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Quartzy for Life Sciences Inventory Management (and more)

Recently, my department decided to update our inventory for keeping track of instructional lab items. Previously we had been using an Access database, but its unwieldiness had discouraged us from updating it regularly. So we went on a search for a solution to create Inventory 2.0. We wanted something that could be accessed from a web browser anywhere, easily updated by student TAs and busy professors, with entries that had attachable information such as manuals and pictures of the items.

For months, the search went on. We collaborated with instructional technologists on campus, searched on our own, even considered building our own database from scratch. In late July, we were feeling very discouraged, but then I serendipitously happened upon Quartzy. We are now using it to catalog our physics lab equipment and it’s working really well. And I’m sharing this on ProfHacker because its uses are more than meets the eye.

If you click over to the Quartzy website, you’ll notice that it is branded towards life sciences inventory management, with mentions of reagents, protocols, CAS numbers, and the like. None of those really apply to running an introductory physics lab. But if you think carefully, those fields really stand for more general categories (items, documents, unique identifiers) which can be applied to many uses.

And so Quartzy has turned out to be great for managing our lab, with even more to offer than we initially were looking for. In addition to entering the inventory data into the site, when a setup TA finds that we are short a given number of some item, he can use the very easy Order option to notify me. I can aggregate these to place one big order and then update the inventory with just a few clicks. Quartzy is also helping us to achieve something on our “dream big” list for inventory management. We use the “Protocols” section to upload all our lab instructions, and then add info such as attached images of the set ups, or tags with the courses the lab instructions are used in.

As a professor at a small liberal arts school, where we are doing scientific work generally without support staff, I am impressed by how useful the website is and can be in our circumstances. Other features offered by the site are the ability the schedule resource use. And soon I’ll be creating an inventory for my own research lab.

As with any web-based tool, there are natural questions about longevity and backup. You can select an option for a backup Excel file of your inventory to be emailed to you every Sunday or on the 1st of the month.

Founder Adam Regelmann told me that we aren’t the first to find uses for it past the life sciences – even an art museum is on board! The company is getting notice for its good work, even winning Startup 2011I heartily recommend looking into Quartzy as a free solution for your inventory management needs. 

How might you use a site such as Quartzy for inventory needs? Let us know in the comments.

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