Factors to Consider When Replacing a Laboratory Centrifuge

A centrifuge is an important type of equipment in healthcare, chemistry, or the life sciences. When properly operated and maintained, these precision machines can last upwards of ten years. While no organization is keen to spend money on replacement equipment, they inevitably will need to.

While any centrifuge will wear out in time, one should consider the factors involved in the decision to substitute the centrifuge way in advance of equipment failure. This process is generally known as life cycle management, which considers a number of factors such as budget, the value the machine can bring, the expected life span, expenses and maintenance time required to maintain the device.

For lab managers, life cycle management can serve as an important tool in assessing when to replace the equipment.

The “Life Span Only” Mistake

With regards to a piece of equipment, the expected operational lifespan is a vital, but often inaccurate, variable. Where proper life cycle management is concerned the expected lifespan should be one factor, and not the only factor to be considered.

While a machine may run much beyond the manufacturer’s expected service life, such as a vehicle remaining on the road for hundreds of thousands of miles, it is often a mistake to plan on such an uncharacteristic outcome.

The important functions of an organization may be jeopardized if the expected lifespan of a centrifuge is treated as an assured period of optimal functionality. When sudden but preventable failure occurs within the expected lifespan of the equipment, it can undermine revenue and operations.

In a life science or healthcare setting, such failures could adversely affect the structured development of research that may lead to treatment of a disease or negatively affect someone’s health. Whenever there is a failure in the equipment, repairs usually make it operational again.

As devices age, more frequent repairs will be required. Repairs will ultimately become costlier or impossible to perform due to a lack of parts, thus necessitating replacement of equipment. On the other hand, if this replacement is considered after a permanent failure, a new unit can possibly be back-ordered or else it will become unavailable for timely delivery and installation.

Anticipating failure by looking out for operational and physical indicators is a far better option. In a centrifuge, lid spring mechanisms can give way, bearings can wear, and trunnions may stop operating despite proper lubrication. Any of these issues are a cause for concern, but when considered as a whole, they indicate a sign of impending failure.

Centrifuge Lid Spring Mechanism, a potential point of failure.

Centrifuge Lid Spring Mechanism, a potential point of failure.

Duty cycles are one of the standard measures. Manufacturers usually rate equipment based on the number of times it can be used. This is referred to as a duty cycle. Insufficient maintenance, unusually heavy use, or other difficult conditions can place extra strain on mechanisms and cause them to wear faster. Fortunately, the metric of duty cycles provides a means to monitor and plot use against expectations.

Obsolescence and Operations

Obsolescence is another reason to replace a centrifuge, in addition to wear from regular use. A total breakdown is an objective reason for requiring new equipment, whereas obsolescence needs a judgment call that depends on the context of a specific organization.

There are Two Types of Obsolescence for Equipment

The first type of obsolescence is an issue of maintainability. Replacement parts are essential in keeping an older device operational. Someone with the know-how to provide the necessary support for a specific model is also required. Potential maintenance and repair costs over a number of years should be taken into consideration along with the cost of buying a new unit.

Features and capabilities present the second type of obsolescence. Developments in refrigeration systems, wireless connectivity, digital controls, mechanical design, and materials science can make a convincing case for an upgrade. A new machine may provide new operational efficiencies, need less maintenance, might last longer, show capabilities that were not available at a specified price point, or present new opportunities for novel types of applications.

Better operating characteristics and increased capabilities can be ground-breaking for an organization. Budget control and the management of operations often reduces to the cost of tools, capabilities of available tools, and the advantage provided by the tools to staff productivity.

Optimization of these factors can provide new opportunities, be it reduced costs, consolidated operations, or new types of business. The understanding of department and organizational needs, device life cycles, finances of staffing, capital investment, and operating expenses offers a perspective on the trade-offs between the expense of new equipment versus the potential benefits gained.

Build a Financial Model for Planning

Since the interplay of financial factors can be complicated, the development of a low-cost model can help decide whether it is necessary to upgrade an equipment. The following three factors must be considered by the model

  • quantified advantages of the new centrifuge
  • implications for departmental operations
  • cost/benefit analysis

Quantified Advantages of the New Centrifuge

Benefits should be quantified as much as possible to make a practical decision. Greater capacity impacts the amount of laboratory work that can occur for each measured unit of time. Being able to connect to a network and alert technicians upon the completion of a run can cut down the time to perform a procedure. The laboratory can undertake additional work if the time required by each process is reduced.

