Laboratory Relocation: 6 Common Pitfalls to Avoid
Missing small details or getting them wrong can be disastrous for a lab move—here’s how to avoid major issues.
Getting the details right is crucial to a successful lab relocation. According to lab cycle support services specialist Ted Palashis, lab relocations tend to be disorganized and their complexity underestimated and badly executed, resulting in costly mistakes, delays, and damage to the reputation of the lab and its principals.
The hidden perils of lab relocations
Palashis says that the average lab can expect to relocate every three to five years. Sometimes labs run out of space; their lease expires; or they acquire new testing methods, equipment, or capacities requiring different space. But moving a lab from Point A to Point B isn’t as simple as labs may suspect. “I’ve learned from years of experience relocating laboratories that, unfortunately, many labs don’t know what they don’t know about a relocation until they start hitting roadblocks, missing deadlines, and making avoidable mistakes,” says Palashis, who is the CEO and founder of laboratory support services company Overbrook Support. He notes six common pitfalls for labs:
1. Not planning far enough in advance
Pitfall: Most labs underestimate how much time a relocation requires. At least 90 percent of relocations require a reassessment of the initial time projections and detail expectations, Palashis says.
Example: Lab directors discover that their asset survey is inaccurate, which delays the permit architectural and MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) drawings, which then delays construction, creating a cascading effect on deliverables.
Solution: Plan ahead. Be sure that lab assets are properly surveyed, the full scope of work with contingencies is determined and coordinated, and information to prepare a detailed relocation plan is collected.
2. Not securing the necessary expertise
Pitfall: Labs need to keep functioning during the move. Palashis compares it to changing the wheels of a car while it’s still moving: “To create an effective relocation plan, you need individuals who understand the complexities of the moving process, how long the move requirements are going to take, as well as the lab’s particular workflow, assets, and operations.”
Example: A lab that relies on internal staff to carry out a move encounters delays due to its lack of experience with movers, vendors, certificate of occupancy requirements, and environmental health and safety issues. By contrast, a lab discovers that the owner’s project manager (OPM) it relies on, while well versed in project planning, lacks the required technical understanding of lab instrumentation, service and support requirements, and other critical aspects affecting the relocation’s success.
Solution: From the outset, engage a partner who is not just a lab relocation expert, but also has the instrumentation engineering expertise to understand the process and your lab operation.
3. Lack of coordination and communication
Pitfall: Relocations require the coordination and interaction of many different constituency groups, including not only the lab itself but also movers, designers, construction companies, engineering firms, instrumentation vendors, etc. Bottlenecks in communication and information flow among these groups can cause significant delays.
Example: Failure to identify and secure a clear line of communication with the quality assurance group that must sign off on qualification documentation before scheduling instrument vendors to install and qualify instrumentation in the new location. The resulting communication issues delay the scheduling and recommissioning of the new lab.
Solution: The relocation manager must ensure that communications and processes for constituent groups affected by the move are properly organized and linked to provide continuous and relevant information, Palashis says. There are four basic groups of constituents with assigned roles and responsibilities for the move:
- The Client Group comprised of the lab’s key leaders and managers responsible for furnishing and communicating key information about the lab, its workflow, and operational needs.
- The Design Group comprised of architects, engineers, and consultants involved in the design and engineering plans of the new location responsible for providing and communicating information necessary to maintain continuity of lab operations at that location.
- The Construction Group, including the general contractor and subcontractors responsible for constructing the new facility or space.
- The Vendor Group, i.e., movers, instrumentation service contractors, installers, and other vendors providing services to support the relocation.
4. Improper costing and budgeting
Pitfall: Relocating a lab requires proper budgeting based on a clear understanding of actual costs involved. “I see many labs on a regular basis make million-dollar decisions based on inaccurate budget assumptions,” Palashis warns.
Example: A lab that miscalculates its relocation project costs has to scramble for other funding sources or runs out of funds and can’t pay the necessary vendors to reinstall high-cost, sensitive instrumentation. Consequently, it has to rely on its own internal staff to do the job, which puts both the equipment and the reputation of whoever approved the budget at risk.
Solution: As part of the relocation plan, Palashis advises that labs require a comprehensive cost study to determine the true costs of the project before making decisions that can’t be changed after the budget is in place. “Even the most qualified relocation project managers can’t fix an inaccurate budget that was determined before their involvement.”
5. Failure to verify landing site requirements
Pitfall: Your relocation plan might look good on paper, but the flaws in a plan are often revealed only after it’s set into motion.
Example: Mislabeled gas lines, fittings that aren’t suitable for the instrumentation to be installed, replacement receptacles that don’t match the drawings, and other mishaps requiring remediation before the site can be occupied can negatively affect the relocation timeline.
Solution: Engineering walkthrough audits at the launch and landing sites are essential to ensure that equipment slated to move has ample clearances for doorways, elevators, loading docks, etc. The landing site walkthrough should confirm that the site is prepared and configured to install the equipment being relocated and that all gas fittings, electrical connections, and mechanical accommodations are appropriate.
6. Poor execution of the relocation plan
Pitfall: Pre-planning is only part of the battle. Many relocation issues may occur after the planning and during the execution stage, cautions Palashis.
Example: Movers, instrument installers, and other supporting vendors are organized and prepared to carry out their responsibilities, but are not properly managed to execute under the chaotic conditions of moving day where multiple vendors are working in limited space without staggered schedules for de-installations, packing, crating, moving, etc.
Solution: Form a team that includes relocation managers experienced in executing a relocation plan and are able to:
- provide on-site support and general guidance during the move,
- answer questions from movers and vendors,
- be available to troubleshoot installation and site issues that arise,
- communicate last-minute revisions of the plans to the affected parties,
- coordinate vendor activities in decommissioning and recommissioning instrumentation,
- communicate with representatives of the landlord or building owner, and
- implement corrective solutions to solve last-minute problems to keep the move on track.
Though one incorrect detail can derail a lab relocation, avoiding these six main issues can help ensure all key factors have been addressed for a successful move.
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