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Equipment Sharing

 

Equipment Sharing: Spring Update

Christopher Wilkinson, Equipment Sharing Platform Manager, University of Cambridge. 

April 4, 2024

Having designed a poster that won a display place at the 2024 Technician’s Conference - part of the University's first Conference for Professional Services - I realised that updating our outreach and engagement material was long overdue. I was made aware of the Reprographics Team’s extremely reasonable banner production costs at the previous New Comers Induction event organised by PPD, and must say that they have been absolutely superb throughout and I cannot recommend them highly enough.

The Reprographics Team were able to rapidly develop the original poster into a full size banner with the addition of the University logo and the images I’d curated in PowerPoint. These specific images reflect the diversity of equipment that the equipment database contains, including some of my personal favourites; a bovine simulator to help vet med students learn how to help cows calf, the automotive simulator in my old department, and the various drones, unmanned all-terrain vehicles, and weather balloons that can remotely capture data on geographical, topographical and atmospheric conditions.

The event was a huge success, and the banner itself has become an integral tool in the process of communicating and interacting with conference attendees. The project has a very broad set of stakeholders, and the message to be delivered differs, depending upon the audience. The banner allows me to direct different stakeholder groups to the different aspects of project support available; PI’s and Postdocs looking for funding opportunities, those looking for equipment they don’t currently have access to, those looking to set up new collaborations between departments or research groups, lab managers wishing to encourage users into their facilities, and those wishing to understand funder requirements and compliance. The visuals also pique the interest of viewers and are a useful and, hopefully, entertaining talking point.

A victim of my own success, by the end of the conference, I had given away all the pens, sticky notes, and notepads (the notepads were also supplied by Reprographics at a very reasonable price point) that contain the publicly-accessible Equipment Sharing Hub web address. On the positive, this resulted in less weight to return to the office by bicycle!

 


Equipment Sharing: Summer Update

Christopher Wilkinson, Equipment Sharing Platform Manager, University of Cambridge. 

August 29, 2023

It’s been a busy few months in terms of the Equipment Sharing Database. The database now holds records of over 4500 individual items of equipment and almost 130 Small Research Facilities available to staff and students across the University. The vast majority of these records are shared with the publicly accessible and recently revised National Equipment Portal, increasing the exposure of University resources beyond the institution and increasing awareness, use, and potential research income. A big thank you to all who’ve helped make this happen. The database has been accessed over 21,000 times by members of staff and students who have collectively viewed almost 180,000 pages of equipment-related information, and the equipment sharing hub you’re currently viewing has itself been viewed by over 11,000 members of the public. 

We’ve streamlined the equipment record approval process, which has allowed us to provide quicker turnaround times for record updates. This improves the user experience from a multi-stakeholder perspective and is a big win from a personal perspective. Horizon scanning, we’re looking to replace the internal architecture that supports the database although we don’t envisage this impacting individuals using the resource or those uploading their equipment to it.

In articles published by the Department of Engineering and on the Sustainability Team’s website, an analysis late last year indicated that the average item was first in service (purchased, installed, and made operational) in 2014. This means that equipment is being used well beyond its 4-year depreciation point and is maximising its return on investment. This is useful confirmation that the University is committed to keeping assets for the long term and that we are prioritising use and reuse. We also provide detailed information on rehoming and disposing of equipment, including donating unwanted but functional equipment to African charities and international organisations.

Some of the more interesting (admittedly a completely subjective term) recent additions include a weather balloon in Astronomy, an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) in Engineering, and an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in Geography. These now sit alongside my previous personal favourites, namely a cow simulator and a scanning magnetic microscope located within an atmospherically magnetically shielded room.

The equipment sharing project also received an honourable mention at the British Embassy in Poland last September during an event entitled Polish-British Research Excellence Dialogue. The purpose of the meeting being to promote British-Polish collaborations and sharing best practices.

We’ve supported another successful round of EPSRC Core Equipment Funding to the tune of approximately £1.1M. The sustainability of equipment is coming under increasing scrutiny, and referencing the infrastructure in place in grant applications adds a crucial aspect that funders consider and increases potential income generation to individual PI’s, Departments, and the institution as a whole. Do consider viewing the guidance on grant applications here and follow @cam_equip on Twitter to learn about upcoming funding opportunities, events, and all the latest equipment sharing information.  

