May 14, 2020
Integrating Laboratory Instruments with Waters Empower 3 is a crucial initiative in many labs. Modern analytical laboratories have experienced massive growth in data volumes over the last decade. In order to meet the challenge of turning this data into knowledge, laboratories are looking to automate and integrate laboratory operations and processes as much as possible in order to enhance data integrity and provide digital continuity throughout the product lifecycle. Integrating laboratory instruments with laboratory systems such as Empower is one of the best ways to drive operational efficiency and enhance data integrity in the laboratory.
One laboratory system that has been effectively designed to acquire data and control a variety of instruments is Waters Empower 3. Empower 3 is a chromatography data system (CDS) package that links to chromatographic instruments to help facilitate management of chromatography test results through data acquisition, processing, reporting and distribution. With Empower data acquisition and control features, scientists can:
- Define instrument control settings on connected chromatographic instruments using an instrument method.
- Use a single window and instructional dialog boxes to facilitate data acquisition and control over connected instruments.
- Observe a real-time chromatogram plots from 4 data channels as data is acquired.
- Control IEEE-488, Ethernet or serial interface-based systems, while being able to acquire up to four channels of data per system through the acquisition interface.
- Configure as many chromatographic systems as are necessary.
Given the benefits which this rich set of features for instrument control can bring to your laboratory, let’s discuss some best practice recommendations for integrating instruments with Empower 3.
Best Practices for Integrating Instruments with Empower
Check Instrument Compatibility. Check the instrument vendor’s website for system compatibility with Empower and the minimum requirements for interface (firmware, OS, etc.). Even if the system is not listed as compatible, it could still be possible to connect some instruments to Empower, such as detectors, using a module to translate analog signals to digital signals for data collection. Also, check the driver compatibility with the version of Empower the lab is currently using, as well as with the operating system version on all required LACE and Clients. To do this, you’ll want to determine which company is responsible for developing the driver, and also where to find the appropriate documentation for it. Note that different equipment vendors have different company agreements that control and determine who should provide support for the required driver.
Keep Instrument Control Software (ICS) Updated. Keeping all ICS in your Empower network environment updated in a timely fashion is important, as it allows for better control of system functionalities, reduces downtime caused by issues already known by system manufacturers, and helps to determine workarounds for issues not yet covered by the current ICS version. It can also reduce the upgrade effort when the time for major Empower upgrades are executed, as some of the ICS and firmware versions are backwards compatible. The more up to date your environment is, the less you have to cover when the time comes for CDS upgrades.
Be Aware of Potential Hardware Upgrades. In modern CDS environments, software and hardware are closely related, and in some instances upgrading software packages might generate impacts on your hardware, both in terms of support and costs. Having a thorough mapping of hardware configuration can help your company to avoid unforeseen costs and unnecessary downtime. Some examples are:
- Older systems with IEEE connection might require hardware upgrades to allow control over Ethernet. Since Waters discontinued the support to buslace cards, upgrading systems to Ethernet might involve replacing equipment logical boards and, in some instances, replacing entire modules like older chromatographic detectors.
- Systems that require analog-to-digital conversion might require the purchase of Waters e-Sat/in boxes in order to allow capture of detector signal.
- New ICS upgrades might remove the support to older instruments, which in some cases will require a replacement of the affected module or even the whole chromatographic system by a newer model.
Manage Upgrades Properly. In a consolidated Empower network environment, there will be potentially a large number of instruments and drivers. Driver updates create a significant burden on IT to deploy widely across all infrastructure (Clients and LACE’s) and require system downtime and coordination with end users. In order to minimize laboratory downtime and costs, a thorough study and mapping of each environment should be undertaken in order to gather the information necessary to determine which systems require an upgrade. ICS drivers also can require firmware updates on the instruments which impacts qualification status. This mapping will help to plan the driver pack upgrade for each LAC/E and, as a consequence, the firmware upgrade needs per system. Identifying instances were firmware upgrades are not needed can drastically reduce time consumed and costs on upgrade execution. This will not only cut time and effort spent on executing unnecessary upgrades, but also eliminate the need of a vendor specialist visit onsite to execute the firmware upgrades on the more complex modules and avoid the risk of possible firmware load issues.
Follow Proper Upgrade Protocols. Before upgrading ICS drivers, you should make sure that the reasons the motivated the update are indeed covered by the new version (this could be new equipment features enabled that are controlled via software, bug fixes, etc). An Impact Assessment should also be done to determine if the Known Issues (KIs) within the new version of the driver (if any) are acceptable. Additionally, validation test scripts should be created to document the issues that were corrected with the upgrade version, as well as to document that the equipment is functioning properly post upgrade. Note that, as long as a vendor audit is performed, it is acceptable to rely on vendor documentation to support the change of version with minimum testing on preserved functionalities of the system.
Consider Maintenance and Diagnostic Needs. When integrating third party instruments to Empower, make sure to study the tools available for system maintenance and diagnostics. As these tools vary based on the company agreement between Waters and the third-party companies, different models might apply to each scenario. Having a good understanding of the tools available for maintenance and diagnostics will help your company determine hardware and software requirements, required personnel training, and changes in SOP to cover the required needs.
Develop a Solid and Reliable Training Plan and Support Model. Integrating chromatographic systems from all the different vendors within the laboratory can impact how users perform their activities. Before changing the system that will control, process and report data from an instrument, it is important to ensure that users are trained accordingly on how to operate Empower to minimize any performance decrease in the laboratory. Having a good training strategy will also reduce the time it takes for new analysts to be prepared for laboratory operations, as they will no longer require training on multiple CDS.
At the same time, during a system failure, having all laboratory chromatographic equipment under one system could bring down multiple instruments and potentially impact the laboratory’s ability to complete analyses. It’s important to carefully determine the correct support model for the organization (8×5, 24×7, DBA, Site Support, Global Support, Instruments Roadmap…) to minimize the risks.
Empower 3 software enables your organization to effectively manage data generated by all your chromatography instrumentation, plus run different detection techniques and applications, method development and validation, integrated chemical structures, and polymer analysis. In order to maximize its potential to generate value for your organization, however, best practices described in this blog should be followed when integrating all instruments with Empower software.
Whether you have old instruments that were not integrated with Empower during your initial implementation, or new instruments that have come online since, automating your laboratory environment through effective instrument integration is best accomplished through a close partnership with a quality informatics consultant.
The Astrix Team contains highly experienced and knowledgeable Empower experts that bring together the technical, strategic and content knowledge necessary to effectively implement Empower 3 into your organization, as well as integrate any instruments to the system. If you would like to discuss your instrument integration plan, or your overall informatics strategy, feel free to contact us for a free, no obligations consultation.