Organization 3.0: Machine Calibration with the Help of Electronic Laboratory Notebooks
Of all the things to consider in a laboratory or office setting, machine calibration is often considered last. After purchasing an expensive machine, we tend to expect that it will be “forever accurate” and indeed, years after our purchase, many electrical and laboratory equipment still appear glamorous from the outside. As a writer for Fluke Corporation said, “What do those calibration folds do, anyhow — just change the battery?”
Unfortunately or fortunately (depending on your occupation), machine calibration involves so much more than simply changing a battery. According to the calibration company Tempcon, “Calibration is defined as an association between measurements — one of a scale or accuracy made or set with one piece of equipment and another measurement made in as similar a way as possible with a second…equipment. The piece of equipment or device with the known or assigned accuracy is called the standard.” For an effective calibration, “the calibration standard must be more accurate than the instrument under test.”
But it’s not vanity that inspires companies to calibrate their instruments. Instead, calibrations ensure that a product’s quality remains high or that experimental tests can be accurately repeated in a laboratory context for a variety of industries. As Armando Rivero Rubalcaba, head of Instrumentation at Heineken (Spain), said, “[machine calibration]…ensure[s] that all processes correspond to the planned characteristics, and the role of calibration is very important to ensure the quality and safety of the processes.”
Let’s explore the aspects involved in the process of calibration, as well as how electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) can help address specific nuances.
Obstacles for Effective Machine Calibration
As mentioned, once companies or laboratories invest in expensive instruments, they may be hesitant to invest in expensive machine calibration processes. In a report from Beamex, the writers described how the “financial meltdown of world markets and ongoing economic recession” forced companies to devise new ways to cut costs in order to survive. Forgoing machine calibration was often one of the first methods for saving money.
Yet, instruments must be calibrated “to ensure they are performing within their specified limits. Indeed, industry sectors such as nuclear, food and beverage and pharmaceuticals, are highly regulated and so calibration becomes even more critical in terms of meeting product quality, traceability and quality certifications.” If a company has decided to forgo on calibration for cost reasons, the loss of revenue from machine downtime or even its destruction is significant, not to mention the potential regulatory violations, product recalls or lawsuits.
2) Knowing when to calibrate machines
In a survey by Beamex, 33.7 percent of industry professions from oil, gas and petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, power and energy, food and beverage and service providers cite that “documentation errors” were a significant issue for their organizations. As described in the survey, “Human error is inherent in […] paper-based […] calibration management systems. Typos, lost or difficult-to-read notes or mis-keying of calibration data are common pitfalls […]”
Given the difficulties industry professionals have with maintaining reliable systems and quality records, it is not surprising that machine calibration is often put in the back of managerial minds, to be dealt with later. Without clear records of when, how and the results of a recent calibration, it becomes difficult to maintain a regular schedule. Paper-based systems also mean calibration data is not easily accessible given that “the…data may be stored in multiple, different databases that are difficult to access.”
Act Now: Use electronic laboratory notebooks to monitor and schedule machine calibrations
The implementation of ELNs helps to address the obstacles discussed above. Though certain machine calibration processes will be expensive, the systematic use of an ELN can help lab managers to keep track of when instruments are calibrated, their recordings and can even encourage better data management. This information can then be shared with people within the company to ensure that products remain safe, experimental results are sound and workers are protected from hazardous accidents.
In terms of cost, by purchasing an ELN, managers will have a clear record of when a calibration last occurred. This will enable managers to best determine the maximum amount of time to wait before scheduling another, if such considerations have to be made. This enables companies and laboratories to operate within a “safe window” to avoid any fines or unnecessary machine calibration procedures. Generally, it’s best to use a history trend analysis to determine the best time to schedule a calibration; however, this information is also easily obtained by using an ELN.
The benefits of implementing an ELN, as we’ve discussed here before, are numerous:
- Centralization: ELNs record essential information about machines (beyond calibration schedules) in an area accessible to all.
- Searchable: An ELN will enable companies and laboratories to conduct a history trend analysis to determine how often, how much and when next to conduct machine calibration.
- Save money: Companies and laboratories will save on unnecessary calibration processes and also prevent the destruction of expensive machinery or product recalls.
- Maintain industry standards for regulatory purposes: It is often important to maintain a record of the “happenings” of a company, including the maintenance of instruments. To prevent regulatory fines or other complications, an ELN can help maintain this information, thus providing managers with some piece of mind when the regulators make an unannounced visit.
Hopefully, those who have been on the fence about scheduling their next machine calibrations or implementing an ELN will be convinced of the benefits of doing both. For more information regarding the BIOVIA Notebook and how it can help maintain the integrity with your firm, please visit out website today.