 


Equipment Sharing in Print: Toward a more Sustainable and Environmentally-Friendly Design Future

Christopher Wilkinson, Equipment Sharing Platform Manager, University of Cambridge. 

May 5, 2022

Earlier this year I published an article in the Journal of Computer Sciences covering Equipment Sharing, Equipment Booking Systems, Design, User Experience, Remote User Feedback and Commercial Product Development. The reason was twofold. It was an opportunity to reveal the results of a user survey I conducted during the lockdown period of the pandemic, and an opportunity to highlight how these results could be used in developing a business case for booking system investment and adoption. 

It is worth remembering that the pandemic forced many laboratories to close and to reduce admission to sites and occupancy of labs, particularly in the early stages of nationwide COVID19 response strategies. Thereafter, these booking systems and their inherent functionality became an even more effective tool to manage, control and maintain access to laboratory equipment and facilities, and formed an integral part of institution’s recovery strategies.

As a User Centred and Participatory Design Practitioner, I was able to demonstrate how a participatory design approach was applied, remotely, to an existing equipment management software product to identify the benefits of adoption as reported by actual users of the system. This feed-back mechanism helped the developers identify how they could further improve their service offering and provided the opportunity to form a data-driven approach to business case development for those wishing to purchase the software. 

The approach described gained insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the existing system and was used to enhance the products user experience; the look, feel, functionality and performance of the application. The study and its findings provide a useful benchmarking tool for those wishing to explore equipment management and booking system adoption, and will - I hope - assist those wishing to develop stronger business cases for system adoption in the future.

 

Toward a More Sustainable and Environmentally-Friendly Design Future: Applying Remote User Feedback Methods to Business Case and Commercial Product Development. Acta Scientific Computer Sciences 4.3 (2022): 25-36.


 

Equipment Sharing: Reusing, Recycling and Rehoming Equipment

Jane Miller, Administrator, Division of Anaesthesia, Addenbrookes Hospital

November 1, 2021

I am the Administrator within the Division of Anaesthesia which is part of the Dept of Medicine which in turn is part of the School of Clinical Medicine (University of Cambridge).  We are in embedded office accommodation in Addenbrookes Hospital and we have enjoyed a long-standing relationship with Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust through visiting researchers, Specialist NHS training and our own clinicians and University lecturers and students. In the past we have recycled lab equipment that was not being used by donating to other University Departments and research labs. Years ago you just asked around to find homes for equipment not needed. Now it is made easy and when we wanted to rehome a Bruker EPR Analyzer we were pointed in the direction of the equipment sharing project.

Aware that the equipment sharing project supports not only equipment acquisition and sharing of resources, we were told it offered support in reusing and rehoming operable equipment within the institution.

Initially I contacted the project coordinator who was kind enough to explain the support and resources available. There is an expectation that such equipment will be made available within the institution in the first instance, although it can also be offered, philanthropically, as a gift or donation to a number of international organisations.

We decided to exhaust the local options first and the item was listed on the University’s ‘Science Purchasing’ and ‘All Company’ Yammer platforms to ensure awareness across the University, while Christopher also tweeted publicly via the project’s twitter account and reached out directly to Makespace and BioMakespace who aim to refurbish equipment for local use.

The item was then listed on the University’s Warpit account. Warpit is a free online tool for exchanging furniture, equipment, and other resources between university departments in order to reduce unnecessary procurement, reduce waste, save time on purchasing and disposal, and to free up space. An additional option is UniGreenScheme who are an asset resale service endorsed by the institution.

The listing remained active on Warpit for three weeks before we made contact with UGS, who happened to be in Cambridge collecting equipment from the Department of Chemistry. UGS were happy to add the item to their collection and collected it later that day.

“Thank you, you made it easy. Now we just have the space under the bench in our CAT2 lab to clean up!”

