Imagine the challenge of keeping an inventory of hazardous chemicals at a large research institution like Stanford University, with approximately 2,000 laboratories located in more than 100 buildings. That is what Lawrence Gibbs, associate vice provost in charge of the Department of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) at Stanford, had to do.
"We are responsible for tracking about 200,000 individual containers of hazardous material on campus," said Gibbs.
Gibbs'' department is required by law to report the contents of each container to 20 federal, state and local agencies -- from the EPA to the Palo Alto Fire Department
The task became so overwhelming that, by the mid-1990s, Gibbs and his colleagues began looking for a more efficient way to track chemical inventories.
"We just didn''t have a good system in place," recalled Gibbs, "so we tried to find a commercial solution to manage all the chemicals on campus via the Web."
According to Gibbs, none of the commercially available programs was up to the task, so the EHS Department began developing its own software.
The result was the Stanford Chemical Information Management System (SCIMS), launched in June 1999.
"It took us two years to document the institutional requirements and develop SCIMS," said Gibbs, "but now we have a system that''s available in every building where hazardous chemicals are stored."
"Our old paper and desktop system was very arduous," continued Gibbs. "Our goal with SCIMS was to provide as much local control and flexibility as possible to researchers in the lab, because their needs change over time."
SCIMS allows authorized users to update their inventory simply by typing in the name and the amount of each chemical in their lab on a standard form available on the Web.
The data are automatically entered into the dozen or so compliance reports that Gibbs regularly submits to the government.
"Chemical inventories are required throughout the campus for common substances such as diesel fuel, gasoline, chlorine bleach and soap, as well as exotic chemicals, including arsine gas for semiconductor research," said Gibbs.
Even the paint used by art students requires special storage and tracking information.
As a result of SCIMS, inventory management has become so streamlined that Gibbs has been able to eliminate the equivalent of two full-time inventory management positions at the EHS Department.
"SCIMS is fast and efficient," said Gibbs. "Reports that used to take hours or even days now can be filled out with the push of a button."
Gibbs also maintains that SCIMS has encouraged researchers to share chemical supplies and has reduced the number of duplicate orders.
"Before, if someone ran out of a certain chemical, there was no way to tell if its was available in someone else''s lab," said Gibbs.
Gibbs said that the SCIMS software could have widespread applications at other universities and in the private sector.
"The area of chemical supply-chain management is getting a lot of attention nowadays," said Gibbs. "Studies show that the cost of chemical management by an organization can be up to 10 times higher than the actual purchase of the chemical."
by Virginia Sutcliffe