Moving to the Next Stage for Chromatography Data Systems
The CDS of the future will accommodate real-world business needs
Soheil Saadat, Ph.D.
Chromatography Data Systems (CDS) represent one of the earliest implementations of computing technology in the laboratory. Since the 1970s, CDS have grown and evolved to widespread acceptance throughout every laboratory. Yet, in many respects, these systems have been slow in keeping pace with continuing technological innovation in computing, networking and enterprise content management. As business drivers “push down” from other groups within a company, the laboratory and its CDS will ultimately begin to incorporate newer innovations to evolve further.
In its most basic form, today’s CDS provides a number of software capabilities to address widespread user needs. Nearly every CDS today can collect chromatography data, peak detect, integrate and provide standard chromatography data reduction. However, a change in CDS thinking is necessary to accommodate new business needs in the laboratory.
Multi-vendor instrument control
Laboratories today, more than ever, require different instrumentation from different vendors. As hardware vendors focus their particular expertise in the development of new technologies for sampling, valving, fluidics, chemical separation, component detection, and so forth, they will be able to offer the chemist unprecedented choice in instrumentation. Scientific Software (SSI) has been in the unique position to be a “pure player” in chromatography software, allowing focus of our expertise only on software, while developing unique and long-lasting partnerships with a variety of hardware vendors. For those of us in software, the challenge is to provide a computing strategy that embraces multiple vendors’ hardware and can accommodate it in a flexible platform.
|CDS systems will begin to manage chromatography content along with other business applications|
Networked data acquisition
Laboratories today are faced with the same pressures and trends of reduced bench space, diverse work locations and the need to connect and control instrumentation from remote locations. How multi-vendor instrumentation can connect to the computing platform presents a serious challenge. Some have used PCs to act as instrument controllers for instruments to the CDS, but the use of PCs as instrumentation controllers may not be a suitable solution in laboratories that have the difficult task of validating and controlling such devices.
One solution, the iCON XP, was developed at (SSI) to provide laboratories with a flexible intelligent networking device by which all instrumentation can connect to the CDS. Unlike conventional PCs, which require extensive end user validation in deployment, the software is a closed system with embedded Windows XP so that a variety of different instruments using different hardware communication protocols can be interfaced to the CDS. The rapid development in flash RAM technology allows each iCON XP to control instruments, buffer and store injections, even when the host network is inoperative.
Databasing chromatography content with other electronic content
While much of the value of a CDS is to provide computerized data reduction and reporting, it should come as no surprise to many that today’s CDS reports are not substantially different from the old tape reports that spewed out from stand-alone 1960s integrators. However, while the CDS itself has not changed, the way we use computers has changed. We know that students in college and high school routinely use their laptops and dorm computers to deal with a wide range of electronic information, ranging from e-mail and PDF files to Word documents and even music files. Chromatography laboratories are no different. Not only is “human readable” information like injection reports and method/sequence summaries generated, but “machine readable” information like raw data, audit trails, instrument activity logs, and so forth, also are available. Nearly every chromatography operation in the world uses other software applications alongside their CDS, the most prevalent being Microsoft Office applications.
Future CDS systems will have to manage chromatography electronic content through industry-standard databases. But the story doesn’t end with just chromatography content. Electronic content from other sources will be just as relevant and valuable as the external standard report from your HPLC sample. This not only can provide the laboratory with assurance that all proprietary information is being carefully archived and secured, but it also provides laboratories with a secure platform from which information can be shared and collaborated.
One approach is SSI’s OpenLAB Laboratory Software Framework. Based on the Microsoft .NET, it provides a scalable computing environment from single-user workstations to large multi-user/multi-instrument chromatography operations with full support of multi-vendor instrumentation. Using a Web-based architecture, users can utilize an interface identical to Internet Explorer where all instruments connect through intelligent network controllers like the iCON XP. The system is powered by the Enterprise Content Management software engine to manage chromatography content. Unlike the proprietary databases in the current CDS products on the market, OpenLAB facilitates the sharing of other electronic content from other sources common to the laboratory (Microsoft Office, Adobe PDF files, Technology Neutral Files in XML format and even ANDI .cdf files).
I believe that the best years for chromatography data systems lie ahead of us. Accommodating real-world business needs in every chromatography operation, providing networked access for all instruments, and managing the chromatography content safely and securely are just some of the challenges of the next generation CDS.
Soheil Saadat, Ph.D., is President and CEO of Scientific Software Inc. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.