 

For more information on recycling and reusing equipment, please visit:

https://www.equipment-sharing.cam.ac.uk/disposal-and-recycling-equipment


 

Equipment Sharing: Another Year in Review

Christopher Wilkinson, Equipment Sharing Platform Manager, University of Cambridge. 

May 17, 2021

Understandably the last 12 months has seen a decrease in traffic to the database and public pages due to the lockdowns and restrictions on access to equipment reducing demand in some areas. However, a lot continues to happen behind the scenes and we’re now in the process of approving an additional 900 Individual Items of Equipment to be listed on the database and a further 70 Small Research Facilities which is a 25% and 50% increase respectively.

Project-wise, the database as a platform and piece of infrastructure continues to form a pivotal part of strategic equipment funding bids and is referenced in numerous equipment funding applications to UKRI and other funding bodies. This year we’ve been involved in successful applications to the EPSRC’s Core Equipment fund totalling over £1,680,200 and provided input into a multi-partner £3M funding application for the AHRC’s Capability for Collections Infrastructure Award. 

The latter award supports the Heritage Science Hub – a research and collection programme led by the Fitzwilliam Museum's Senior Research Scientist Dr Paola Ricciardi involving the Fitzwilliam Museum, the Hamilton Kerr Institute, the McDonald Institute, and the University Library. The hub will facilitate the development of partnerships and collaborative projects and lead to embedding partnership-focused working in the area of Archaeological and Heritage Science across a number of institutions, including the Cambridge University Library, other University of Cambridge Museums and the Department of History of Art.

Remember to get in touch if you’re writing an equipment grant proposal. Funders increasingly expect to see that processes are in place to maximise the use of funded equipment and the database provides the necessary infrastructure to accomplish this. Contact us for details of the processes in place and information on existing equipment to include in your proposal: equipment_sharing@admin.cam.ac.uk 

Need inspiration? Follow @cam_equip on Twitter for news and funding opportunities.

As an Operational Lead on the University's Recovery Programme, much of my time is now taken up with work streams on the Recovery Task Force and West Cambridge developments, looking at infrastructure for equipment booking and management, and I’ve worked with numerous suppliers who are leading the way in providing guidance on both restricting and reopening access to core equipment. There are also plans afoot to revamp and revise aspects of the equipment sharing platform itself, which is incredibly exciting.

I’m also delighted to announce that the Cambridge COVID19 Test Centre recently celebrated processing over 3.25M tests in a little over 12 months. You’ll recall that this was a multi-partner collaboration between the University of Cambridge, GSK and AstraZeneca that relied on the database in the initial stages of its creation to ensure the centre possessed sufficient quantities of equipment and consumables to make it operational in May last year. You can read more about that particular story below. 


 

Using an Equipment Sharing Database to tackle COVID-19 

Christopher Wilkinson, Equipment Sharing Platform Manager, University of Cambridge. 

April 25, 2020

The equipment database was developed in 2012 as a response to changes proposed by RCUK to the way that equipment on research grants would be funded and expectations of improved efficiencies in the use of equipment and in particular increased shared usage. However, when the call came to respond to the pandemic, it delivered.

Typically we use it as a central platform to help researchers find equipment and facilities available for sharing, encourage internal, national, and international research collaboration, increase the exposure of facilities that can be used to recover equipment costs, highlight the University’s commitment to share equipment (beneficial when grant applications are under consideration) and as a way to indirectly contribute toward waste reduction, reduced consumption, recycling, and carbon profiling.

The equipment database provides members of staff and students across the University with details of over 3400 individual items of equipment and more than 70 existing Small Research Facilities, as well as funding support and news via the publicly accessible website that operates in parallel. To date, 12,682 users have viewed a total of 129,906 pages and I used the database much like anyone would; searching for equipment and creating lists of primary contacts with whom to connect.

When the UK was gripped by the first wave of the COVID-19 tsunami, as someone who oversees the database as the Equipment Sharing Project Manager, I was tasked with speaking directly to laboratory and equipment managers to see how we could support the Government’s rapidly developing COVID-19 Test Facility in Milton Keynes to help ensure they had sufficient quantities of reagents and equipment to meet their 100,000 daily testing target by the end of April.

