Ensuring a stable environment at all times within your laboratory and the facilities surrounding it is not just to ensure scientific quality; it’s also crucial from the standpoint of security of your samples, equipment, IP, and in keeping workflows and processes stable and predictable.
There are multiple factors contributing to ensuring a stable lab environment, such as staying on top of preventive maintenance, energy usage, safety, and ensuring HVACs, air quality systems, water filtrations, backup generators, and gas manifolds are running properly. As a best practice in ensuring stability in the lab and the surrounding facilities, many organizations (biotechs, pharma labs, IVF labs, and cryogenic storage sites) are implementing real-time environmental monitoring systems.
Following is our ultimate – yet ever-evolving – guide about how to monitor your facility in real-time, the equipment, processes, and events to take into consideration as you make your clinical laboratory as stable and secure as possible.
HVACs are known to be difficult to regulate and maintain, with myriad, often problematic, factors to consider: How do you know that the sensors are properly calibrated? Are sensors reporting accurate ambient parameter data? When should an aged HVAC be replaced due to loss in efficiency? Is the HVAC no longer running properly or is the problem rooted in something as simple as an old filter that needs replacing?
Integrating your HVAC system into an environmental monitoring system (EMS) can help answer those questions and more, and is critical to maintaining a scientifically controlled environment.
Key parameters to monitor in your HVAC system are:
When using the data reporting system built into the HVAC, there are several factors to consider, both external and internal.
For example, it’s a common practice to turn down the HVAC system late at night to reduce energy costs. This might work well for a regular office, but for a facility that houses life science assets, it poses several risks. A common problem is when cold storage units have to work much harder to keep samples cool, and thereby reducing average equipment life span and increase the risk of equipment failure.
Another example: it’s a common occurrence for a lab to have different HVAC units (e.g., a facility that has both stored cellular materia and a vivarium), and they can sometimes come into “conflict” with one another and cause temperature fluctuations across an overall facility.
This data point could go easily undetected if only trusting internal HVAC data, but if you’re using a real-time monitoring platform that integrates with independent sensors, temperature fluctuations are promptly discovered and can be quickly resolved before exposing any assets to risk. Independent sensors are very reliable when it comes to trending data.
High levels of humidity can cause tremendous damage to samples, equipment (rust), and even facility infrastructure in the form of mold and mildew. To ensure an environment is not at risk for such damages, it’s recommended to monitor relative humidity (Rh).
Measuring the ratio of the mass of moisture in the air, high-quality Rh sensors are a critical component for any facility concerned with controlling its humidity levels. External factors (e.g., weather) can quickly impact internal climates if HVACs or dehumidifiers are not running properly, making it critical that humidity sensors are integrated with a real-time monitoring system.
Having a third-party monitoring platform integrated with the HVAC system into an EMS is a vital safeguard to ensure reliability and continuous temperature monitoring.
To learn more about HVACs: Monitoring Relative Humidity & Temperature in Real-time for Your Lab.
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Air flow. Air filtration. External events. Particles, harmful and inert, trafficking in the air. There are myriad factors to consider when monitoring a laboratory’s internal air quality and the systems that ensure it. Depending on your line of business, workflows, or operations, factors may include the following.
Whether monitoring differential pressure between rooms within a facility, or air flow in flow hoods and biosafety cabinets, understanding how air is moving is important to maintaining a controlled environment.
If your organization needs to adhere to different classifications for cleanrooms, the air flow must be measured accordingly.
Having a system in place that immediately alerts you when any deviations occur can help ensure potential risks for contamination are discovered early and can be resolved promptly. Having a trusted partner create a system specific to your business goals and regulatory requirements is critical, as nothing should be left to chance.
A facility monitoring solution should also be able to capture information from the filtration systems in place to remove particles in flow hoods or areas used for biosafety and cleanrooms. Using a multitude of means of filtration (depending on classification), a facility monitoring system must be flexible enough to work with them all, including:
One of the most common, yet overlooked threats to air quality in the modern lab are volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These organic chemicals pose a danger to lab personnel, can harm biological samples, and threaten valuable IP. Examples include organic acids, carbon disulfide, ethanol, alcohol, formaldehyde, methylene chloride, and even perfume.
By adding VOC sensors between each filter stage, facility managers can be alerted when too many VOCs are passing through a given filter and see whether or not it needs to be replaced. Actual data from VOC sensors create more reliable replacement benchmarks rather than, say, periodically switching filters based on maintenance schedules or manufacturer-suggested filter lifespans.
