The ongoing evolution of laboratory instrumentation and technology makes powerful analyses possible. While new technology enables exciting techniques and discovery, these instruments still require maintenance and repair. Routine maintenance is essential to keep laboratory operations running smoothly, and a service agreement with a multi-vendor service provider can prevent costly downtime. However, as instruments become more sophisticated, service providers must stay up to date on the latest technologies and ensure their technicians are trained to service state-of-the-art equipment.
A service agreement with a multi-vendor service provider can offer more rapid response times at a lower cost. Prior to committing to a service contract, it is essential to ensure staff have the necessary technical expertise to work with equipment from various manufacturers. John Martin, VP of marketing at Full Spectrum Analytics (Pleasanton, CA), understands the importance of a knowledgeable staff. “We hire applications chemists, bench chemists, and engineers, some of whom are highly trained and qualified and have gone through a robust training program with the OEM,” says Martin. “We have created a series of training programs internally for cross-training our staff to work on multiple types of instruments. We are a full-spectrum, ISO-certified company, so training is a really important part of what we have in place. We invest a lot to become a better and more educated workforce.”
Laboratories are constantly facing new demands and challenges. Agilent Technologies’ (Santa Clara, CA) Kristin Giffin, VP and GM, Services and Support Division, and Marc Boreham, VP and GM, Laboratory Enterprise Services Division, are well aware of how new challenges have changed client and laboratory needs: “We see greater needs in areas such as training, applications consulting, and a desire for capabilities such as predictive diagnostics to help with workflows.” As such, it would seem that the theory of operation has not changed dramatically, but the software and the way scientists interact with devices are changing. “Overall, I haven’t seen any major revolutionary changes to the equipment, although sensitivity has greatly improved, but it still performs the same basic chromatography functions,” says Martin. “It does have a lot more advanced, built-in protocols such as validation and qualification programs to meet ISO and FDA requirements. Software has advanced significantly and can also allow remote access and generate messages that can alert the client to potential issues with the instrument,” he explains. Agilent Smart Alerts is a perfect example of this advanced functionality: “The Smart Alerts subscription diagnostics service offers predictive maintenance and consumables replacement notifications, leveraging smart, built-in instrument-diagnostic capabilities,” explain Giffin and Boreham.
There is also a shift in multi-vendor services toward offering greater autonomy for the user. Full Spectrum Analytics has plans to run courses for laboratory staff at a new training center in San Diego, offering customers the ability to “learn from a technically strong training crew,” says Martin. “We can bring people in and give them some basic troubleshooting skills, show them what to look out for, parts to order . . . things of that nature. We are excited to bring our technical expertise to our clients—to educate them, enable them to be more resourceful and give them ownership of some basic problems.” Remote access also offers users a sense of autonomy and can be used to provide assistance from off-site locations. According to Giffin and Boreham, “Agilent instruments, such as gas chromatographs, are supported by a mobile browser interface, providing remote access to the instrument for monitoring of system status and modification of system settings, if necessary. The remote mobile interface provides a suite of diagnostic tests that can be used to assist remote experts with troubleshooting and remediation of issues even while off-site.”
Chromatography may operate on the same principles as it did many years ago; however, the technology driving this and other instruments is rapidly advancing. Multi-vendor service providers must continue to educate their staff and adapt their services to meet current customer demands.