Whilst nucleic acid extraction instruments are not the most commonly occurring items on the database, I was able to determine what relevant equipment was available in the University and to identify and reach out to 130 members of that community.

Thank you so much...that is incredibly helpful to reach so many people...and great to know such a productive exchange is taking place

– Catherine Hasted, Head of Business Partnerships, University of Cambridge

Researchers at the University had created a Slack Workspace to promote discussions and ideas on different topics related to the pandemic, and the University also implemented its COVID-19 response channel to gain central oversight of all the efforts across the institution. Working with colleagues across the university, I was able to coordinate offers of equipment and liaise directly with Randox Biosciences; the manufacturers of a test evaluated by Public Health England, selected by the Government as a key site in the UK for COVID-19 testing.

At this time the scarcity of PPE locally and nationally was becoming apparent. Whilst there was a separate PPE thread on the slack workspace, another Cambridge institution was pulling together. I am friends with a cohort of the Institute for Manufacturing’s Industrial Systems, Manufacture and Management degree (ISMM44), and cohort members based in China reached out to offer assistance in sourcing PPE equipment. I also posted an update on LinkedIn which prompted a reply from a former IfM colleague who had contacts in China and I was able to feed this information into the developing thread on the slack workspace.

Then the local response stepped up a notch. PVC for Research Professor Chris Abell has been instrumental in the development of the Cambridge Screening Centre; a collaboration between the University, GSK and Astra Zeneca to provide screening facilities for the NHS. I was again tasked with locating relevant equipment to help it become functionally operational. Within four days (and over the Easter Weekend, I hasten to add) the offers of equipment exceeded our original request, allowing us to develop contingency plans for back-up equipment should the need arise, as well as additional expertise to train users.

To witness the support and collaborative efforts of people pulling together has been truly awe-inspiring. Internally, it’s been a great opportunity to utilise the intrinsic power of the database and work with colleagues across departments, institutions, and external organisations. It’s also extended my ability to liaise and be involved with both national and local coordinated responses and the database has proved itself as a pivotal tool, resource, and platform toward this endeavour.

Outstanding

– Chris Abell, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, University of Cambridge

And a further note of thanks to all involved across the University from Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor –

“Work continues apace to set up the large-scale testing facility on our Biomedical Campus. Colleagues have been extremely busy recruiting the staff and collecting the equipment needed for the facility to work. We are all infinitely grateful to the people who have donated scientific equipment, and to the people who have volunteered to work in the testing centre – including senior academics, post-doctoral researchers, research assistants, lab managers and technicians. In this, as in so much else, the Cambridge community has stepped up remarkably to the challenge we all face together. I thank everyone involved”

Department for Health and Social Care response to the call for testing equipment: DHSC and partners - Testing call


 

Lab Equipment Re-Use and Re-Sale: UniGreenScheme 

Mike Mcleod, Co-Founder and Managing Director, UGS. 

www.unigreenscheme.co.uk

April 20, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A common problem across the sector and at the University of Cambridge is that unwanted and outdated research equipment can accumulate in laboratories and facilities. Whilst this equipment is potentially valuable, re-use options can be limited, especially when research equipment is disposed of as waste. To help tackle this issue, the University's environmental team launched a pilot trial of the UniGreenScheme equipment resale service in February 2018. 

We collect, store and sell surplus equipment for universities and return a share of the profits from sales to the department. We were awarded the winner of the EAUC Green Gown Award - Facilities and Services category with the University of Birmingham in 2017, and have prevented over 200,000kg of equipment waste across the UK since 2016.

The results so far at the University of Cambridge are very promising, with over 1.400kg of equipment diverted from waste disposal into re-use so far. The University has received £4,500 from sales, and saved a further £5,000 in time-saving and avoided disposal costs.

Furthermore, the external research sector has saved an estimated £30,000 by buying second-hand equipment sold by the University of Cambridge through UniGreenScheme, versus buying new equivalents. These figures are significant, not least because only 18% of the stock collected has been sold to date; these figures will continue to rise as more equipment is resold.

