You can hear it everywhere: digitization, digital solution, digitalization, digital industry, digital transformation… These terms are sometimes used too lightly and without much-needed context. Today, every bit of information, be it text, picture or even sound is converted into digital format, in order for it to be easily processed by computers. However, the purpose of digitalization is not the conversion itself, rather the ability to use modern digital technologies to bring upon change to businesses, provide growth and development and create new value-producing opportunities. So, what does all this really mean in terms of managing your own measuring equipment? The answer to this question often carries some misconceptions.
Measuring equipment is used in various industries. Sometimes this equipment consists of very simple, hand held instruments like calipers, thermometers or piston pipettes. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for organizations to have larger equipment such as a HPLC instrument or a 3D CMM. Even a refrigerator or a cold room needs special care, as it is used for storage of temperature-sensitive items such as food or vaccines.
All these instruments are often used by a team of people who work together in the same organization, so the measuring equipment needs to be managed accordingly. Whether compliance with a specific standard or an industry regulation has to be met, or simply the organization’s internal procedural requirements have to be followed and recorded, the measuring equipment needs to be taken care of attentively so that audits run as smoothly as possible. This means no rework, no cost of poor quality, no lost data or documents, and most importantly no waste of time. Rather ambitious, right?
From paper to excel sheet
For a long period of time all this was done manually, on paper. Even today when we cannot imagine our life without the everyday use of computers, paper forms continue to persist. This is partly due to our culture and resistance to change, and partly due to the fact that the digital solutions on the market are actually incomplete. For example, let’s talk about a simple Excel spreadsheet. We could easily call it a miracle of the modern age, with an incredibly wide range of applications. Many people made their paper spreadsheets digital by transcribing them into Excel. Consequently, they were then easily stored (locally on their computers, or in the cloud) and could easily be printed out or sent to someone via e-mail.
But then again, so is everything else. Soon there was a great pile of data and a strong need for better organization. This is where other software-based solutions came in, such as LIMS (laboratory information management system) or other in-house solutions. These gigantic multi-purpose softwares try to cover almost all modern laboratory’s operations. So what is the downside? Firstly and most importantly, it is never equipment management oriented. There are numerous operations that are usually supported through LIMS – from sample tracking, protocol execution to storage organization and a lot more, so managing the measuring equipment is sporadically incorporated mainly to serve some other function. But this comes with a price. People tend to forget about maintenance activities and due dates; they cannot find calibration certificates, manuals or other documents when they need them; any risk analysis requires a lot of dedication and work so it is often done poorly if at all, etc. This way, even the most modern laboratories miss the opportunity for improvement and development related to their measuring equipment.
Besides LIMS, solutions that are on the market usually come from a manufacturer or a service provider, meaning there will always be inherent limitations to them, as they are never focused on solving your specific problems. Even when these apps have some kind of smart feature, they can never actually manage everything that matters, i.e. manage absolutely any kind of instrument and any kind of maintenance activity you need to perform. And these are just the basics. For these solutions to truly be in the pursuit of digital transformation, a high quality system for collecting data needs to be established. LorisQ has just that and a lot more.
4 things your digital solution needs to have
- INSTRUMENT DATABASE
The first thing your digital solution for managing your measuring equipment needs to have in order to be useful is an ability to build a database. But also, an ability to build a big database quickly, in order to be able to import and export data, i.e. relevant information about your instruments within minutes, sometimes even seconds. The quality of the data will then determine whether your database is actually useful or not. This is the true opportunity for progress.
- MAINTENANCE ACTIVITIES
Every industry has its own peculiarities and every organization is different. However, the challenges of working in a team are more or less always the same. This is why it is not efficient having only one specific person who “take care of the equipment” since an entire team of people routinely use that same equipment. Perhaps a technician needs to perform an activity such as periodical cleaning but the head of laboratory is responsible for validations. Maybe this same technician performs internal checks but his supervisor needs to approve and sign the reports. Sometimes an instrument needs to be calibrated in an accredited ISO/IEC 17025 laboratory so it’s out of service for a week or even a month every year or so. All these operations or activities need to be planned, scheduled and executed on time, and of course, correctly recorded.
Planning them determines what and how much needs to be done, while scheduling defines when the operations will be performed and by whom. This is a lot to keep track of and keep in mind, along with your daily tasks. That is why a digital solution for your measuring equipment needs to be a team app and a task manager. Also, every team member has to get personalized notifications and alarms exactly when needed. This way no one is overwhelmed with information but at the same time no information is missed.
- TRENDS AND CORRECTIONS
The last two and a half years really emphasized the importance of risk assessment. Not a day went by without some kind of a prediction about COVID-19, its impact on the economy and our everyday lives. This is how important predictions can be. It would truly be a waste of resources for you not to use your calibration data, allowing you to track trends and have more accurate measurements. With simple instruments like a thermometer or a hygrometer, using corrections based on your last instrument calibration data can make your measurements more accurate. You don’t need an expensive instrument with smart software, the only thing you need is a feature like Corrections in LorisQ. Also, entering your calibration data in a smart digital solution such as this will automatically update your instrument’s trend graphs. Now you can easily make smart decisions based on facts.
- EASY TO USE
No digital solution can be in service of digital transformation if it is not simple and easy to use. If it is complicated, if it waste’s too much of your time, if it doesn’t quite serve its purpose or if it’s too expensive, it simply cannot be a long-term solution for managing your measuring equipment. Its design should be intuitive, the interface user-friendly and basically, the digital solution should be different from everything you are used to seeing in this industry. Therein lies the true opportunity for change and growth.
All the features we mentioned are just scratching the surface of what a measuring equipment management app should be. True digitalization of calibration (and other maintenance activities) data and metadata, which is just around the corner, will allow for much more in the near future. And only after developing the ability to deliver completely new and valuable insights to the customer, based on this data and metadata, we will be able to call it – digital transformation. Our mission (and duty really) is to speed up this process as much as we can and thus guide metrology in the right direction. The improvement of accuracy and reliability of measurements in almost any field of human activity in the world today depends on it.