Downtime: the curse of the laboratory. But not just the laboratory; suppliers hate downtime too, because they want you to value their service and trust their products.

It’s also important to deal with the elephant in the room. Any equipment can, and does, go wrong. Products can be faulty. Machinery parts can expire. Even correct usage and normal wear and tear can take its toll.

So, when things go wrong, you need to know that you have the right support in place to get you back up and running as quickly as possible. This is where the role of your supplier is key. They should be the first port of call, and should be quick to react to you needs – and determined in their desire to see an effective solution. They need to have your back.

At the very least, you should only purchase equipment from a supplier or manufacturer offering you a 12-month warranty. You should also be clear about what that means. If the equipment is faulty from the beginning, and a single call-out does not resolve the problem, it should be replaced. However, it’s also important to be clear about the difference between a faulty machine and one that is inappropriate for your particular needs or working practises (of course, the latter would and should have been explored as part of a demonstration of the equipment undertaken prior to purchase). Over the course of the 12-month warranty you should expect complete support if you need it, and the free replacement and fitting of any necessary parts.

Once the warranty has expired, you need to explore the possibility of an ongoing service and repair contract. Some suppliers offer this – and it assists not only with the practicality of maintaining your equipment, but also in your ongoing budgetary planning. The packages vary, but you should look at covering the following areas, if possible:

• Annual service
• Remote technical support
• Interim updates (where necessary)
• Breakdown call outs and
• Free maintenance and parts

Spending money in this area may not sound instantly appealing, but it can reap huge benefits in the future, particularly in avoiding any periods of downtime.

However, there is little point in investing in a service package unless your supplier is able to reassure you that they have the resources to be able to back it up. Do they have service engineers, who understand the equipment and are able to react quickly to a customer’s demands? Are their engineers able to operate on your site if necessary, in order to remedy problems quickly and efficiently? These are the questions that you should be asking and you should not sign up to a service package until you are convinced by the answers. In a perfect world, you may even have met the service engineer from your preferred supplier and been reassured by their knowledge and capabilities. Equally, you should be able to discuss how quickly a call out is likely to be answered and the average turnaround times for issues to be resolved.

When you purchase a new piece of equipment, it is all too easy to get carried away with the positives, but a little thoughtful planning at the outset and a determination to see your supplier as a partner in the long-term running of your equipment can really help you to run the most efficient laboratory.