was he the person who programmed or shipped the robot.  He was just a guy, sitting at his desk who was there to answer a call to help a friend fighting on the front lines. 

 

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September 9, 2019 by Kevin Keras

Won't You Please, Please YELP Me?

Bad service.   

Everybody has experienced bad service at some point in their personal or professional life.

I recently had dinner at a popular Cape Cod restaurant with a large group (13).  Keeping tabs on thirteen people is not an easy task, especially in the middle of summer and when you have other tables to  attend to.  There are certain core responsibilities/skills that great waitstaff have to have in order to do their jobs, not the least of which is attention to detail.   Good waiters don't 'wait' for your water or cocktail to go empty, they are pro-active.   

This does two things...first, it makes the customer feel as though their needs are foremost in the staffs mind and it also builds a relationship and buys a measure of compassion should something go awry.   Like spilling hot clam chowder (true story) on the bare leg of the customer...   In such a catastrophic moment, everybody notices that faux pas and observes how the staff and management handle it...or (in this case) don't.   

Long story short, everything went down hill from there.  And, to exacerbate things, this was not the first time I experienced poor service at this place.   I was willing to give them another chance but now, they have lost my business.

Fortunately, diners can go to a service like YELP and log their experiences...which I did.  I am now a pro-active diner and use YELP before I go to a new restaurant.   It got me thinking though, why isn't there a similar service for business to business (B2B) service organizations?  At TheLabSquad we have wall filled with client testimonials regarding their great service experiences.   On the rare occasion that someone does not have a 'letter worthy' service issue, we communicate with them directly and do our best to understand their concerns. 

Attention to detail.  It matters no matter what or who you service.

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March 7, 2019 by Kevin Keras

Caveat Emptor              (aka - A Blog For Chuck)

A Call To Auction

Had a nice visit with Chuck yesterday.   We talked a bit about buying liquid handlers via auction sites.   

 

The parent company of The LabSquad (Biodirect, Inc) is the industry leader in providing refurbished liquid handling robots (Agilent, Beckman, Hamilton, Tecan, PE) and they frequently acquire units from various auction houses.   Auction houses are typically hired by clients who are closing down a facility or a functional group and are tasked with disposing all of their assets (instruments, lab benches, hoods, consumables..etc).   The prices are generally low but buyers are not able to physically inspect the equipment and might not have a complete understanding of functionality or completeness.   For experienced professionals, like Biodirect, the risks from these purchases are minimal.  Biodirect acquires instruments that they are intimately familiar with and even if the unit arrives in less than pristine condition, there is little they cannot do in order to bring it back to the manufacturers specs.  

I have also spoken with a number of end-users who also purchase directly from auction sites for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they have limited funds and they need to stretch their budget a far as possible.   Sometimes they get lucky and the unit they receive can be brought up and running with relative ease.  Other times, not so much.   That's the rub, imagine buying a house or car from a website with not much more than some photos to go by.  Unless you are an experienced fixer uppper, you might have to get out the checkbook. I have fielded a number of phone calls where users contacted The LabSquad for a "PM" on a robot that they will soon be receiving.  A PM can be an economical way to survey a newly acquired auction unit but, as is often the case, it leads to a need for additional spending to make the unit functional.   The single biggest thing we encounter is a missiing PC or hardware key.  The LabSquad does not (cannot) re-sell the manufacturer's software.  Clients are told that they will need to get that from the manufacturer...if they will sell it to them.   A handful or manufactures will refuse to sell software for a unit they do not directly provide.  In many cases,  No Software = Boat Anchor. Others may sell it, but at very steep prices.   Once, and if the software issue is resolved, the PM process may lead to other smaller repairs such as leaking valves or bad diluters.  Other times, multichannel head rebuilds or motor replacements can require still more invenstment.     

Bottom Line - Buying from auction sites can get you a good instrument for a fraction of what you might pay from a company like Biodirect.  However (you just knew there was a caveat coming ...re-read the title) buyers would be wise to consider the additional costs that are likely to occur post-delivery.   I know from first hand observation the investment in parts, labor, packaging and warranty that Biodirect makes in order to ensure it's clients receive units that are "research ready", just as you would expect when buying new.   For those that are intent on buying direct, you would be wise to enlist the assistance of a company like The LabSquad who can help with "gotchas"...  End of Commercial Pitch.     I bid you ...'good buy.'

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June 12, 2018 by Kevin Keras

Expensive...Compared To What?