The equipment collected from Cambridge so far includes old incubators, water baths, vacuum pumps, animal transfer stations, physiology and cardiology equipment, vacuum chambers, power supplies, and much more. The University is also engaging with purchasing second hand-equipment. For example, the Cambridge Biomedical Campus recently purchased a used Leica Inverted Research Microscope from UniGreenScheme for the facility.

To find out how to sell your used equipment or purchase second-hand material, get in touch with UniGreenScheme on info@unigreenscheme.co.uk


 

Equipment Sharing: A Year in Review

Christopher Wilkinson, Equipment Sharing Platform Manager, University of Cambridge. 

January 25, 2018

2018 was an exceptional year for Equipment Sharing! We witnessed over 2,300 staff and student visitors to the database (a 66% increase in comparison to 2017 when oversight of the project was unsecured), and 1189 visitors (a 62% increase in traffic) to the publicly accessible webpage.

The database is regularly used by students and researchers to determine equipment available within the University whilst planning research projects, and this facilitates Cambridge continuing to perform the most ground-breaking, impactive, and effective, research for which it is renowned.

2018 also saw Cambridge renew its collaboration with the Science and Engineering South (SES) regional equipment sharing consortium; something that is fundamental to progress in the sector and a reflection of the University’s commitment to the project both internally and externally.

In order to leverage better investment and value for money, the creation of various user groups has been well supported and appreciated by over 21 Core Lab Managers across 19 Departments who seek improved return on investment. Securing Central Procurement's and Finance’s input to widen coverage of equipment and reduce cost has been crucial, and the relationships with external suppliers over the course of the year was strengthened.

On a personal level, I was delighted to co-author a successful application to the EPSRC that resulted in the University securing £250,000 for our Early Career Researchers to use to purchase new equipment.

We now have 3365 individual items of equipment and over 70 small research facilities listed on the database. These items are accessible to all staff and students within the University for current and future projects and, more widely, external users are able to access a substantial amount of these via the National Equipment Portal. This allows Cambridge to share at a local, national and international level.

One of the highlights of my year was to receive the following email from a current PhD student who, with our help, had secured access to a specific piece of equipment. Not only does this reinforce the value of the project, it also highlights exactly how it provides a platform for the creation of new internal collaborations, this time between the Departments of Psychiatry and Engineering.

“Just wanted to say a massive thank you for successfully finding us a HoloLens. It is good to know that many people are open to sharing around their equipment and I hope this becomes more widespread across departments. I will definitely recommend my friends to you as I think it’s a brilliant thing you do for people. It really saved us from going out and buying our own HoloLens which is very pricey. Again many thanks for all your help!” 


 

Equipment Sharing: A User's Perspective

Dr Ewa Marek, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge. 

www.eng.cam.ac.uk

December 14, 2018

I work as a Post-Doctoral Research Associate (PDRA) at the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, investigating non-catalytic and catalytic oxidation reactions, mostly for energy-related applications. When I started, four years ago, my main project was focused on solid fuel gasification and combustion in a chemical looping setup using fluidised beds. This is a new technology where oxygen for reactions is provided from solids, mostly metal oxides, instead of air. The elimination of air produces flue gas consisting of CO2 and water only; hence the technology is ideal for easy CO2 capture. The crucial bit in this process involves solid oxygen carriers, which after donating oxygen, need to be regenerated, closing the chemical loop. To reduce the potential cost of this technology, the best oxygen carriers should be cheap and abundant; a good example would be ores containing iron oxide. In my research, I was using natural iron ore from Norway, and my results showed that the rate of gasification of solid chars significantly increases when the reaction takes place in the presence of the ore. This was likely caused by the oxygen donation from the metal oxide; alternatively, some other components in the ore could have worked as a catalyst. To rule out the latter, I needed to find the actual composition of the ore, ideally performing an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis, as this is a non-destructive technique that gives an elemental composition of materials.

Unfortunately, my group does not have any XRF machines. I was advised by a colleague working in the same group to have a look at what is available online on the Equipment Database.

This was straightforward, and I found what I was looking for right away. 

