The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio) recently surveyed a large sample of its life sciences member companies to find out about their return-to-work plans. As the study’s authors point out, life sciences is a significant employer; when choices are made about the workplace, they have far-reaching implications for the greater community.
Transportation, housing, and family life are all affected by workplace location, as we witnessed during the rushed transition to remote work in 2020. Now that offices are reopening for in-person work, most employees are resisting a return to the full-time in-office workstyle of the “Before” times.
MassBio’s survey found that an astonishing 97% of its life sciences members are implementing a hybrid model for the long term. This embrace of the hybrid workplace is a response to employee preference, yielding benefits in employee retention, productivity, and lower overhead. It’s a win for the community too, as commutes are reduced, housing needs stabilize, and a positive work/life balance is preserved.
But how are these businesses shaping their hybrid workplace models? According to MassBio, life sciences managers say the number of days working on-site will depend very much on the individual’s role. But a McKinsey study counsels managers to consider more than just the number of days per week on-site. Managers should also ask:
How will meetings work best?
How will you balance mentorship and experience between in-office workers and at-home workers?
What are the in-person collaboration needs of a team working on the same project?
How will you demonstrate the equal value of in-office and hybrid workers?
As pointed out by the McKinsey study, the hybrid model is evolving rapidly. It will take a number of years to mature, and it will be different for each organization.
But one thing that will remain the same for every life sciences business: the need for technology that supports the hybrid model. In every life sciences endeavor, the free flow of data is essential. Paper-based data is challenging to share; a database of digitized documents lets collaborators access information quickly and securely. Imaging, or digitization, eliminates the risk of paper documents being lost between office and home, or falling into the wrong hands.
As your enterprise makes the shift to a hybrid workplace, ask yourself the questions above, and add another question: Is your document technology ready for the change?
Experimental paradigms and QC testing put subjects through extreme conditions. Heat and cold, solvents, exceptionally high pressure – some or all of these may be applied in research. But if specimens can’t be identified with absolute accuracy, test results are questionable.
Paper labels can fall off. Ink can fade or smear. When researchers at NIH (National Institutes of Health) considered using RFID to identify specimens, they needed to find out if RFID tags could withstand the harsh conditions in labs.
Being researchers, they subjected a batch of RFID tags to the same rigorous tests they used with their other scientific investigations. The tags were put through repeated test cycles, including:
Wet and dry autoclave cycles with temperatures as high as 120 degrees centigrade (248 degrees Fahrenheit)
Multiple exposures to tissue-staining chemicals hematoxylin and eosin
High temperatures of 75 degrees centigrade (167 degrees Fahrenheit) for 7 days
Cold temperatures as low as -196 degrees centigrade (-320 degrees Fahrenheit) for 12 months
Freeze-thaw cycles fluctuating between -196 degrees and 22 degrees centigrade (-320 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit)
The results? RFID tags are plenty tough. The researchers found them to be especially cold tolerant: Even after being frozen solid for one year, the tags still functioned perfectly. And the tags subjected to freeze-thaw cycles also performed flawlessly even after 50 cycles. In fact, only two tags failed, one after 9 dry autoclave cycles and one after chemical exposure.
The researchers concluded that RFID tags were ideal for life-sciences specimen tracking, durable even in extreme test conditions. They suggested adding bar code labels as a back-up for dry-autoclave and chemical conditions, but emphasized the tags’ 100% tolerance for heat and cold – conditions that are common in many testing and bio-archiving processes, as well as pharmaceutical manufacturing and healthcare cryostorage.
What does this mean for other RFID applications? In more standard conditions – offices, warehouses, retail and manufacturing operations – RFID functions flawlessly. And for lab settings with extreme conditions, RFID is a valuable tool for maintaining data integrity.
Scientists value accuracy, but they’re not the only ones. Every business relies on accurate information, no matter the circumstances, the products, or the services. RFID delivers, every time.
“There is no one-size-fits-all,” says Gensler Research, regarding lab design and adaptive reuse. Like people, each lab has its own unique purpose and form. A lab, unlike typical office space, may have to take into account ventilation, vibration, volatile chemicals, greater-than-usual utilities requirements, or dangers to workers and the general public, to name just a few of their special challenges.
But no matter what type of lab yours may be, from analytics and QC to biohazard or R&D, these three operational elements help any lab fulfill its mission.
Storage cabinets and casework – Cluttered labs are unsafe labs. Whatever the science specialty, whatever the experimental design, every lab needs to protect items from contamination, damage, loss, or degradation:
Test and experimental supplies
Researchers’ personal items
Your current lab storage may be perfect for your processes today. But once a research phase comes to an end, the layout and type of storage may not fit the next phase. Labs outfitted with modular casework can reconfigure their storage to suit the new functions, rather than scrapping the existing storage – a benefit to the budget and the environment.
Data management – The essence of scientific investigation is the collection and management of data. Paper documents may be the only option in some labs, especially if electronics interfere with experimental processes. But data on paper takes time to access and analyze, and paper itself is a fragile medium. Document imaging converts paper-based data to electronic data for fast, easy use. Moreover, it preserves the data in a secure form, controlling accessibility and preventing the loss of invaluable information.