How many times have you looked at a quote for a service visit and rolled your eyes at travel charges?  "Yikes, that's as much as the service labor itself!" Often, you will see "Zone Charges" which reflect the manufacturers placement of service engineers in key geographic locations. If an engineer is in your 'zone', your costs are lower. Need an engineer to travel a distance, perhaps by air, and the costs will increase.

When working with third party service organizations, clients are generally looking to reduce costs, as most such firms offer lower prices than instrument manufacturers.   But, because these businesses are generally smaller or constrained to one or two physical locations, their travel costs can often make them as expensive as the manufacturer.  Or, so it might seem...

Here is something to consider; When calling the manufacturer of an instrument, you are paying for a very narrow service on just that instrument.  Makes sense, right?  However, that FSE is likely only going to be able to work on just that instrument.   The Beckman Coulter engineer can't  work on a Tecan liquid handler and vice-versa.   When you look at the wide variety on instruments in your lab, the accumulation of service travel charges (and multiple varying labor rates for that matter) can bust even the most generous support budget.

Independent Service Organization (ISO) can help reduce costs. However, when working with an ISO it is important to understand what other products they can work on.   The same engineer who works on a Beckman robot, may also work on a Tecan...or a Hamilton...or an Agilent.    Having one FSE who can service multiple instruments from numerous manufacturers means you can amortize your travel charges across several instruments from different vendors.  That is something the individual instrument manufacturer cannot do, which ultimately makes their seemingly  'lower travel rate' much more expensive.

This is especially important for multi-vendor service (MVS) providers like Agilent CrossLab, Perkin Elmer OneSource, Unity Lab Services...etc.  These large organizations are able to offer their clients single point-of-contact for all their instrument service needs.   They typically have a large network of smaller ISO's who can help reduce labor costs and often, move with greater agility than instrument manufacturers.  When Site Manager and Vendor Relations Managers at MVS companies take the time to understand and maximize ISO capabilities  they can reign in travel costs and provide faster service while managing a smaller number of providers.

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March 22, 2018 by Kevin Keras

First Things First...

Scientist are well accustomed to "First Principle" thinking.  It's an approach that dates back to Aristotle and holds that before you can solve a problem, you must distill exactly what is known to be absolutely true.  By focusing on only known facts, it is much easier to postulate a solution which is based upon a solid foundation of fact.  That foundation allows you to speculate on causal factors but such leaps are always based upon core principles.

Sound familiar?   Well, if you are a Field Service Engineer (a good one), then this is the motus operandi with which you approach everyday troubleshooting. The trick here is to ask lots of questions before you even lay your hands on a failed instrument.   Many times, a user or researcher may get frustrated by such probing, so it is important to explain up front, why you are asking.  Just as a doctor cannot prescribe a treatment for a sick patient without reviewing their medical history, an FSE cannot hope to repair a failed instrument without first knowing it's recent history. Both should operate under the "first, do no harm" methodology.  

When was the last time it worked correctly?  When did you first notice a failure?   Were there any environmental changes in the lab (power, air, floods..etc)?   Many times, after such probing, an FSE can find very important facts that will make diagnosis faster and more reliable.   A PC or software upgrade, a robot crash, a spill...etc.

So, to all those researchers who need to get a failed instrument back online, just remember...it is in your own best interest to share as much info as you can to assist the FSE.  And to you FSE's...ask, ask, ask.   First, do no harm.  No guessing.

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March 6, 2018 by Kevin Keras

Remotely Possible?

How often do you PM a ....well, anything in your lab?  More often than not, the answer will either be 'once a year' or 'never.'   While the latter response may be due to budgetary constraints, or indifference, it is usually a recipe for disaster.   Things break if you don't maintain them and they generally break when you need them the most.   Periodic Maintenance (PM) is always a good idea, but back to my original question...how often?  Most people choose to PM once a year because that is what the manufacturer recommends.  However, this might not be the best strategy for your lab or a particular instrument as it does not take into account utilization.   It goes without saying that something that is used everyday, or more than one shift per day will require more frequent PM's than something that is used occasionally.   The challenge for many labs is just how to keep track of that utilization and how to pro-actively maintain based upon actual usage.  Figuring that out will help forestall major failures on high usage instruments and also stretch support budgets for lesser used devices.  

A recent report by Astea International Inc.(Horsham, PA) , a leading global provider of service management and mobile workforce management solutions titled "6 Biggest Field Service Trends To Watch Right Now" highlights a sea change shift in field service from reactive to pro-active.   The report highlights the rapid adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) to enable field service organizations to remotely monitor client assets to create added value by scheduling maintenance based on performance degradation or utilization as opposed to "because the manual said so."    Monitoring research lab instruments is very different than production equipment, but at the end of day, ensuring that instruments are properly maintained so that they are available when needed will always be a winning strategy.

