Markus Jansons, product manager for weighing at A&D Weighing (San Jose, CA), correctly notes that analytical balances are a mature product category and that “everybody has one.” The task for balance manufacturers, therefore, is to “democratize” these instruments—to make them both physically and operationally accessible. One obvious strategy is to improve the user experience through simplicity, data features (e.g., calculation), rapid method development and validation, and computer connectivity. Anyone who has logged several dozen six-digit weights recognizes the value of automated data logging.
The second is to make them small enough for deployment wherever they are needed. A&D has recently introduced two upgrades to their Galaxy line, the HR-A and HR-AZ. Their size sets them apart, Jansons says. “With a footprint of eight by 12 inches, they take up about the same benchtop space as a toploading balance.” Both instruments comply with Good Laboratory Practices, Good Clinical Practices, and ISO; both perform standard calculations and connect to LIMSs. The AZ model also features onetouch automated calibration.
Sartorius (Bohemia, NY) has taken a similar tack with its Secura® line of analytical and top-loading balances, which each have an identical (small) footprint. Secura’s Advanced Pharma Compliance feature simplifies documentation and monitoring under GLP and includes LevelControl, a visual display for guidance to level the balance.
The LIMS challenge
The value of dedicated control, data handling, and report-writing software can easily be lost on casual analytical balance users, particularly those who already have a laboratory information management system (LIMS) in place.
When implementing a LIMS with several weighing stations, one Mettler Toledo (Columbus, OH) customer was challenged with connecting balances to the information system: There is no “one size fits all” LIMS configuration. “Customers frequently document weight data manually, then re-enter it into a LIMS,” comments Ian Ciesniewski, technical director at Mettler Toledo. “Plus, LIMSs capture only a fraction of a balance’s output, greatly reducing their functionality.” LIMSs also typically require workflow initiation from an adjacent PC instead of the instrument itself, which complicates workflows.
Mettler Toledo’s LabX software, Ciesniewski says, offers more seamless workflows and SOP control through the balance’s benchtop control. This particular law enforcement customer’s goal was for each balance to act as a stand-alone client without a PC at each balance. Operators enter case and exhibit numbers at the balance display, either manually or via barcode reader. After weighing, the parsed data automatically exports to the LIMS.
With LabX, creating a weighing application involves clicking and dragging functions and checking boxes—no code-writing. The software automatically establishes weight and monitoring measurement uncertainties, minimum weights, and tracking/ alerting for all minimum weight violations. “If a test fails, LabX blocks the balance and provides traceability back to the weight, last calibration, weight certificate number, who checked and when, and all other relevant meta-data,” Ciesniewski says.
This customer also required a flexible reporting function that was comprehensive with respect to report configuration. For example, after confiscation of potential contraband, operators enter case and article numbers at the balance. LabX automatically stores the weight, performs calculations, and generates a report suitable for legal proceedings. “Try doing that with a LIMS,” Ciesniewski says.
Angelo DePalma is a freelance writer living in Newton, NJ. You can reach him at email@example.com.