A laboratory deals with hundreds or even thousands of processing requests on any given day. Since various fields like medicine, healthcare, and forensics depend on laboratories for tests, labs must develop an effective inventory management system. Improvement in storage symmetry allows laboratory technicians to respond to testing requests quickly and ensure the quality of experiment results.

Due to improper tracking, labs often fail to keep track of chemical inventory, which leads to wastage. Similarly, lack of proper inventory management also leads to unavailability of stock during peak time. Furthermore, a lack of efficient tracking and sorting mechanisms increases human errors, resulting in false test results. This is a concern where laboratories are often perplexed, deciding which solutions to integrate. Automated inventory sorting alleviates the struggles of inventory management through technology.

This guide delves deep into concepts like automated sorting, lab design efficiency, and how these innovations pave the way for efficient lab inventory management.

What is Automated Inventory Sorting?

Automated inventory sorting simplifies the way packages or objects are stored, retrieved, and sorted in an inventory. Automated sorting uses appropriate mechanization to facilitate such a system.

Essentially, there is a designated place for the item’s entry and exit. When a lab technician places the item at the entry point and designates the storage location in the inventory, the machine picks and stores the item at the designated location. During this process, these machines spontaneously update the data on the number of products available in the tray. Whenever there is a need to retrieve the same item, the system will select the item, bring it back to the exit point, and update the availability count. Automated inventory sorting brings storing, sorting, retrieval, and tracking capability in a single system.

The sorting system uses a combination of robots, motors, and sensors to carry out the mechanical work. The software, on the contrary, will handle all the tracking and the task of actuating these hardware devices.

The primary objective of such a system is to reduce human effort in maintaining inventory and enhance tracking capabilities.

Types of Automated Inventory Sorting Methods

Several automated inventory management systems are available which use specially designed machines to store and retrieve items based on the laboratory’s requirements and specifications. Some of these include:

Vertical Lift Modules

(VLM) consists of trays stacked on top of each other on either side of a lift.  When a requirement for retrieval comes up, the lift moves either up or down to locate the tray containing the requested item. It then brings the tray to the pick face where the user stands. Usually, this pick face is located at the ground level.

Advantages of VLMs:

  • Suited for storing heavy items
  • It saves considerably on floor space since trays are stacked on top of each other

Vertical Carousels

In vertical lift modules, lift only moves in a linear fashion, whereas, in a vertical carousel, the entire series of trays moves like a Ferris wheel. When the user inputs a requirement for the product, the vertical carousel moves around the track and brings the correct tray containing the product in front of the user. By simply raising the system height, you can add more trays to it and increase the storage space. View automated vertical carousel images.

Advantages of Vertical Carousels

  • Saves up to 80% of floor space compared to traditional systems
  • Allows the option to set up multiple access windows, or through-wall applications

Compact Mobile Refrigeration

Ergonomically designed compact mobile refrigerator storage takes up less space and provides swift mobility for easy access. The compact storage solution improves efficiency with its tidy appearance and smooth operational potentiality. Mobile refrigerated storage moves along tracks on the floor or pressed against the wall along with other carriages. The refrigeration system works even in near-freezing temperatures, making it the optimal solution for compactly storing specimens.

Advantages of Compact Mobile Refrigerators

  • Better mobility and fast access
  • Extensive storage capacity for a variety of specimens

High Capacity Mobile Shelving

Pathology and histology labs can incorporate high-capacity mobile shelving for paraffin blocks or glass slides more efficiently. These shelves assist store samples for any purpose, whether it be processing, examination, or diagnosis. The highly capable mobile shelving storage is lockable with secure, controlled access and includes fail-safe infrared aisle safety sensors. This solution can augment your storage capacity by increasing it twofold.

Advantages of High Capacity Mobile Shelving

  • Double-storage capacity and smooth mobility
  • Dependable security features and increased productive efficiency
  • Benefits of Automated Inventory Sorting for Labs

To prevent waste and abrupt shortages, every lab must have a comprehensive record of the availability of materials. However, managing inventory manually not only consume more time, but there are severe drawbacks to this approach, such as:

  • Manual intervention increases the chances of human error
  • Staff members may arrange the inventory according to their choice and convenience
  • Each new recruit may require undergoing inventory management training
  • Tracking becomes cumbersome and may lead to overstocking or understocking

Automated inventory sorting helps overcome these challenges.

How Automated Sorting Helps Lab Efficiency

There are several facets to a laboratory storage system, and they all have different criteria that determine efficiency.

For example, spending minimum time between an order being placed and the item retrieved makes order management efficient. However, more efficiency also means more storage density per fixed amount of space. Automated inventory sorting is comprehensive and improves a laboratory’s procedural and storage efficiency in more than one way.

Lab Design Efficiency: Automated inventory starts functioning from the moment an order is placed until it is handed over to the technician from the inventory, innately ensuring better lab efficiency by design.

  • With automated inventory sorting, you are looking at an accuracy level that always maintains itself above 95%. In some cases, the systems can also attain as close as 99.9% to even a perfect score.
  • Security: In a laboratory, security is of great concern. Not everyone should have access to all items in the inventory. With automated inventory sorting, lab technicians must digitally verify their identity before having access to an item. In addition, the system does not respond to impostor requests and immediately notifies the authorized personnel upon suspicion.
  • Tracking: Automated sorting creates a log for every item that enters or exits from the inventory, making it easy to track all available stored articles.
  • Stock Management: With reliable tracking, an automated inventory management system can update the inventory status of items entering and leaving the storage bins/trays, providing real-time inventory status.
  • Space Management: Optimum use of space is one of the pillars of lab design efficiency. All automated inventory systems mentioned here share this trait as a common advantage. These solutions have high storage density, ideal for making the best out of available space. Smart engineering provides more storage area and an opportunity to do more within the same floor space.

How to Use Automated Inventory Sorting

Using automated sorting is fairly straightforward since they come with an intuitive access point for the staff. Automated inventory sorting systems allow the staff to order an item from the inventory digitally.

The software on the automated inventory sorting system may change based on the manufacturer. However, these tools are optimized in a personalized way to ensure that they don’t cause any confusion. Most software feature user-friendly UIs and come with an integrated smart tracking system.

Importance of Automated Inventory Sorting

It is important to be realistic and extremely considerate when it comes to managing a large inventory. Some mishaps are likely to occur while working manually. Some of these issues are mentioned below:

  • Fatigue
  • Errors arising from emotional stress
  • Miscalculations or misplacement due to multitasking
  • Environmental factors like distractions, noise, light, etc.

Automated sorting leverages technology for inventory management, which is much more resilient to these factors, adding to the lab’s overall efficiency and in the demanding lab environment, technicians are likely to feel pressure when faced with a large number of test requests. For instance, lab personnel has to sort through hundreds of items to carry out tests and generate quality results. An automated system eases the burden of sorting and tracking and delegates it to a computer.

As a result, the accuracy in the inventory management process significantly increases. Further, the workforce can attend to more pressing matters at the laboratory.

Laboratories also deal with a variety of critical samples which are necessary to be stored securely for better outcomes. Having a safety breach can have adverse consequences. Automated inventory storage comes with robust safety features to prevent any potential breach or violation of security.

How Southwest Solutions Group Can Help

Selecting the right automated inventory sorting solution requires you to factor in multiple variables, ranging from the type of parts being stored and floor area to ceiling height. It is easy to miss out on minor details and land on an option not tailored to your buffer storage requirements.

Southwest Solutions Group provides design and installation services for automated inventory sorting systems from reliable brands like Kardex. For more information or to speak with our specialist, call us on 1-866-446-3109 or contact us