Freezer Failure In The Lab

What You Think You Know About Freezer Failures Is Wrong

Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced a freezer failure. 

A study revealed that 16% of all freezers, regardless of age, model, or manufacturer will fail every year. As laboratories deal with freezer failures, there is a pressing need to shift our mindset from viewing freezer failure incidents as routine to recognizing the impact they have on laboratory operations. 

Freezer failures can have far-reaching consequences for research and asset preservation. Ensuring research success is essential for the strategic advancement of a company. Loss of assets not only jeopardizes experiments but also hinders scientific progress. Recognizing the role of laboratories in advancing research, the National Institute of Health (NIH) emphasized their influence, stating that “80–90% of all diagnoses are made on the basis of laboratory tests.” Prioritizing the integrity of research outcomes is not only essential for success and reproducibility, but it also plays a fundamental role in scientific advancements.

The repercussions of freezer failure extend to the core of organizational stability, with the potential to bankrupt companies or destroy trust with key customers relying on punctual deliveries. The setback in scientific progress caused by a single freezer failure can take research back decades. Equipment monitoring goes beyond risk mitigation, it becomes a strategic move for capital preservation, aligning with both the interests of the company and the scientists driving critical research.

 

Challenging the Status Quo

Evaluating things through this lens, our approach must evolve. Scientists and lab managers should no longer view freezer failures as routine. Instead, they should take proactive measures by implementing necessary precautions and gaining a comprehensive understanding of the primary factors linked to these incidents – human error being the biggest one.  A robust monitoring system that provides 24/7 live agent monitoring is a powerful ally. Similar to ADT’s approach to home monitoring, your lab requires a vigilant team of live experts ready to catch missed alarms, provide direct end-user support, and identify trends that may indicate impending freezer malfunctions. This also enhances experiment reproducibility and serves as a crucial second layer of defense, particularly during unattended hours.

download when freezers fail white paper

 

Why You Should Protect Assets Before Freezer Failure Occurs

Freezer failures are inevitable, and they are an all-too-familiar challenge in laboratories. For instance, in 2012, the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center experienced a devastating loss of 150 frozen brain samples, including one-third of the samples for autism research. The loss of these precious samples has been estimated to set related research back by nearly a decade. During the pandemic, a hospital in Seattle had a freezer failure in the middle of the night and had to rush out thousands of COVID-19 vaccines before they were lost. Sadly, other public examples of catastrophic failures occurred in 2018 when two US fertility clinics faced the loss of thousands of stored eggs and embryos, and again last year when stem cells from 56 pediatric cancer patients were compromised due to a freezer malfunction at a US children’s hospital. These incidents highlight the pervasive issue of compromised assets resulting from equipment failures, compounded by inadequate systems, insufficient support, and improper monitoring. 

It’s worth noting that these are only a few of the public failures we are familiar with, most catastrophes tend to happen quietly in a lab and never make the press.

 

Why Freezer Failures are Missed

Does your lab have a monitoring system in place? What happens if no one is in the lab, alarms are ignored, and no one is there to relocate assets to a backup unit? 

The key to ensuring your team’s peace of mind lies in implementing a robust monitoring system. The caveat is that even with the best system in place, human error is typically the root cause of asset loss. The ideal system needs to be backed by a dedicated support team. XiltriX’s SafetyNet team is a group of monitoring experts who offer 24/7 live support to our customers and are on every alarm escalation protocol.

Alarm escalation protocol for lab monitoring

Missed alarms are more frequent than many people would like to admit, and our data proves it.

Recently, XiltriX North America completed a study focusing on the frequency of missed alarms by their customers. The exercise examined data from three months, and the results would surprise most. People tend to view their lab through rose-colored glasses, assuming their lab staff is the best, but we found that 22.93% of alarms are missed and escalated to our SafetyNet team. Any of those overlooked alarms could have resulted in a devastating loss if SafetyNet hadn’t been there to assist. SafetyNet not only plays a critical role in alarm escalation protocols but also provides comprehensive support, including system configuration, administration, troubleshooting, unlimited training, live phone calls, and acting as an extension of your team.

As the saying goes, “a watched pot never boils,” and conversely, “a watched freezer never fails.” However, this adage is contingent upon having real-time equipment monitoring and a dedicated team of 24/7 live experts. People with experience responding to laboratory alarms can attest to the fact that freezer alarms typically occur after hours, rather than when they are in the lab and able to respond quickly. In situations like these, time is of the essence.

Let’s walk through some reasons why a freezer might fail:

Facility-wide Power Outages

Issues

  • Most freezers often don’t restart automatically after a power outage
  • Misconception that equipment is back online when power is restored
  • Manual reboot required after a power spike

Solution

  • Environmental monitoring allows users to know if the device is back online without individual checks

Compressor Breakdowns

Issues

  • Compressor technology evolution requires proactive firmware management and regular maintenance
  • Freezers are often stored in basements due to the cheaper floor space
  • Freezers stored in basement are prone to dirt exposure
  • Dirt accumulation forces compressors to run for extended periods
  • Overcrowded spaces with heat-expelling equipment strain HVAC systems
  • Compressor breakdowns require heavy maintenance

Solution

  • Power consumption monitoring
  • Real-time independent temperature probes
  • Door contacts alarms
  • Environmental monitoring helps understand compressor performance and identify deviations

