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Taking Stock

The Toll of Inefficient Chemical Management Practices

This article covers how mismanaged chemical inventory can take a significant toll—on time, on budgets, on safety and on compliance—over the long term. Discover how a digital solution plus Good Laboratory Practice standards can help you get your chemical stock under control.

What You’ll Learn

  • How much time is wasted hunting down chemicals in the lab
  • The prevalence of lab safety as a pressing issue in inventory management
  • How much reagent labs throw out every month—and the cost
  • Why inventory management matters in regulatory compliance

“Most people don’t realize that inventory management is a problem. No one has told them: what you’re doing right now will cost you time and money.” 

—Roja Azees, Product Manager, LANEXO® System




You need a solvent for your experiment. But when you go to the chemical cabinet to retrieve it, there’s just an empty spot on the shelf. A quick review of the lab inventory spreadsheet tells you there should be a bottle in stock, but tracking it down may require some detective work—assuming the sheet is accurate in the first place. Perhaps you should go ahead and order a new bottle, just in case?

These sorts of stories play out often enough that many researchers just accept them as inevitable travails of laboratory work. But mismanaged chemical stocks can take a significant toll over time. “Most people don’t realize that inventory management is a problem,” says Roja Azees, product manager for lab management tools at Merck KGaA Darmstadt Germany. “No one has told them: what you’re doing right now will cost you time and money.”

Commercial labs use various methods to address difficulties with their chemical inventory, but many still rely on old-fashioned approaches based partly on pen-and-paper or homemade Excel spreadsheets. In a 2020 survey of 1,024 laboratory staff conducted by CEN BrandLab and Merck KGaA Darmstadt Germany, fewer than half of respondents reported using purpose-built software for chemical inventory management, and of those only 37% described themselves as “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their current solution.

While a suboptimal inventory management system can capture certain details a lab needs, it may not keep tabs on expiration dates or storage safety. Those omissions can cause headaches when a lab member goes to fetch one of those chemicals. And if the chemical inventory management system is too labor intensive to maintain, staffers may opt out of updating it, leaving the lab with a misleading representation of current stocks. Christian Kuechenthal, head of lab management tools at Merck KGaA Darmstadt Germany, says he once worked in a lab that struggled with a barcode-based system. “It worked fine for a few months, but then it lost traction,” he says. After a while, he adds, lab staffers weren’t able to guarantee what was and wasn’t there.

Fortunately, chemical inventory management tools are emerging that could overcome these problems. For example, Merck KGaA Darmstadt Germany’s LANEXO inventory manager employs labels for reagent containers with radio frequency identification- tagged “smart seals.” These tags can relay essential information about a chemical product: when it was received and opened and where it is being stored, which enables comprehensive inventory tracking with minimal user effort. The decision to overhaul a chemical inventory management strategy in a commercial research laboratory is not taken lightly. But the perils and hidden costs of an inadequate system may motivate some groups to begin this conversation.