LabRATS: Best Practices—Electronics–Apparatus

 

Electronics and Apparatus



Attempt low-tech electronic repairs yourself when appropriate

Problem: Often when a machine doesn’t work, an inexperienced operator will give up and assume the item is broken forever or call in an expensive repair.

Solution: Try simple repairs (fuses, cooling fans, plugged lines, poor connections), reading the manual, or exploratory maintenance. Call customer service or a UCSB equipment engineer for advice. Buy things that can be fixed and have replaceable parts or blades. Turn it off; wait 30 seconds; turn it on.

Benefits: You may save money, time and materials.
Cost: Minor parts may be available for free in the electronics shop. Be careful you don’t get in over your head and damage something! Maintenance and simple repair is an art.

Practice easy mechanical repairs and maintenance on equipment and laboratory furniture in-house

Problem: Poor familiarity with equipment leads to premature disposal.

Solution: Inspect an item when it doesn’t work. Lubricate, clean, sharpen or adjust mechanisms. See our flyer.

Benefits: You likely will understand better how to use an item when you know how to maintain it. You will save replacement costs and the environmental impact of manufacturing chairs, desks, etc.
Cost: There will be some time invested in exploring mechanisms or manuals. Maintenance tools and parts are often available for free in departmental shops.

Photo: Cabinet with broken handle Photo: Cabinet handle with screws

One replacement screw from the shop fixed this flimsy handle that had lingered for years.

Ask shop staff to fix electronic equipment

Photo: Guy with autoclave

An old Consolidated brand autoclave refitted with an electric boiler and new seals.

Problem: Older equipment may be neglected even though the technology has not changed and current construction is less durable.

Solution: Work with shop staff to access equipment unused or needing modification, (e.g. this autoclave retrofitted with a boiler).
Benefits: Repair costs are a fraction of new price, and staff expertise is utilized. Substantial resource savings and green house gas conservation (100’s of kg) for each item.
Cost: Savings over new price. Some additional time needed for repair.

Request repairs or installation of equipment from shop staff

Photo: Mechanics

Problem: Researchers may demand rapid response to complicated repairs when requesting work by departmental staff.

Solution: Ask for help when you need it, and work with the staff and their time constraints. Make sure they know your full needs when designing apparatus, and only ask for “rush” if you are in urgent need. Submit projects before they are “rush jobs.”
Benefits: Your repairs will be done thoroughly and with less pressure on staff time.
Cost: Almost none. Never underestimate the good will of homemade bread, brownies or pizza!

Broken Timer? Buy an external one

Problem: Sometimes an appliance may work well except the timer dies on it.

Solution: Buy an outlet timer to control your appliance, Fisher part number 15077964. It has a one-step reset and start features, 15 Amp.

Benefits: Savings can be hundreds or thousands of dollars if this prevents you from buying a new centrifuge, for example. The associated resources savings are substantial for each large appliance you avoid purchasing.
Cost: $60

Share equipment with colleagues or departmental list serves

Problem: There is a moderate amount equipment (e.g. tens of thousands of dollars value) sitting idle under people’s benches or even on their benches. There is little financial incentive to get rid of it.

Solution: If someone requests to use equipment help them out. If you have spare equipment, think who might need it and ask directly. Advertise in your department and other likely departments. If a campus surplus equipment program develops, there may be financial incentives to sell the equipment.

Benefits: It builds departmental and campus research strength, your generosity will become part of your reputation and performance review, and it saves money. You may clear out some floor or bench space.
Cost: There may be some inconvenience when showing them the equipment or training.

Seek free equipment ON campus

Problem: Many researchers don’t realize how much equipment or routine apparatus may be available: e.g. vacuum pumps, ball mills, spectrometers, gas chromatographs, glass ware, plastic ware.

Solution: Send out an polite inquiry for routinely needed equipment or inquire through the campus network of career staff.

Benefits: You may save thousands of dollars and the environmental impact of manufacturing equipment. You will increase your knowledge of the research that others are doing.
Cost: Ten minutes for an email, up to an hour for phone calls or visits to labs.

“Photo:
Two UCSB researchers from different departments exchanging a $15,000 autosampler. They were connected by LabRATS staff.

Seek free equipment OFF campus

Problem: Local research companies often have surplus equipment or reduce their programs and a lot of electronics and disposable labware may be available worth tens of thousands of dollars. No one on campus has this liason role defined for them plus the expertise to evaluate research equipment.

Solution: Some lab managers need to stay in touch with local companies and respond to their offers.

Benefits: You may collect dozens of items that may be distributed to several departments and even local high schools.
Cost: Twenty minutes for an email once a month, up to an hour for phone calls or visits to warehouses.

Photo: Surplus refrigerators
Large Appliances acquired from a local biotech company that was scaling back its research. This included four ultra cold freezers, CO2 incubators, and standard freezers.

Photo: Small Apparatus
Some of the small apparatus and disposable supplies acquired from the same biotech company. 40-60 cases of supplies were recovered and distributed to research and teaching laboratories plus three local high schools by LabRATS staff.

Donate usable items to a departmental “free shelf”

Problem: When clearing out surplus small items (glassware, plastic items) researchers don$rsquo;t know what to do with them and throw them out. They may be too minor to advertise in a departmental email.

Solution: Each science department can set up a $ldquo;Free Shelf$rdquo; where researchers can drop off surplus items and others will pick them up. A prominent space near the supply room for researchers works well that is not visible to passersby or visitors. Donors labeling the items may help with inventory control (see below).

Benefits: Hundreds of dollars of equipment may be exchanged with little supervision every month.
Cost: Some discretion and maintenance is needed. White elephants may build up. Student volunteers and faculty endorsement may be necessary to facilitate respectful participation.

Example Free Tag

Dispose of all electronics through an electronic waste recycling program (“Techno Trash”)

Problem: Electronic waste is toxic and needs special disposal.

Solution: Thanks to the Associated Students recycling program, UCSB has many basins around campus to accept small electronics. They pick up once or twice per week. Large electronics must be disposed through your IT department or central stores Find e-waste locations.

Benefits: Keeping toxic items out of the landfill. Some metals may be recovered from the electronics.
Cost: None

 


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