In addition to monitoring VOC, particle counters can measure particulates in the air as they provide information on the amount and size of various particles in a filtration system. Particle counters are used for clean and regulated environments, such as cleanrooms, and depending on application focus, typically need to be calibrated every 6-12 months.
Compressors are used for several different applications in research, pharma, medical, university, and manufacturing fields, and can be used to supply cleanrooms with clean, dry, compressed air. Mitigating factors — all of which should be closely monitored — in ensuring air compressors are running as they should are as follows:
Besides monitoring for increases in power usage for compressors, there are other factors to monitor which may cause unnecessary power consumption, such as running for excessive duration. By monitoring on/off times, this information can be leveraged to ensure resources are used efficiently and energy costs are reduced.
Air compressors are sophisticated devices often with built-in alarms for any kind of deviation or system error. Integrating this alarm data into a facility monitoring system enables you to create log reports of the alarms, and benefit from greater insights into the overall health of any given compressor.
To ensure the air compressor has the right pressure, a sensor can be integrated with the unit and send alerts via a monitoring system should pressure get too high/low.
Placing a flow sensor in the coupling of a compressor enables monitoring of the volume of air moving through it.
Air compressors can sometimes be a source of humidity, due to water vapor inside. A sensor can be put into place to measure vapor levels inside of the compressor and alerts you of humidity levels that could impact your assets or overall facility.
One of the most common reasons behind air compressor failure is overheating. By measuring and reporting on the internal temperature in real-time, spikes in temperature can be discovered early and failure can be prevented (often, simply by turning off the compressor and letting it cool down before continued usage).
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In the lab, water isn’t just water. And the water used for different processes can cause adverse outcomes and loss of research if not filtered properly prior to use. There are typically four water types:
Also known as ultra pure, type 1 water is used in analytical labs for critical tasks such as cell and tissue culturing.
Mainly used for simpler processes, such as dilution or media preparation for samples.
Mainly used for washing lab equipment. Usually, tap water that’s gone through reverse osmosis.
Also known as tap water. Typically used in the lab as “feed water” for types 2 and 3. In order to ensure that the water quality meets the standards required of a given environment or project, the following criteria must be taken into account and closely monitored.
Measuring if water is acidic or basic is a common practice in most laboratories. Integrating a pH sensor with your monitoring system helps to keep an eye on water pH levels.
The total organic carbon count (TOC) in water is a vital element of water quality as high TOC levels can impact, or even ruin, assays and experiments.
To monitor and ensure TOC levels are within an accepted range for a given workflow, third-party, real-time TOC sensors are often integrated with water purification systems. By using a real-time monitoring system, spikes in TOC (caused, for example, by faulty filtration systems or broken valves) can be promptly detected before polluting sensitive applications.
Learn more in the blog post “Water Quality in the Lab”.
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A flood can be caused by more things than just hurricanes and harsh weather: it can also be caused by an internal event, such as a burst pipe or a tap left open. Alongside floods are the far-less-detectable leaks, which are often small and hidden behind equipment (such as cold storage or cooling systems).
Regardless of causation or severity, placing flood/leak sensors under sinks and lab equipment, with capabilities to send out notifications, is a simple and effective safeguard. Leaks and floods can be discovered before they wreak havoc and attended to promptly before the damage gets done.
Learn more about how to prepare and respond to lab disasters in: Disaster Planning for the Lab: How to Prepare, Respond, and Recover.
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A small component with a critical role. Used to switch gas tanks that supply gas to lab equipment, such as incubators and cryo tanks, gas manifolds are integral to the overall health of a lab.
Many facilities store gas tanks close to the lab, but for organizations with large quantities of tanks (e.g., hospitals, university research labs), tanks are often stored in a well-ventilated location away from the main building to ensure the safety of patients and on-site personnel.
To discover any potential malfunctions before they result in disaster, facilities should monitor the following parameters:
The pressure of gas tanks is an integral part of preventing premature equipment failures. Most gas manifolds are semi-automatic, which means they automatically adjust and switch active tanks when the pressure drops.
However, in the event of a manifold switching to an empty tank, it’s important for the preservation of research and IP, to have remote alarms immediately sent to qualified staff so they can intervene. As these alarms can only be integrated with digital gas manifolds, it’s recommended to not use analog manifolds to supply gas for sensitive and critical scientific assets.
Some manifolds have tank level alarms, which can be highly useful in understanding how often you need tanks refilled and/or replaced. Ask your supplier about external monitoring options when evaluating your manifolds.
