Wireless tower. (photo: )
Wireless tower.
22.09.2020, 16:37

Protecting Research Facilities with Wireless Remote Monitoring

The Indoor Environment, ICT, