June 28, 2013
By The Book
Did you ever work with a field service engineer who was just plain awesome...someone who always went above and beyond to ensure your success? If so, you have probably asked yourself ''what would I do without them? ' Sadly, that hypothetical question, all too often, becomes reality.
For any number of reasons (some good, some not so good) people are transient. As the old saying goes, no one is truly irreplaceable, so the best protection vendors can provide for their customers is to ensure that more common procedures are documented. For example, irrespective of who is doing the work, a preventative maintenance procedure should always be the same. Each step, every tool, replacement part, lubrication or adjustment should be captured in a document that can be used to cross train FSE's so that your instruments always receive consistent maintenance.
Whether you are working with a new FSE to support a new install, or existing instrument don't hesitate to ask to see the procedure they will be following. Most vendors won't share all the details, but many will let you have a glance and most will provide checklist that highlights the work to be done.
If a vendor cannot produce documents for common procedures (like a PM). before they commence their work you should be concerned. I'm not saying that you are about to be mis-treated, however how can you be certain that the requisite work will be accomplished if there is no guideline? You wouldn't conduct an assay without a documented procedure and you shouldn't allow anyone to work on your instruments without one either.
If they can't show you 'the book', then throw the book at them!
June 21, 2013
Multi Vendor Service Webinar
June 20, 2013
Mike, Cancer & Chaos Theory
My friend and colleague Mike Williams was diagnosed with Neuroendocrine cancer. Also known as carcinoids, these slow growing tumors are often found in the digestive system (can also be found in the lungs and other organs) and are referred to as 'cancer-like'...but make so mistake, they are cancer by every definition of the word and those receiving a diagnosis similar to Mike's are often told to 'get their affairs in order...'
Unlike Russ, another friend of mine who lost his 2 year battle with a similar cancer last week, Mike was diagnosed over 6 years ago. Mike has endured multiple surgeries and chemotherapy regimens as well as a long list of experimental drugs and drug cocktails. Last month, he presented at the Midwest Lab Robot Interest Group meeting (LRIG) and spoke eloquently about the role automation and instrumentation has had on cancer patients from a first person perspective. His talk can be viewed by clicking here.
In his closing comments, Mike points out that what many of us consider to be routine or mundane activities have real world implications for patients. It's sort of like the butterfly effect... postpone an instrument service call or back order a critical component and you might delay an assay run that could yield novel data about a promising compound which could effect follow up studies, that then delays publication, resulting in missing a journal submission deadline that moves out the dissemination of clinically relevant info that might effect otherwise terminally ill patients...etc.
Mike is a shining example of perseverance, hope, faith and applied science. I am so happy to see him presenting and grateful that he could take the time to share his journey with us. I'll never look at a service request the same way again... Godspeed Mike Williams.
June 6, 2013
Power To The People!
One of the most challenging problems faced by field service techs and engineers is intermittent failures that appear to have no discernible root cause. Well…as least not an obvious one like a loose cable or belt. More often than not, the most common cause of such failures is overlooked…electrical power. Incoming AC (alternating current) power has been around so long that most of us take it for granted. So long as the lights come on, we assume all is well. That’s not always true.
In North America, most labs have either 110VAC (actually somewhere between 105-125VAC) or 240VAC (for larger instruments like freezers or floor mount centrifuges). The AC power that feeds most lab instruments is converted into DC power via the instruments internal power supply which also steps it down to power integrated circuits, dc motors, relays, solenoids..etc (generally in the 5-24VDC range). Power supplies are pretty robust devices that can provide constant, clean DC voltage, but like many things in life the quality of the output is a function of the quality of the input. Garbage in = Garbage Out.
Unlike DC voltage which if looked at with an oscilloscope would show a flat line, AC voltage is actually a sine wave and in most cases, the rated voltage of a circuit is represented by the average (RMS) of the voltages under the curve over time (usually 50 or 60 HZ or cycles per minute). Now, garbage might be a harsh term but what we are really talking about are several common problems;
Voltage Spikes – Sometimes called a surge, a result of incoming voltage exceeding the rated voltage by 10% or more. This typically happens when an inductive load (like a centrifuge) is turned off. The centrifuge pulls a lot of current and taking that load away (current) allows the voltage to quickly increase (ie, spike). If an instrument has a well designed regulated power supply then no problem, but transient spikes (think lightening) have been known to take out the best designed power supplies.
Voltage Dips – a temporary drop of more than 10% (ex: 120V * .9 = 108V). Probably not a killer, but what if your device is spec’d at 120V and the input line power is only 110VAC? Now with a voltage dip you are talking 99VAC … Some instrument power supplies have the ability to detect under voltages and report errors, many do not. And…guess what usually happens after a dip? You guessed it, a spike!
Noise – AC-powered devices can create a characteristic hum at multiples of the frequencies of the AC power that they use. Hums are commonly produced by spinning motor and transformer core laminations vibrating in time with the magnetic field. The noises can wreak havoc on under-voltage situations as they can temporarily cause an instrument on the hairy edge to work temporarily. Shut the noisy device off and the line dips down again causing the instrument to fail (or act really weird).
What to do if you suspect power issues? Well for starters, whenever an instrument starts to show ‘random’ failures;
- Have facilities verify incoming power. A digital voltmeter can be used for this, but make sure they are using the RMS (root, mean, square) setting to capture the average voltage. When in doubt, put a scope on it. Scopes can also show noise as well as nominal voltages.
- Isolate the instrument in question. Make sure there are no other devices on the same circuit.
- Put a digital or analog chart recorder on the circuit and monitor the line over several days. Sometimes called a strip recorder, the analog version looks like the lie detectors you see in crime shows. A needle draws on the paper producing peaks whenever it sees a spike or dip. Newer digital units do the same thing but are much less intimidating to less truthful members of society…
- Note the time that failures occur. Not surprisingly, spikes and dips tend to occur in larger facilities when people arrive at work, go to lunch, take breaks or go home around the same times. PC’s , HVAC, lights are turned on/ off – all in the name of conservation…the laws on unintended consequences.
- Plug the instrument into a line conditioner, then plug the conditioner into the circuit. Power conditioner are good for removing noise and higher-end models (don’t go to Home Depot for this…) offer some protection for spikes and under-voltages. Not to be confused with Un-interruptable Power Supplies (UPS) which offer a measure of time insurance in the event of a total power loss. Even basic UPS’ are available with spike and dip protection but even without they are still not a bad investment if you have dirty or unreliable incoming power and no easy way to fix it…
Net/net – don’t be so quick to blame an instrument for abhorrent behavior. Sometimes it is best to recall a bit of Shakespeare…”the fault dear Brutus lies not in our stars, but im ourselves (or our facilities).”
June 3, 2013
Good Reads about Multi-Vendor Support
Thought I would share a few articles and interviews that talk about Asset Management and Multi-Vendor Service support.
Next Generation Pharmaceutical-Outsourcing Asset Management, Bob Moore – GE Healthcare, interview
Lab Manager Magazine – The Evolving Service Model ; Good overview of service offerings from GE, Agilent, PE and Thermo Fisher.
BioScience Technology.com – Managing More Lab Assets
GEN – Lab-Asset Management Gets Smarter; older article (circa 2008) but shows that Asset Mgt within life sciences has been around for awhile.