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September 6, 2017 by Kevin Keras

Covered Under Warranty?

(Maybe...)

CRASH!!!!    Your 8-channel liquid handling robot arm just raked across the deck and one of the z-axis rods looks bent.   No problem, just call the manufacturer and have them come fix it, after all, it is still under warranty...right?   Well, maybe...

Most instrument warranties cover parts and labor but, that usually comes with the expectation that the failure is due to normal wear and tear, not abuse or unintended usage.  Using the liquid handler failure above as an example, the 8-channel arm likely got damaged because it failed to move to a safe Z-travel height before moving in X or Y.    But, was that because the arm failed to execute that command or because the programmer failed to instruct the arm to do so?   While a failure such as this might not occur in assays that have been running successfully for some period of time, they are more common when the user is still developing the assay or debugging it.   This type of failure could also occur because an operator forgot to retract the arm after some assay interruption or error condition.

Many OEM's (Original Equipment Manufacturer) will work with you to get the instrument back online and some may even be tolerant of such failures to the point of covering the associated costs under their warranty..but, you will most likely find there is a limit to their understanding.   If an instrument fails under normal usage, OEM's should and will cover repair costs but if an instrument fails again, or frequently due to operator error the OEM could and should charge for parts and labor and travel, even though the unit is under warranty.  Although such a stance would be unpopular for end-users, it is really no different than what you might experience in other areas of your life.  If you use your SUV to haul a boat that exceeds the vehicles gross towing rate you will probably damage your transmission or rear axle.  Should you expect Ford or GM pay for that?   The honest answer is, no.

Whether you bought the instrument new and are under the original warranty, or if you have purchased an extended warranty, make sure you understand just what kinds of failures are covered.   Ask up front.   Even if you purchase refurbished instruments, there is a limit to they nature of the failures that are covered (BTW - you should always insist on a minimum of a 6 month warranty on refurbished equipment). New or used, a warranty is a quality statement by the provider.   Buying instruments "AS IS" or with a "Money Back Guarantee" should set off alarm bells that the low price option that looks so attractive today, could prove to be a costly investment in the future.   Caveat Emptor...   

What options should you consider when the warranty expires?   That will be the subject of our next blog...

 

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August 11, 2017 by Kevin Keras

Got Liquid Handling Problems? Part 1

We can help...

Been A While Since You Had Your EVO or Genesis Serviced?

 

The LabSquad can provide a variety of cost-effective service options;

  • Basic Tune-Up PM's

  • Comprehensive OEM-Style PM's

  • Performance Verification

  • Relocation Assistance

  • Annual Service Contracts

Just let us know how we can help!

 

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July 11, 2017 by Kevin Keras

Clean Up Your Act... Uh, Instrument

Okay, it's been awhile...a long while.   For someone who has never been accused of being the quiet type, I cannot believe it has been this many months since I last blogged.  

Ugh.   I need to clean up my act...

On that note, I thought I would remind readers on the importance of proper decontamination of instruments prior to service.   Field Service Engineers work on a variety of instruments from numerous labs.  They rarely have the benefit of knowing what protocols, reagents or solvents have been in contact with a failed instrument.    

Every repair or PM procedure from The LabSquad starts with a decontamination.  We ask customers to perform this procedure prior to a visit to save time and to tag the instrument's decon status.  Even then, our engineers always ask the user to verify decon prior to beginning their work.  You can never be too careful. For depot (return to factory) repairs, we will provide a Decon Form that must be filled out and packaged with the returned instrument as we do not want shippers (...your, ours, freight carriers) to be exposed to any 'badness.'

 

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February 24, 2016 by Kevin Keras

Let's Go Cycling!

Thermal Cycler Verification

Occasionally, your PCR yields may not be what you expected or have been experiencing.   A great deal of time can be spent looking at primers and buffers, or even your DNA samples but as is often the case...you find out it is a thermal cycler issue.   It usually happens at just the wrong time too...

Adding a temperature verification of your thermal cycler block (or blocks) is a great way to beef up your SOP's to ensure that your PCR runs smoothly.

Here at TheLabSquad we run a 12 point (probe) test as part on our standard PM procedure. It only takes about 15 minutes per block but you wind up with a graph of the ramps and a PASS/FAIL score.  This is done using an ISO 17025 certified tool that is calibrated annually.

As with any process, ensuring that your major variables are accounted for upfront makes a huge difference in your end results.

So, if you haven't had your thermal cycler  PM'd in awhile, now might be a good time to check under the hood (lid) before you go cycling.

 

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