Besides the information about the capabilities of the XRF scanner, the database entry provided the email address and telephone number of the person to contact, in this case, Simon Crowhurst from the Department of Earth Sciences. I emailed Simon asking about the possibility of accessing the equipment, and his reply was very helpful and informative. He also kindly agreed to run an analysis for me and to help me interpret the results. I brought my sample, and we ran the analysis and interpreted the results in one meeting. I guess, even if I had easier access to the XRF scanner (if it was in my department or group), this might not have gone so smoothly. Simon’s help was invaluable. 

XRF results showed trace amounts of Cu (Copper) and Sn (Tin) in my material; both in a quantity that was too insignificant to contribute to the reaction. I have published this research in a paper titled Enhancement of char gasification in CO2 during chemical looping combustion in the Chemical Engineering Journal. This was quite an adventure, and I am proud of this work. Thanks to Simon’s help, I got unambiguous answers and was able to focus on the leading theory presented in the paper. 

I have used the Equipment Database website many times since. I have contacted responsible persons with the details provided on the website and ~95% of the time I always received a friendly and positive answer. Even when my emails went unanswered, I was usually able to find another facility close by or in another department. 

I believe that sharing research facilities is extremely helpful for researchers, as it opens up possibilities to move forward with research ideas, even without an all-contained laboratory of your own.

Further Research and Publications


 

Booker: The University Equipment and Room Booking Service

Rob Smith, University Information Systems, University of Cambridge. 

www.uis.cam.ac.uk/ 

October 2, 2018

Booker is primarily designed to permit the booking of rooms across the University and has been rolled out across 35 departments with 3500 registered users to date. It offers comprehensive information about each room, including photos, a simple visual layout, easy searching by date, type of room, and location, and provides customisable options for room managers. It is an incredibly user-friendly and versatile system allowing immediate room booking with the functionally to search for ‘rooms near me’ via an integrated ‘google maps’ feature. There is an ongoing pilot that extends to equipment within the Department of Material Science and Metallurgy. If the feedback is as positive as expected, this will be rolled out across the wider academic community at Cambridge over the coming months. Crucially, the system is available at no cost to staff or users.

Following a survey of equipment managers by the equipment sharing project, it became clear that pooling resources to cover the costs of an off-the-shelf booking system held less appeal for individual item of equipment (IIoE) managers, in contrast to Small Research Facility (SRF) and larger equipment managers. IIoE managers tend to use simple solutions – diaries and google calendars to book equipment and monitor use, favouring costs in the region of pounds rather than the thousands that all-encompassing, off-the-shelf systems such as PPMS Stratocore and Calpendo cost.

Booker is available to all staff and students via Raven authentication, and the intention is that it will be a ‘one stop shop’ for booking rooms, equipment, vehicles, bikes, laptops, and other resources throughout the University. Although it doesn’t currently offer financial system integration (often a prerequisite for managers of larger clusters of equipment), it will be a distinct improvement for the majority of IIoE managers. Further, it has the capability to produce usage/booking reports that can be processed locally by finance departments to authorise invoicing to internal and external users.

This initiative supports the aims set out by Professor Graham Virgo, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, who recognises that high-quality, accessible teaching and learning spaces are vital to our endeavour as a world-class university. Facilities that are attractive and fit for purpose help us to attract the best students and academics from across the world, and encourage the encounters between people and across disciplines that are necessary for world-class learning and research.

Addendum by Christopher Wilkinson, Equipment Sharing Project Manager -

“I think this is a terrific step forward and am looking forward to working with both Event Map and UIS on the roll-out and development of the Booker system. Whilst I will continue to work with the SRF Managers and particularly the Stratocore User Group to explore widening the quantity of larger equipment covered, the expansion of the Booker system to cover equipment booking will reduce the immediate administrative burden for IIoE managers, and the zero cost will, I’m sure, be favourable to all.”

You can read more about the room booking service here: https://www.educationspace.cam.ac.uk/room-booking/about-booker

To request the service or book a demo please contact the Room Booking team via email: roombookingsystem@uis.cam.ac.uk

With an account set up, you can access Booker here: https://booker.eventmapsolutions.com/Account/Login


 

Equipment Sharing: an Academic Perspective

Katherine Stott, Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge. 

www.biophysics.bioc.cam.ac.uk/ 

August 1, 2018