Besides proper ventilation in the area where tanks are stored, having sensors that monitor for CO2 and O2 levels in that area helps ensure CO2 is under the recommended 1,000 parts per million (ppm) and O2 is over 19%.
Due to the high health risks related to gas leaks, reporting on deviations in all of the above is rarely enough. A lab must have local visual and audible alarms, and the ability to immediately send notifications to trained personnel who can quickly intervene.
Keeping track of who is entering and leaving a lab facility and/or the building it may be within is a basic reality in this day and age. Even more so when you’re in a hyper-competitive market like biotech where a single device can contain a billion dollars in possible IP.
It’s not just traditional security that labs require, either. Keeping track of who has access matters, but it’s also about tracking access patterns. Understanding when most people are entering and leaving the building can help control environments and reduce unnecessary risks, such as leaving a door open.
Adding a range of sensors, indoor and outdoor cameras, and cross-referencing the information provided with an environmental monitoring system, creates a more comprehensive, holistic approach to overall lab safety and security.
You’ll uncover data points you can act on quickly as well, such as:
As mentioned in our Equipment Monitoring Guide, door sensors can be very beneficial to monitor equipment health, but the data they deliver can also be of great value providing insights that can help guide creating SOPs and ensure your lab equipment remains stable.
In addition to door sensors, having individual key cards for personnel that create data logs for whenever someone in a team enters the lab can also be a valuable source of information. There’s the standard “access-level” reason, but they can also help in the event of an alarm sent by your monitoring system as you can immediately see who may be in the lab and qualified to help with an issue.
Having video surveillance is another great tool to gather insight into what is happening in the facility at all times. It provides you with a historical and accurate record you can use to review any events, and can send triggers to your monitoring system should, for example, activity be captured on-site after-hours.
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Facility managers are often tasked with keeping tabs on energy costs and ensuring they stay within budgets. Because in every laboratory and facility there are devices consuming energy.
Monitoring power consumption shouldn’t be limited to when the bill arrives. There are several ways to keep track of consumption “on the fly”. One of the easiest means is by integrating sensors on lab equipment and critical systems to track energy consumption trends and send reports when trends exceed expected power usage.
Not only does this make financial sense, but it can even allow you to identify lab equipment that may be consuming too much energy.
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Regardless of where your facility is located, power outages can happen anywhere and at any time. With the average cold storage device storing samples worth over $100,000, a power outage can be detrimental to not just the facility, but the company as a whole.
Having the proper safeguards in place before catastrophe strikes is the only way to ensure critical equipment and systems will have the power necessary to maintain normal functionality during the outage. Backup generators and uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) are great options to protect what’s most important in the event of a power outage.
By implementing a real-time monitoring solution that alerts when power fails and backup generators or a UPS kicks in, a team can quickly respond to get all systems back online while enjoying peace of mind that critical systems still have power.
In the event of a power outage, most lab facilities rely on backup generators to keep the power running. It’s critical to know that the generator has successfully turned on, is generating amps, and the building is receiving power. Monitoring generators when they’re on, and keeping them on proper maintenance schedules when they’re off, is a mission-critical task.
A UPS kicks in when the device loses connection to its primary source of power. As a critical safeguard to protect devices storing vital and sensitive scientific assets, it’s just as critical to monitor the actual UPS itself. To ensure a UPS will stay on for the entire duration of a power outage, several things need to be taken into account, such as:
Every facility will have different needs, processes, and requirements to ensure stability across its various labs, equipment therein, and personnel. But one need they all share is needing to know if something went wrong the moment it goes wrong. Having an automated, continuous EMS portal with remote access provides lab facilities with a pulse on everything going on in the lab. This ensures a stable and protected environment at all times and helps minimize the damage caused by the unpredictable.
This guide highlights the common parameters of what today’s Facility Manager or Director might consider monitoring in a facility. But these parameters can vary greatly based on your organization’s scientific discipline, drug development life cycle stage, and myriad other factors. Partnering with subject matter experts to help identify and evaluate your key parameters is the best way to ensure that you’re prepared for the unexpected.
XiltriX can help. We’ve been lab monitoring service providers for over 30 years, and across a wide range of industries. We create a custom monitoring platform that’s unique to your requirements and address all hardware, software, and reporting needs. We help ensure peace of mind for you and your team, while we monitor your equipment, facility, and environments.
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To learn more about how XiltriX can ensure your facility is protected 24/7/365, schedule a free lab consultation with one of our experts.