Increasing sophistication has contributed to impressive growth in automation in analytical laboratories. Automation in turn leads to increase in laboratory productivity and frees the operator to attend to other laboratory tasks. User-friendly application software of most instruments enables easy setup of operational parameters and permit unattended overnight runs. Robotic arms of auto samplers work in unison with programmed stepper motors to allow precise and accurate dispensing of volumes of samples, wash liquids and reagents.
The demands on analytical laboratories are increasing by the day. Industrial in-house quality control laboratories need to analyse product batches on a continuous basis without any letup for timely delivery of high quality manufactured goods. Introduction of real-time online monitoring techniques has proved to be a boon and its contributions have brought with it the great advantage of taking timely corrective measures for increased production conforming with quality requirements. On the other hand laboratories providing analysis services to commercial establishments, export houses, consumer bodies are also required to handle thousands of samples each day. Testing of such large sample volumes using classical analysis or routine analysis instruments leads to insurmountable sample backlogs. Automated analysis once again comes to the rescue of the analyst and assists in handling such heavy sample loads.
Laboratories across the world are making heavy investments on introduction of sophisticated analytical instruments to meet the challenge of increasing sample loads and automation further helps in fast recoveries on capital investments. Continuous trouble free operation using such instruments is a cherished goal of laboratories but its feasibility needs to be examined.
It is obvious that continuous operation of analytical instruments is highly desirable for large number of samples and to get early returns on investments. Now let us go into the reasons why instruments cannot be run for 24 hours each day for 365 days in a year.
Changes in the operating conditions
Instruments are capable of un-attended operation but auto- shutdown is a common feature available on almost all operating software. The instrument will automatically shut down in case of voltage or current variations, leakages or development of high pressures in transfer lines, columns or detectors or in event of component failures. The shutdown gets noticed during working hours but can remain unnoticed during unattended overnight operation and several hours can pass before corrective action can be taken.
Need for Recalibration
A change in environmental conditions in laboratories or normal wear and tear of instrument component parts during use makes re-calibration at defined intervals an essential requirement. In case of continuous long operation such a requirement can get overlooked.
Periodic maintenance of instruments is an essential requirement to prolong the useful life span of instruments. It also includes replacement of consumables such as tubings,septas,seals,cleaning of orifices, replacement of light sources,etc. Continuous operation without concern for maintenance will result in generation of unreliable results.
It can be concluded that today’s sophisticated instruments have built in ruggedness features and are capable of working like workhorses for long durations but still maintenance and recalibration become a necessity to improve their useful life and add to the reliability of their results.