The other day I received a paper credit card statement from my bank. I threw it in my recycling bin while wondering why the bank was still sending me paper statements. Online banking has made tracking my household finances more efficient. Back in the day, I would sit with my calculator trying to manually quantify my expenses by category (groceries, drugstore, rent, etc.) using a paper statement. Now I automatically export my online statements into excel or a mobile app to manage my spend.
If an analytical laboratory is looking to also manage their budget more efficiently and accurately, one of the first areas to assess should be the automation of any manual processes. A very common manual process is the use of physical log-book entries for monitoring consumable lifetimes when performing ion chromatography (IC). Unfortunately, this process can be ridden with human errors if your lab has multiple chemists who may all not be detail-oriented when entering information about the installation date, the use and the performance of the consumable. Due to the fast-paced environment of daily life in the laboratory (or life in general), following a disciplined schedule is commonly neglected. Often times, it is simply assumed that consumables will operate as expected which is not always realistic.
Just thinking back to when I would do my finances manually, I could easily have punched in the wrong numbers in haste on my calculator. I may have even added up incorrect expenses by eyeballing transactions. Sometimes, I would lose the paper statements altogether. How’s that for discipline when it comes to balancing one’s checkbook?
In the analytical world, it’s very important to understand how an IC system’s performance is directly tied to its installed consumables. At a very basic level, separation is achieved with a guard and separator column set. The signal-to-noise ratio is greatly enhanced with the use of an eluent suppressor for the detection of your analyte(s) of interest. Additionally, automated eluent generation (EG™) requires the use of an Eluent Generator Cartridge (EGC) to electrolytically produce high-purity eluents. If the performance of any one consumable begins to deteriorate, system robustness and reliability can be compromised affecting the integrity of results.
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The impact can extend beyond the IC instrument to a lab’s operating budget as well. During an annual lab audit, if a consumable’s serial number in the system does not match the one in the log-book, the manual entry is deemed incorrect. At this point, an unscheduled consumable replacement is required because it becomes impossible to determine a consumable’s true age. Often times, perfectly good consumables may be replaced unnecessarily. Now a lab has to use unbudgeted funds to purchase new consumables. On top of that, their system is not in use as new consumables are equilibrated (may require up to a day or two).
Recently, Thermo Fisher Scientific launched a new feature called Consumables Device Monitor which automates consumables performance monitoring. When a tagged consumable is installed in a compatible IC system, data regarding the installation date, use, and decommissioning of a consumable is stored directly on the memory tag. Up to 22 parameters on 8 different classes of IC consumables are tracked. Examples include but are not limited to weekly flow rate, pump pressure and background conductivity data.
But wait…it gets even better than that! An operator is immediately alerted when there are two types of consumable mismatches: size (combining 4 mm and 2 mm consumables) or chemistry (i.e. installing anion and cation consumables). However, the alerts are merely warning levels issued in the Audit Trail or the Consumables Inventory Page of the Thermo Scientific™ Dionex™ Chromeleon™ Chromatography Data System (CDS). They will not prevent operation of the instrument if a corrective action is not necessary to implement.
At Pittcon this year, I listened to a live presentation on the feature performed on the new Thermo Scientific™ Dionex™ Integrion™ HPIC System. I would highly recommend watching the recording to learn more. As you look to drive quality, cost-effective practices in the lab, eliminating error-prone manual processes should definitely be a priority. Now if you will excuse me, I need to call my bank to put a stop to any further paper statements in the mail!