As always in life, investment in equipment for a professional lab is assessed under the key aspect of profitability. While the variability of equipment will generally be high, space and money are limited and the investment must cover present and future needs.
Learn about modern concepts that successfully overcome these challenges.
Challenges in the modern lab
A well-designed lab offers countless analytical methods that have to be used in an efficient way. When it comes to cost, not only the one-time investment but also running expenses such as consumables and also salaries are considered. The tendency to want to decrease payroll requires either the reduction of the number of staff, doing without educated chemists – or in the worst case both.
However, this trend does not necessarily mean that the operation of equipment becomes easier at the same time. Lab staff has to handle more and more complex instruments and although preparatory work such as sample collection, identification, and preparation as well as the subsequent tasks of data collection and distribution can be standardized this is difficult with the measuring and analysis steps as they frequently differ greatly.
Lab routines can be simplified by:
- Purchasing as much equipment as possible from the same producer. Brand recognition and similar operation procedures reduce complexity and result in less training required for the lab staff.
- Choosing providers of analytical instrumentation that make sure differences in the user interface, operation, and maintenance of their products are only marginal.
Benefits of modular systems
Modular systems combine the benefits of both standardization and customization. A modular system is put together from the modules required by the application. Modular measuring systems combine devices for measuring different parameters, usually with one master device and sample filling included. The advantages of these modular systems are:
- All required analytical parameters are measured at the same time and in parallel.
- Automatic sample handling reduces potential human errors.
- Once a measuring process has been started, lab staff is free to work on other important tasks.
- If in the future the need for another measuring parameter arises, the extension of the existing measuring system is easy-going. This also serves a limited budget, i.e. a measuring system must not be purchased at once but can be extended on a yearly basis.
- Training effort is minimal: once the first instrument is understood, the operation of another one is straightforward
- All measured data is processed via the same interface, be it a printer, USB storage device, LIMS service, or the touchscreen of the master device.
- The compact setup minimizes required lab space and also sample volume
A journey into the past
At Anton Paar the subject of “modularity” all started with an innovation for the beverage industry. In soft drink production sugar content and CO2 content were measured separately in the lab with two independent instruments. The launch of the PBA-S system united the density meter for measuring sugar content and the carbonation meter for measuring CO2 with automatic sample preparation.
Suddenly, sample throughput was doubled and the operator was only required to use one single interface. Time savings were tremendous.
From left to right: DMA M density meter measures density and converts this into °Brix (sugar concentration); CarboQC determines CO2; PFD filling device automatically fills the beverage directly from the container with no need for prior degassing.
Since this innovation, more and more parameters have been added to the list of combinable measurements:
In recent years the following trends arose with a corresponding response from measurement instrument manufacturers:
- The demand for low sample volume led to the integration of one measuring parameter into existing instruments with a plug-and-play concept.
- The increasing workload of staff created the need for automatic sample changers.
- Some measuring modules were even developed without a user interface when it was obvious that they would always be used with another (master) device. Again this meets the challenge of limited space and also reduces production cost.
- Expensive or limited sample quantities required compact and space-saving measuring equipment.
- Certain industries were consistently drawn to certain combinations of devices. These are now often sold as packages.
The future is modular
Managing a modern analytical lab involves meeting many challenges related to the optimum implementation of measuring equipment, process safety, skilled staff, and work routines. Analytical equipment which provides modularity has benefits for all parties involved:
- The operator benefits from ease-of-use and reduced time required for each measurement task.
- The decision-maker saves money due to optimized processes and efficient use of time and resources.
- The instrument producer can cut down on production costs, leading to less expensive products.
Read more about modular solutions for:
Do you need advice on setting up a modular system for your measurements?
Which parameters would you like to cover?
Talk to us.