Benefits of the ability to execute previously unavailable kinds of analysis can also be modeled. An expanded range of temperature control or higher speeds can provide new customers, open new markets, and expand potential revenue. These possibilities can be translated into potential additional income by the sales and marketing departments.

Operational Implications

Another point for consideration by a laboratory is how a new centrifuge would fit into the context of current equipment; more than one centrifuge could be replaced by a new higher capacity device, or a higher capacity centrifuge could serve as a reasonable replacement for a smaller unit that is in greater demand.

The sensible candidate for replacement could in fact be newer with more remaining service life than another centrifuge in the laboratory. Can a single, new centrifuge effectively prolong the useful life of several units?

In some circumstances a new high-capacity centrifuge might replace the processing capability of two or more units currently in use.

In some circumstances a new high-capacity centrifuge might replace the processing capability of two or more units currently in use.

The use of all centrifuges should be considered when making a decision to replace one centrifuge. This analysis calls for a lab-wide model of all centrifuges, including utilization and work capacity, which is the amount of available time the equipment is put into use.

Only then will a laboratory be able to understand its integrated resources and analyze how various configurations, including upgrades, would affect budgets, workflow, and capabilities.

Less obvious potential consequences of changing equipment should also be considered. Changes in efficiency will have a negative impact on employees. If the same amount of work is done by fewer people, will the organization move some workers to other positions or reduce headcount? Will the new unit fit in the space allotted for the old centrifuge? Does it need more or less energy to run? What are the overall costs of ownership, including projected costs of consumables and replacement parts as well as maintenance contracts? Will it be necessary to retrain personnel on operation and maintenance? These are all key considerations.

Cost / Benefit Analysis

Cooperation is required within an organization to perform a cost / benefit analysis. All the data required to balance operational and budgetary trade-offs are not likely to reside with a single individual. For instance, some amount of additional spending can be justified by new levels of revenue from additional capabilities or capacity, but the tax implications of cash flow, capital expenditures, financing considerations, and equipment amortization can also impact the purchase.

Revenue requirements may be provided by financial personnel eventually, allowing the organization to purchase a new centrifuge and replace an existing unit. Likewise, if greater efficiency is an advantage, what are the staff implications? Such a discussion will require the involvement of Human Resources. Lastly, legal review will be required for any new purchase contract.

What is vital is a formal approach. A business case can be made for the decision through a formal analysis, and this will be required to win management support. It is likely the case will require a spreadsheet model to consider interdependent factors and enable what-if scenario planning. Here, the finance department will again prove to be an excellent resource in constructing a model which could then be adapted to other equipment types and thus saving effort.

Work with Your Vendors

It is the suppliers who will provide most of the data required to make a decision, and information can be provided by manufacturers to establish full costs and available cycles, including consumables. With potential experience with new models, maintenance providers will be able to estimate the continuing repair and component costs. Both may provide an understanding on measuring “soft” benefits.

If replacement sounds sensible, vendors can help in planning an orderly transition, so that the new unit is available before the occurrence of a last-minute breakdown. The available help should be leveraged and decision models should be built so that they can be employed as a tool for future replacements.

NuAire Laboratory Equipment Supply

NuAire develops scientific laboratory equipment that is ergonomically designed and engineered, offering product, personnel, and environmental protection in crucial research environments. The company offers the following laboratory equipment:

Biological Safety CabinetsAnimal Research ProductsCO2 Incubators

Biological Safety Cabinets, Animal Research Products, CO2 Incubators

Laminar Airflow ProductsPolypropylene Fume Hoods & CaseworkCentrifuges

Laminar Airflow Products, Polypropylene Fume Hoods & Casework, Centrifuges

About NuAire

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In 2014, NuAire founded an international partnership with Hitachi Koki in order to supply high performance centrifuges to the North American market. NuAire can now provide customers with the sales and service of Hitachi High Speed, Ultra, and Micro Ultracentrifuges.

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Last updated: Jul 31, 2018 at 4:11 AM

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