Inventory management is an especially critical need for safely operating laboratory, warehouse, and factory environments. A failure to properly control inventory can lead to safety hazards, regulatory fines, and difficulty in performing product development and production duties. To maintain an efficient operation, many businesses have adopted electronic inventory management platforms that allow them to streamline several work processes.
In this post, we’re going to explore 6 ways to streamline chemical inventory management. These improvements can help modernize facility processes and enable the use of real-time data in several areas. Creating a robust and reliable system also gives employees confidence that resources are being properly managed, and that the working environment is safe. Streamlined chemical inventory management also makes a company more adaptable to change, something that is extremely important since the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Eliminate Sources of Manual Entry
An important step in streamlining chemical inventory management is to eliminate sources of manual entry. It’s helpful to identify current manual processes used for inventory management such as handwritten entries and spreadsheets. For larger operations, you may also find a lack of alignment between individual labs or work areas. Understanding your current state of inventory tracking will help you select automation technologies that address these areas.
2. Create a Centralized Inventory System
Implementing a dedicated inventory management software platform is one of the best ways to streamline chemical operations. Today’s modern software is typically cloud-based or allows remote access for easy updates throughout a facility and in the field as required. An effective inventory system will also have excellent security features and a complete audit trail for maintaining regulatory compliance. These systems can also be used to track cost information and are an excellent way to share data between product development, EH&S, operations, and supply chain personnel.
3. Maintain an Accurate Inventory
Chemical inventory accuracy can be improved by implementing an automated tracking system. Each item should be tagged with a unique barcode label that can be scanned using a phone or hardware scanner. Choose durable barcode label solutions, such as Metalphoto® asset tags and labels, to ensure that your barcodes remain readable throughout the lifespan of your assets. After reviewing the initial inventory list, this information can usually be imported directly into your inventory tracking software. Once entered and assigned a barcode, it is possible to assign each item to a specific owner for greater accountability. Your inventory process should also capture the associated CAS number for each chemical entry. System administrators can also create categories to group chemicals based on compatibility, location, or other variables.
4. Collect Critical Information & Define Tracking Procedures
Having all chemical inventory items in an electronic system makes it easy to update entries at any time and from any location. Users can also flag high-priority materials that require extra attention. A large amount of information can be stored in a chemical inventory management system, including:
- Chemical name and type
- Serial number
- Lot number
- Barcode number
- Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) registry number
- Stock keeping units (SKUs)
- Safety data sheets (SDSs)
- Safety and handling
- NFPA and compatibility
- Storage location
- Vendor contact information
- Inventory level
Since Hazard Communication (HazCom) is such a critical factor in safe chemical handling, your electronic system should include this information as well. Users can also review the audit trail and enter data and notes for compliance needs such as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines.
5. Clarify Reviews and Approvals
Personnel who use and handle chemicals often must obtain approvals when ordering new materials and transferring materials between locations. Inventory management software allows these approval loops to be completed electronically. This not only improves efficiency between departments but also creates another form of an electronic record. In some cases, it may be possible to automate some approvals based on customized rules and conditions.
6. Simplify Supplier Management and Procurement
Inventory software can be used to create custom alerts that notify staff when certain stocking levels are reached. This makes it much easier to know when to order new chemicals for replenishment purposes. Supply chain staff can also define supplier sources and create backups for commonly used materials. The data from a chemical management system can also be used to perform detailed risk assessments and determine the best way to avoid supply disruptions based on forecasted demand.
Chemical management can be streamlined in several ways by using an electronic inventory system that is well integrated with your existing work processes. Given the large amount of information that must be tracked, an automated barcode system can be used to assign each chemical inventory item a unique identifier. By leveraging the strengths of these technology platforms it is possible to ensure a safe working environment suitable for any lab, warehouse, or production facility.