Equipment and materials management – Labs’ budgets can skyrocket when expensive equipment is lost. Time-dependent research can be wasted when materials can’t be located in inventory. And hand-written inventories are notoriously error-prone, not to mention an expensive use of researchers’ time. RFID asset management systems take the burden off researchers by automatically tracking quantities and whereabouts of these vital components. Equipment is easy to find, and there’s never a shortage of essential elements.
All three of these design and operations technologies contribute to safe and efficient lab functionality. Just as important, they have a positive effect on your lab’s bottom line, saving time and money. It’s not theoretical; it’s proven. Talk to a storage and organization consultant and review the options.
A 600-bed hospital managed by the Mayo Clinic was among the first to calculate and publish the results of an ROI analysis of RFID in a healthcare setting. The final number was impressive: 327% ROI over the first three years, with break-even at less than a year.
But maybe your organization isn’t in the healthcare business. You manage a professional services company, a manufacturing business, a museum, or a retail store. How do you calculate RFID’s ROI when your operations are quite different from a hospital’s operations?
ROI calculations, at their most fundamental, start with questions.
What items are vital to your operations? Answer very specifically (e.g. “33 laptop computers with 16 gb of storage,” rather than “computers”). These items can be operational elements, or manufactured products, or a combination.
Visibility: How many times per day/week/month does an item go missing? How often are you short on supplies?
Intrinsic value: What does the loss of an item cost – not just the hard cost, but the cost of intangible added value? Artwork or data are examples.
Management costs: What is the cost of periodic inventories or audits to maintain operations?
Ancillary costs: How much income is lost due to down time when an item is missing or lost, or supplies run low? Are there costs associated with regulatory fines for lost items? How do inaccurate inventories in one department impact other departments’ finances?
With these numbers in hand, calculate two cost scenarios. One scenario is for existing conditions. The other includes the potential improvement to visibility provided by RFID. Most RFID users see visibility (loss) improvements of 60% or better.
But to truly calculate ROI, we have to project the potential savings over an extended period, usually 3 to 5 years. The Net Present Value (NPV) formula gives the most realistic ROI projections for RFID. The NPV formula shows whether the benefits outweigh the costs.
If you manage finances for your organization, you’re familiar with NPV. If you work in a less math-intensive department, you might find an NPV calculator useful. Either way, the answer will give you a strong indication of the wisdom of an investment in RFID. We’re quite confident you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the outcome!
Now that businesses are cautiously reopening, RFID is being deployed in the form of wearables that help employees maintain social distancing and stay safe in reopened workplaces.
In the U.S. and Europe, RFID suppliers are creating bracelets and smart watches with embedded RFID chips that alert users when they are too close to one another. Ford Motor Company, for example, has been testing an RFID wearable in the factories where it produces ventilators and respirators. Workers wear an RFID-enabled smart watch that vibrates and issues a color-coded warning whenever they move too near.
The watches also send social-distancing data to supervisors so they can modify workflows for better distancing. Further, the data provides supervisors with workplace contact tracing. If an employee becomes infected, other employees who have been in contact with that person can be identified for testing.
A spokesman for Italian RFID tech company Engineering points out that RFID’s proximity and contract tracing technology lets businesses isolate only the infected workers and their contacts, rather than all the employees. If only a small percentage of employees have to be pulled off the line, production can continue with little or no interruption.
Employees at many companies are teleworking to reduce their risk of infection. But even when telework is enabled by document imaging and digital asset management, it isn’t practical for every type of enterprise. Manufacturing, scientific research, logistics – these all require workers to be in the same place at the same time. The “new normal” is going to call for new ways of doing business and new applications of existing technology.
RFID is a mature, robust technology, a proven risk reduction tool for asset management and security. This same technology can be applied to a different kind of business risk: an infected workplace. RFID is easy to adapt for the socially-distanced workplace. As RFID is protecting your staff, it’s also protecting your business from additional production slowdowns. RFID is part of the solution for a safer workplace during reopening, and into the future.
Speed is the name of the game when it comes to inventory and asset management, and RFID delivers the data faster than any other technology.
RFID is everywhere. Those plastic tags you’ve seen in retail stores; the small square metallic stickers on packaged goods; even your pet’s ID chip – those are all RFID tags. They store information about the item they’re attached to, and they deliver that information to an RFID reader’s screen.
Don’t bar codes manage information the same way? Not exactly. The key difference is in the way an RFID tag communicates with the reader. Bar code readers must “see” each bar code to collect the data. There has to be a clear sight line between the bar code and the reader. RFID readers, in contrast, don’t “see” the tag. They “hear” it, via radio waves sent by the tag. RF = radio frequency, ID = identification.
RFID readers can “hear” the signals from all the RFID tags in an area, all at the same time. Bar code readers, because they rely on “seeing,” can record only one bar code at a time. This video shows a bar code reader and an RFID reader in a head-to-head race.
Spoiler alert: The bar code reader is not going to be invited to the Kentucky Derby.
RFID technology has an application for every business sector.
Every business has a need for speed, because time is money. The less time it takes to collect information about assets, the more time you have to spend on your organization’s primary mission. RFID streamlines your workflow, improves inventory accountability, and monitors assets. Turbocharge your business with RFID.