Frost Accumulation

Issues

  • Frost accumulation is inevitable in freezers
  • Factors contributing to frost:
    • Wires/cables being ran through door seal
    • Opening the freezer door, causing condensation.
    • Higher humidity during door openings
    • Old door seals
    • Humid environments, especially in summer
    • Lack of dehumidification in the HVAC system
    • Compressors work harder when frost restricts airflow
    • Ice accumulation on built-in fans disrupts even cooling
    • Uneven cooling results in temperature deviations

Wear and Tear

Issues

  • Wear and tear in equipment is unavoidable
  • Frequent movement of equipment worsens it
  • Over time, door hinges tend to loosen
  • Loose hinges may result in improper door closure
  • Improper closure can cause a gap in the door seal
  • Gaps in the seal allow air and humidity inside the unit
  • Door seals are often overlooked in maintenance

Temperature Stabilization Due to Door Openings

Issues

  • Temperature stabilization during door openings relies on user adherence to SOPs
  • Understanding equipment specifications and limitations is crucial
  • Independent sensors and door contacts are essential for SOP enforcement
  • Dry data is necessary to monitor and assess SOP effectiveness
  • Lack of an independent temperature probe can lead to asset loss and degradation

Equipment Quality

Issues

  • Labs often choose second-hand equipment due to budget limitations
  • Some labs prefer standardizing on a single equipment brand 
  • Saving money and avoiding maintenance can compromise accuracy
  • Accurate data is crucial for reliable equipment performance

Environmental Factors

Issues

  • HVAC effectiveness in cooling compressor heat is essential
  • Proximity to windows can influence equipment performance
  • Frequent equipment movement may affect stability
  • High humidity levels can impact sensitive equipment
  • Availability of backup freezers and UPS for power interruptions is crucial
  • Monitoring ambient conditions helps understand internal unit behavior
  • Light and UV exposure may compromise certain samples or reagents, affecting experiment reproducibility

Freezer Failures Are Inevitable & Asset Loss Is Preventable

Stop accepting asset loss as an “inevitable” part of working in the lab.

Looking back at the cases mentioned before where disaster did occur, the root cause traced back to failures in the systems and the processes implemented to respond to disaster. Human error emerges as the primary contributor to asset loss. Your monitoring system is only as efficient as your end user. The only way to avoid asset loss is by partnering with an Environmental Monitoring System (EMS) provider that acts as an extension of your team and can offer live support. 

At XiltriX, our SafetyNet team prevents disasters like these on a daily basis. For instance, in this case study, we discuss how SafetyNet detected a -80ºC freezer door that was left open in a customer’s research lab in Boston. Despite seven calls and thirteen emails, the issue was only addressed after persistent outreach to several emergency contacts. 

 

Signs That Your Monitoring System Needs an Upgrade

Scientists, researchers, and operations staff working in laboratories often struggle to identify the features they need from a monitoring system. With numerous priorities demanding their attention and with so many solutions on the market, determining the critical components is not an easy task. To simplify this process, we have provided a chart highlighting key aspects to avoid in a monitoring system. 

Signs of an Unreliable Monitoring System

  • Data logging
  • Lack of support
  • Low-quality sensors
  • False alarms
  • Relying on unit’s built-in sensors
  • Installation fees
  • Hardware fees
  • Maintenance fees
  • Calibration must be performed offsite
  • System cannot be validated
  • No training

 

How to Prevent Asset Loss Caused by Freezer Failure

To minimize errors in the laboratory, internal processes need to change. Our goal is to empower users and reinforce the idea that they have the power to prevent asset loss.

Rather than depending on scientists to handle emergencies in the middle of the night, a more effective approach to safeguarding your assets and preventing employee burnout involves collaborating with an EMS provider that can supplement your staff. A suitable provider will offer real-time monitoring along with 24/7 live support, streamlining troubleshooting and ensuring prompt intervention when necessary.

 

Implement an Independent, Robust Monitoring System

Laboratories must adopt monitoring systems independent of the equipment they oversee. These systems should incorporate high-quality, industrial-grade sensors that are professionally installed to minimize the occurrence of false alarms. When a freezer shows signs of malfunction or failure, the monitoring system will promptly alert users through customizable alarms and notifications via phone, text message, or email. XiltriX, for instance, offers automated notifications with highly customizable alarm protocols. Our SafetyNet team collaborates with users in charge of alarms during onboarding to tailor these protocols. In the event of an alarm, live agents provide clarity on the situation and share detailed reports and graphs outlining the current status.

 

Use Real-Time Monitoring

Traditional monitoring systems log data at intervals ranging from 15 minutes to an hour, uploading it in one batch. However, when dealing with freezers containing critical assets, real-time data is the only option. As we mentioned above, a real-time data acquisition system surpasses the capabilities of a data logger by providing a continuous stream of data. The XiltriX system checks for parameter breaches every second, ensuring immediate alarms in the face of deviations and allowing users to have full operational oversight.

 

Partner With a Service Provider

Our pivotal distinction – 24/7 live support.

Capital preservation goes beyond necessity, and a monitoring service is unquestionably the foundation of asset protection and ensures your research is not in vain. Our SafetyNet team will act as an extension of your team and is available to manage alarms 24/7 so you can focus on what you do best. Beyond alarm response, our SafetyNet team performs tasks such as data analysis to predict potential failures, root cause analysis, and quality or incident reports for audits and regulatory compliance. 

With 30+ years of monitoring experience, XiltriX are industry experts. XiltriX North America is ISO 9001:2015 and SOC2 certified. Book a demo today to learn how XiltriX can save your science.

Schedule Meeting