GE Healthcare has launched a new contract offering that it claims will cut the cost of running the service operations in life science R&D labs by up to 20 per cent, at a time when pharma and biotech firms are facing intense cost pressures.
Under the new global offering, called Scientific Asset Services (SAS), GE will serve large pharma and biotech labs as a single vendor who will handle the servicing of all the devices and equipment within the lab.
In this way, lab managers can simplify their service operations, saving time, and resources by working with one service provider instead of as many as 100, Nick Padula, general manager of global life sciences told Outsourcing-Pharma.com.
"The consolidation of service agreements also saves money for customers as we can offer a lower service cost per item," he said.
The first part of the SAS involves GE's technicians taking an inventory of all the lab equipment and setting up the details in a centralised database.
Then, GE's AssetPlus asset and maintenance management software is used to record all maintenance activity, condition, operating history, and other data from all the devices into the database.
"In this way, lab managers can have easy access to key management metrics and keep detailed maintenance records. Procurement managers can also have a clear picture of what assets they have in the lab and where equipment gaps lie," said Padula.
"There is often a significant variation between what equipment procurement managers think is in the lab, and what is actually there," he said.
SAS also comes with the option of using GE's IntelliMotion asset tracking system, which uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) to monitor the exact location and maintenance status of each individual device.
The new SAS life sciences setup also involves having a number of full-time GE service technicians working permanently on the client's laboratory site, to be on hand when any servicing need arises.
The number of staff members per site depends on the number and complexity of devices that each lab has.
"One customer we are in talks with now has over 20,000 devices and will have 6 full time GE technicians on site," said Padolo.
There are, however, a few grey areas where a blanket service arrangement such as this could run into a few problems.
In particular, how can such a small number of engineers be expected to have expertise in servicing such a vast number of instruments?
Devices covered under the service agreements can include a broad range of lab equipment, ranging from fairly simple devices such as balances, spectrophotometers, pH meters and centrifuges; to more complex instruments analytical instruments like gas chromatographs, mass spectrometers and liquid scintillation counters, and highly specialized R&D systems such as pre-clinical imaging systems, bone densitometers, and laboratory automation systems.
A spokesperson from a large manufacturer of a range of laboratory equipment told Outsourcing-Pharma.com that "a non-employee of ours would not be able to provide the same level of service expertise that an employee of ours could, particularly on some of our more advanced analysers."
"No matter how much training a third party technician has, they still don't have the day to day experience on the instruments as our employees would and this experience is irreplaceable," said the spokesperson.
"Many of our systems are very complex to trouble shoot. It is even conceivable that an outside technician who wasn't experienced enough could do more harm than good."
In addition, while many companies who make lab instruments don't obstruct the use of independent service providers, they usually only recommend the use of agents that are specially accredited to service their particular instruments.
Other instrument makers do not support the use of independent service agents at all and may try to block the sale of spare parts to outsiders.
Padula said that all of GE's service technicians will be highly trained to be able to provide most of the service requirements that will arise in the lab they are stationed at.
As a back-up, the company can call upon its other technicians around the world using its BioInSite remote monitoring tool, by which GE can track equipment over a broadband connection and detect, and often fix, issues without a service technician visit.
"We also plan to recruit experienced ex-employees from a number of lab equipment manufacturers, that we can use on a contract basis when needed," said Padula.
"If all else fails, we will call upon the company who originally manufactured the instrument to provide one of their service technicians," he said.
Padula insists that the SAS is modeled after a similar service offering that GE Healthcare has been providing for hospitals for the past 10 years and the company has now brought it into the life sciences arena due to a gap in this market.
The company is now in talks with several large companies from the US, Europe and two companies from Japan.