Sunday 20 November 2022

Here's How Supply Chain Disruptions are Impacting Lab Equipment Purchasing


Image: Jawaharlal Nehru Trust Port in Navi Mumbai, India. One can see unloaded trucks on the right heading for the harbor cranes, while loaded trucks on left head out. The ship in the image is Xin Fu Zhou (Creative Commons)

Supply chain disruptions are rattling every industry, but lab equipment is facing a particularly challenging landscape. The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a ripple effect of supply chain disruptions throughout virtually every industry, which continues to impact vital lab equipment. Numerous factors are contributing to the issue and a variety of labs around the world are feeling the impact.

By Emily Newton

Commercial labs have been left apologizing to their customers for ongoing delays. Government and research labs cannot seem to get the most basic supplies necessary for critical public health projects. Academic labs are struggling to work around price surges caused by high demand. What is behind these issues and how long will they go on?

Causes of Lab Equipment Supply Chain Issues

There are several factors influencing the shortage of lab equipment and supplies, largely rooted in the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic is no longer surging at the level that it was in 2020, the echoes of the pandemic are still shaking up the supply chain, even two years later.

1. Increased Demand

Part of the lab equipment shortage is simply due to a sheer increase in demand. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a historic spike in demand for many basic lab supplies, such as plastic gloves and masks. Production of these supplies was simply not prepared for such high demand.


That deficit in supply compared to demand caused a domino effect, with industry suppliers continually behind even years later. However, the types of supplies that are short in supply and high in demand have shifted as the pandemic has faded. For example, where plastic gloves were notoriously hard to get in 2020, various tubes and pipettes are scarce in 2022.


Demand for lab equipment overall has not slowed down much in the last year or two since the pandemic began. As a result, production for many pieces of lab equipment has not had a chance to catch up to demand yet. For example, as of March 2022, hospital labs were still reporting shortages of common lab equipment like tubes and syringes.

2. Border Closures and Quarantines

While it was necessary for nations to close their borders and institute widespread self-isolation during the pandemic, these policies have had some unfortunate side effects. Specifically, they have cut off or severely delayed the production and distribution of critical lab supplies.


Unfortunately, even in 2022, this continues to be a problem. China, for example, is home to some of the most important ports in the world and is still experiencing widespread lockdowns to combat COVID-19 outbreaks.


In some cases, border closures have made it much harder to obtain critical supplies, particularly in nations that lack robust domestic production infrastructure and rely on imports. Even where production has been active and exports permitted, social distancing results in smaller work teams and slower production. Cases of COVID-19 in lab equipment manufacturing facilities can derail production by weeks or even months.

3. Congested Supply Routes

Congested supply routes are affecting every industry, including lab equipment. Ports are particularly delayed, making overseas shipping a nightmare for many labs. For example, the two biggest ports in the US, Los Angeles and Long Beach in California, are experiencing crippling delays and wait times.


The longer ships are stuck waiting to unload, the less cargo they are actually able to move throughout the year, meaning less cargo is being shipped and supply is effectively lower.


To make matters worse, ports are running out of space to store containers once they are unloaded. This is connected to a shortage of truck drivers to transport the containers and goods domestically. The result is sky-high shipping costs and wait times well over a month longer than usual, even after goods are finally in stock to be ordered and shipped.

The Most Common Supplies Experiencing Shortages

All of these issues have made lab equipment purchasing frustrating at best and near impossible at worst. So, what supplies are the hardest to purchase right now?

Vaccine Production Materials

The pandemic has necessitated that vaccine production take priority over other lab work, especially with the roll out of new booster shots regularly. Any equipment needed for vaccine R&D, production, and distribution is experiencing shortages. This includes everything from medical-grade masks and face shields to refrigerated trucks, which were already in limited supply prior to the pandemic.

Testing and Hospital Equipment

Additionally, basic testing and development equipment have been incredibly difficult to purchase and obtain. Everything from spectrometers and spectrophotometers to lab freezers to plates and pipettes are in short supply around the world. Good care and maintenance practices for these types of valuable lab equipment can help make it last longer, but getting new supplies remains a challenge.


For example, pipettes and pipette tips have been highly sought after and hard to come by for years now. These are absolutely critical in all kinds of labs for countless different tasks. So, shortages can potentially leave labs in limbo, unable to continue working until they can get more supplies.


In Q4 2022, other lab equipment that continues to experience supply shortages includes helium, raw materials, cotton swabs, biopsy trays, tracheostomy tubes, and petri dishes. Even hospitals are still struggling to get these supplies, which are needed for countless tests and processes unrelated to COVID-19.

Delays and a Lack of Back Up Supplies

Supply chain disruptions are affecting all lab equipment, not just pandemic-related supplies. As long as the supply chain remains in disarray, lab equipment purchasing will continue to experience setbacks. In response to shortages, many labs have also begun stockpiling supplies, which adds to the overall problem since it bloats demand for products.


Shortages have also removed security nets that would have been provided by backup or reserve supplies. Accidents big and small can have a serious impact on labs. For example, in the US, production of pipette tips and containers was dealt a serious blow when a fire at a manufacturing facility destroyed 80% of the nation’s supply of pipette containers, right in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

How Can Labs Adapt to Equipment Shortages?

In the long-term, labs will need more structured, secure ways of mitigating the effects of supply chain disruptions on lab equipment purchasing. The industry is still in the process of adapting, although some common best practices are beginning to emerge.


For example, industry experts have recognized a rising trend in the pharmaceutical supply chain: local manufacturing. As mentioned above, a large part of the problems that labs are facing is getting supplies from a foreign nation.


This is especially problematic when equipment needs to be shipped overseas. So, switching to domestic or local manufacturing options can save labs significant amounts of money as well as time waiting on international manufacturers and shipping delays.


Additionally, more and more labs are adapting their equipment purchasing methods to plan further ahead, anticipating delays. This can at least help regulate project timelines since lengthy shipping times are already accounted for. Practices like using reusable PPE and coordinating with local health officials are also helping labs bounce back from supply chain disruptions.

Recovery for the Lab Equipment Supply Chain

Lab equipment purchasing remains difficult for many labs. Unfortunately, experts anticipate that the supply chain crisis could last at least through 2022 but potentially for another two years. Luckily, the life science and pharmaceutical industries are working to adapt to delays and shortages to ensure that their crucial work can continue.


As industry leaders develop new strategies for mitigating supply chain issues, lab professionals and the lab equipment industry will be able to start recovering from disruptions. When the supply chain does bounce back, the life science industry will be more resilient and innovative as a result of today’s struggles.


Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources (

No comments:

Post a Comment

Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources

Special offers