One of the most important responsibilities that a biotech or life sciences lab or facility manager has is keeping a close watch on their organization’s cryogenic freezers, CO2 incubators, and mass spectrometers, along with the critical biological samples stored inside.
Often, these samples are the result of decades of research and have the potential to lead to a groundbreaking discovery or drug, or even a cure for chronic illnesses, infectious diseases, and more. If these valuable cells were to die suddenly and unexpectedly, it may mean the loss of not only a lifetime’s worth of work but also millions of investment dollars.
Typically, equipment-related issues arise after everyone has headed home for the night, a weekend, or a holiday break. An unoccupied and unmonitored lab is at a much greater risk for something disastrous to occur, such as its gas supply running out and irreplaceable samples being destroyed. The continuing remote work trend is amplifying this risk as labs are left empty more frequently and for longer periods of time.
The following real-life situations demonstrate three worst-case scenarios. These events happened in vacant labs and facilities for many reasons, including equipment breakdowns, accelerated gas usage, and human error:
- The solenoid in a cryogenic freezer failed in the open position with nobody in the facility to notice the issue. This caused an overflow of nitrogen, which poured over the top of the freezer and onto the floor. The cells stored in the freezer were compromised because they were exposed to -320°F liquid nitrogen. In addition, the freezer room filled with nitrogen gas, turning the area into an asphyxiation hazard.
- The manifold system in a lab automatically switched over from an empty cylinder to a second cylinder during a long weekend. However, the backup dewar was only half full. This was not enough liquid nitrogen to support the cryogenic freezer through the holiday. When the staff returned to the lab on Monday morning, the cells stored in the freezer were found to be compromised.
- The door to a CO2 incubator was mistakenly left ajar for an entire weekend. As a result, the CO2 manifold kept feeding CO2 at a much higher rate than normal and ran out of CO2. The lab manager arrived the next day to find all the cells in the incubator destroyed.
It is possible that all these situations could have been averted. If digital gauges and a remote monitoring system (also known as wireless telemetry) had been employed, the facility manager could have been alerted of an issue in time to resolve it before a devastating loss occurred.
What are the benefits of digital gauges and remote monitoring systems?
When you want to know the exact status of a cylinder’s liquid levels feeding your cryo-freezer, a Cyl-Tec digital gauge provides a far more precise reading than a traditional gauge. Using this technology on your dewars means you can clearly evaluate and have more confidence in your gas levels before leaving your lab or facility for a short or extended period of time.
Another benefit of the Cyl-Tec digital gauge is that it can be combined with a remote cylinder monitoring device to provide you with even more peace of mind when you’re away from the lab. For instance, the Cyl-Tec gauge can be hooked up to a wireless telemetry system. This system alerts a customer when the gas in a 230L cylinder hits a certain predetermined level—for example, an alert can be preset to warn them that their tank is down to 20% full. The alert can be sent via text or email to their mobile phone, laptop, or any digital device they wish.
In addition, there are fully automated manifolds that are available for both CO2 and nitrogen cylinders that will send an email to a customer alerting them that there was a switch from an empty tank to the full tank in reserve. These manifolds also have dry contacts and can be tied into a customer’s BMS system.
To add a further layer of protection, we recommend installing a pressure transducer in the CO2 or nitrogen line that feeds lab equipment such as a mass spec or incubator. This transducer would be installed downstream of the manifold. A telemetry monitor is connected to the transducer, and if CO2 or nitrogen gas stops flowing altogether, the lab manager would be immediately notified via text, email, or a special mobile app. This same app also allows customers to check the gas levels of their 230L dewars and monitor the line pressure transducers anytime they want to ensure there is sufficient CO2 or nitrogen running through their systems.
At Middlesex, we strongly encourage our customers to utilize wireless telemetry. It enables lab and facility managers to easily keep daily track of exactly what’s left in any tank; helps them maintain a constant gas supply to their freezers, incubators, and mass specs; and should assist them in catching issues before they become a serious problem.
While we do sing the praises of digital gauges and remote monitoring systems, we also caution that no single monitoring method can address every risk in your lab. We advise lab and facility managers to implement a variety of precautionary steps to avoid a gas or equipment emergency, which may include connecting real-time monitoring and instant alerting to freezers and incubators or adding a transducer as a backup in case a manifold fails. A multilayered monitoring approach is the best way to make sure you will have adequate time to respond to and resolve a gas-related issue before it’s too late.
Middlesex Gases has over 35 years of experience manufacturing and analyzing specialty gases for biotechnology and life science companies. From start-ups to Fortune 100 companies, Middlesex Gases offers customized solutions for all applications. Our extensive gas distribution network services Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Presently, we have three gas filling and testing facilities in Everett, Lowell and Plainville, Massachusetts. Our state-of-the-art specialty gas laboratory located in Everett, MA is capable of Automatic and Gravimetric filling of both nonflammable and flammable gas mixtures. With over one million dollars invested in our plant, Middlesex Gases guarantees precise and accurate results every time we fill a specialty gas, leading to a faster delivery time for our customers. Gas products include: High Purity, Ultra High Purity, Research Grade and over 50 custom blends. Explore our full list of specialty gases.