During the outbreak of COVID-19, many life science facilities are being forced to shut down, and in some instances this is exposing a severe lack of capabilities to remotely monitor critical assets and environments. After the quarantines are over, the lessons we learned should not remain a wasted opportunity. It is critical that life science organizations adopt 24/7 real-time, remote-monitoring on all vital equipment and environments. This includes equipment used in laboratories such as cold storage, cryogenic storage and incubators; environmental monitoring such as ambient conditions, vivariums and cleanrooms; and lastly, facility monitoring such as building access, backup generators and uninterruptible power supplies. Below, we will go over critical parameters in a lab or life science facility that should be monitored by a 24/7 real-time, data-acquisition system.

 

Lab Equipment Monitoring:

 

Cold Storage devices

Fridges and freezers are among the most critical assets for any life science organization to monitor remotely. These devices store priceless samples, company IP, and valuable resources, such as reagents. Furthermore, with many devices left unattended for extended periods of time, having  a system that allows you to see all devices from any location is critical for storage of not only samples, but media as well. With so many devices aging and refurbished, having an industrial-grade and professionally installed monitoring system in place reduces the risk of losing assets.  Any failure in a cold storage device needs to be addressed immediately to save the sensitive assets inside, and every second counts.

Critical Cold Storage Parameters to Monitor: Temperature & Door Contacts. In some cases, electrical consumption can be a valuable parameter as well for a better analysis of a unit’s health.

 

Cryogenic Storage Devices

Liquid Nitrogen Dewars and Cryogenic Tanks are designed for long term storage of very sensitive assets. Generally, samples in these environments spend greater than 99% of their lifespan in storage, further adding to the necessity of maintaining proper storage conditions. With various types of tanks, filling schedules, and automated filling devices, it becomes even more imperative to have proper monitoring on all tanks to safeguard the samples and assets stored inside.

Critical Cryogenic Storage Parameters to Monitor: Liquid Nitrogen Level & Temperature. LN2 levels can be most accurately ascertained via temperature change, and alerts based on low levels provide the time necessary to refill LN2 before assets are jeopardized. In some cases, automated filling devices also need to be monitored for activity and functionality.


Incubators

Incubators need to maintain constant temperature and gas concentrations to properly grow bacteria, cells, or other samples. If levels drop, even for a short period of time, the experiment can be ruined, viability compromised or valuable samples lost. Accuracy and reliability are critical for any experiment, and in certain instances, such as IVF or clinical trials, there can be significantly more at stake. Room conditions are often overlooked for incubators. However, room conditions adversely affect gases inside the incubator. This is why using calibrated sensors in the unit, as well as properly monitored ambient parameters, is important to the validity and proper functioning of incubators.

Critical Incubator Parameters to Monitor: Temperature, CO2, O2, humidity, pH, digital alarms, backup power (like UPS and backup generators), and door openings. At a minimum, incubators should be monitored remotely for digital alarm outputs. These will most likely not provide data on what parameters are in alarm, but will provide notifications that your incubator needs attention. Data outputs from an incubator provide more information about the cause of an alarm, but are not as reliable as third party, independent sensors. When possible, third party sensors should be used to take independent, calibrated readings of all pertinent incubator parameters.

 

Environmental Monitoring:

 

Vivariums

Vivariums require active attention to ensure the wellbeing of the animals. However,  many facilities have staff constantly in and out of the vivariums. With that in mind, vivariums need to constantly control critical parameters, not only to provide comfortable living conditions for the animals, but also to safeguard valuable research and experiment data.

Critical Vivarium Parameters to Monitor: Temperature, relative humidity, differential pressure, light intensity, and ammonia levels. Additionally, different types of vivariums may require different parameters to be monitored. pH and salinity levels are pertinent for fish tanks.


Lab & Warehouse Ambient Parameters

In laboratories and warehouses, ambient parameters can seriously impact equipment degradation, experiment outcomes, energy consumption and product quality. This can be particularly true when storing electronics or medical devices. Freezer farms create a lot of heat that requires active cooling. As the HVAC unit tries to keep temperature constant, humidity is introduced, which harms electronic devices. In addition, local weather conditions greatly affect ambient parameters inside the facility and those parameters can vary greatly throughout a large room.

Critical Ambient Parameters to Monitor: Temperature & relative humidity. In larger areas and cold rooms, it is important to monitor multiple points, depending on its size and the contents within.

 

Cleanrooms

When it comes to cleanrooms, different classifications require different parameters to be monitored. These parameters, and the frequency in which they must be measured, also varies based on the regulations your organization follows. In every situation, it is important to clearly define and understand what ambient parameters must be controlled in your cleanrooms in order to prove compliance in the event of an audit.

Critical Cleanroom Parameters to Monitor: Temperature, relative humidity, differential pressure, VOCs, Particle Counting, laminar flow hoods, biosafety cabinets, other pertinent devices.

 

Facility Monitoring:

 

Building access

Understanding who is coming and going from a facility is important for various security reasons. During a facility shutdown, it becomes even more important to understand who has access to what parts of the facility.

Critical Building Parameters to Monitor: Access cards for key personnel, video on building entrances, door openings (even for unrestricted areas, monitoring door openings provide critical insights for regulating HVACs, as well as root cause analysis of intraday variations.)

 

Backup generator

Ensuring a facility has power is critical for the safety of all the assets stored within. Unlike some organizations, life science companies need to preserve inventory and assets at precise levels. If a power outage occurs, it is imperative that an organization is absolutely certain that critical infrastructure is functional. In emergency situations, remotely monitoring common points of failure on backup generators ensures that your facility has power.

Critical Backup Generator Parameters to Monitor: 1) Backup generator has turned on, 2) backup generator is generating amps, 3) the building is receiving power.

 

Uninterruptible Power Supply

An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is a battery that "kicks in" when the device it is connected to senses a loss of power from the primary source. Extremely vital and sensitive equipment should be connected to a UPS, and the UPS must be monitored as well. Every UPS has an expected lifespan, based on the number of devices it is powering and how much energy they consume.

Critical UPS Parameters to Monitor: UPS On/Off, UPS lifespan. A power outage to the building signals that devices are relying on a UPS, providing an approximate timeline of how long there is to resolve the power issue.

The life science industry is now facing many challenges, from facility shut down to operating pressures as a result of combating COVID-19. So today, more than ever, it is essential to have a robust laboratory and facility monitoring system in place.

Beyond the current global emergency, daily activities will greatly benefit from having a robust monitoring solution to provide critical insights on processes that directly influence experiment outcomes. Having real-time information on vital equipment and environments removes variables from experimentation, mitigates risk, improves SOPs, and increases research reproducibility. It is crucial that any monitoring solution leverages real-time data collection, uses industrial grade hardware, and provides an third party source of data, independent of the equipment being monitored.

A significant amount of valuable samples, IP, equipment and devices are stored in the lab. Having future-proof safeguards in place to protect scientific investments is a necessity for pharmaceutical companies, blood & tissue banks, hospitals, and even academic research institutions.

 

To learn more about our robust Lab Monitoring-as-a-Service read our article on keeping your science safe with laboratory monitoring.