Marching On Toward Industry 4.0

Alessandro Baldi Talini discusses the gas chromatography trends of smart connectivity, simplification and sustainability

Gas chromatography is one of today’s most VERSATILE and widely used analytical techniques. Laboratories worldwide rely on gas chromatography to analyse volatile compounds in solids, liquids and other sample mixtures – and use these insights to define product quality and performance and the potential presence of environmental and human health contaminants.

Despite continued improvements in laboratory automation and connectivity, analytical workflows can still be vulnerable to human error. The simplification of laboratory operations through smart devices and technology is increasingly important to drive operations excellence and minimise margins of error. A new way of production sustained by digitalisation via smart and autonomous systems is precisely what the Industry 4.0 concept entices. Laboratory managers are trying to decipher how they can implement the smart strategies of Industry 4.0 in their labs to gain the advanced efficiency, productivity, controls and the data power it enables.

PerkinElmer recently released the GC 2400 platform, providing a solution to some of the challenges faced by lab managers and supporting the shift to even smarter and more connected labs.

At the centre of the platform development was an understanding of current trends and a strong focus on productivity for pharmaceutical, food, environmental and industrial analyses. The simplification, automation and connectivity embedded in the Industry 4.0 concept were strongly factored into the platform.

Simplification And Automation

Simplification is one of the most widely discussed strategies as we move towards Industry 4.0 for manufacturing processes. As digital platforms become more sophisticated with increased integration of digital tools and systems, there is a greater need for automated and simplified processes to improve efficiency.

Platforms equipped with automation elements and software-driven workflows will be key to enable productivity and decrease downtime. With automated sampling capabilities, the GC 2400 platform reduces hands-on time minimising human error, and the pressure-balanced sampling technology delivers superior precision.

Automation and simplification can also take the form of intuitive software to help all skill levels, thereby reducing the adoption costs of new technologies.

Connectivity And Mobility

In pre-pandemic times, interest in the potential of smart technologies was already high. But as we entered a time of social-distancing restrictions and remote/hybrid working, laboratories also showed an increased interest in remote and automated operations. Gas chromatography platforms continue to evolve in this direction as lab managers accelerate their consideration of connected platforms.

Now, as most of the workforce moves to hybrid patterns of work, that interest in smart and connected platforms is becoming a necessity. With that in mind, smart devices and processes are being introduced into laboratories at an increasing rate, from simple automation platforms to IoT (Internet of Things) devices that can connect all instruments and software in a single workflow.

The new platform was built with smart connectivity in mind. A detachable touchscreen enables analysts and lab operators to have quick access to key information whilst being able to monitor the GC workflow remotely.

Intuitive And Modern User Interfaces

Lab analysts and operators of today are digitally savvy and increasingly used to state-of-the-art user interfaces that enable them to do more with less.

Part of the journey towards simplification of gas chromatography processes goes through making user interfaces, instrument control and data management more adaptable and powerful than ever before – and this often means enhancing workflow integration, hardware deployment and collaboration via smarter user interfaces.

Studies have shown that sustained use of digital devices can impact cognitive behaviours and, in some cases, supplant thinking. However, most scientists today can’t avoid using digital screens at work. Advanced UI/UX can help fill or eliminate gaps at the user level by easing the need for specialised skills, as well as minimising human error.

Long-Term Sustainability

Lastly, the need to perform operations in an increasingly sustainable manner is tangible in laboratories, as well as in any other business. It’s clear that addressing sustainability is no longer a nice-to-have but rather an essential item on every business’ agenda.

Furthermore, based on the sustainability definition of the UN 2030 Agenda, both the economic viability of businesses or labs and their environmental impact move forward in parallel to support each other in a way that benefits both the business and the environment. Labs see enormous pressure on costs, which also relates to the shortage of the most important carrier gas used in gas chromatography: helium. Laboratories are increasingly attentive to their gas consumption, and connected gas chromatography platforms cannot overlook the necessity to optimise helium use through advanced software.

There are a number of benefits to operating more sustainably in labs that use gas chromatography, some of which include reduced carrier gas usage, a decrease in operational costs and improved energy efficiency. The GC 2400 platform addresses sustainability in two ways: firstly, by optimising the use of helium with software tools that allow to reduce gas consumption, and secondly, by promoting the use of hydrogen, a less costly and renewable alternative to helium. Dedicated sensors ensure that any abnormal presence of gas is detected, so that the device can be safely switched to safe status.

Towards Industry 4.0

As we approach Industry 4.0, the challenge of today’s gas chromatography labs is to keep operations simple while remaining productive and fostering sustainability. Many of the current developments in gas chromatography and labs, in general, derive from today’s manufacturing and production landscape, which often involves smart, autonomous systems and advanced analytics platforms.

Addressing the needs of today’s labs requires a complete overhaul of existing workflows and portfolios. New GC solutions, such as the GC 2400 platform, can help laboratories simplify and enhance their workflows through automated, software-driven capabilities so that we can all move towards a smarter, more connected and sustainable future for gas chromatography.

Alessandro Baldi Talini is with PerkinElmer

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