Data: Instrumentation

Tis chapter will consider the different classes of instruments and computerised instrument systems to be found in laboratories and the role they play in computerised experiments and sample processing – and the steady progress towards all-electronic laboratories. However, the choice of best-of-breed laboratory instruments and instrument systems can present challenges when it comes to getting everything to work together in a seamless way. Te final part of this chapter will look at the issue of standard data interchange formats, the extent of the challenge, and some of the initiatives to address them.

Simple laboratory instruments

Devices such as analytical balances and pH meters use low-level processing to carry out basic functions that make them easier to work with. Te tare function on a balance avoids a subtraction step and makes it much easier to weigh out a specific quantity of material. Connecting them to an electronic lab

notebook (ELN), a laboratory information management system (LIMS), a lab execution system (LES), or a robot, adds computer- controlled sensing capability that can significantly off-load manual work. Accessing that balance through an ELN or LES

permits direct insertion of the measurement into the database and avoids the risk of transcription errors. In addition, the informatics soſtware can catch errors and carry out calculations that might be needed in later steps of the procedure.

14 Te connection between the instrument and

computer system may be as simple as an RS-232 connection or USB. Direct Ethernet connections or connections through serial-to-Ethernet converters can offer more flexibility by permitting access to the device from different soſtware systems and users. Te inclusion of smart technologies in

instrumentation significantly improves both their utility and the labs’ workflow.

Computerised instrument systems

Te improvement in workflow becomes more evident as the level of sophistication of the soſtware increases. It is rare to find commercial instrumentation that doesn’t have processing capability either within the instruments’ packaging or, through a connection to an external computer system. Tis offers more flexibility and access to a wider array of resources, including data storage and an improved user-interface. Where there is an option, the choice of

dedicated computer-instrument combinations vs. multi-user, multi-instrument packages is worth careful consideration. Te most common example is

chromatography, which has options from both instrument vendors and third-party suppliers. One of the major differences is data access

and management. In a dedicated format, each computer’s data system is independent and has to be managed individually, including backups to servers. It also means that searching for data may

be more difficult. With multi-user/instrument systems there is only one database that needs to be searched and managed. If you are considering connecting the systems

to a LIMS or ELN, make the connections as simple as possible. If an instrument supported by the soſtware needs to be replaced, changing the connection will be simpler. Licence costs are also a factor. Dedicated

formats require a licence for each system. Shared- access systems have more flexible licensing considerations. Some have a cost per user and connected instrument; others have a cost per active user/instrument schedules. In the latter case, there are eight instruments

and four analysts, of which only half may be simultaneously active, licenses for only four

“Connections are only part of the issue. The more significant factor is the structure of the data that is being exchanged: how it is formatted; and the organisation of the content”

instruments and two users are needed. One factor that needs attention is the education of laboratory staff in the use of computer-instrument systems. While instrument soſtware systems are capable

of doing a great deal, their ability to function is oſten governed by user-defined parameters that affect, at least in chromatography, baseline- corrections, area allocation for unresolved peaks, etc. Carefully adjusted and tuned parameters will

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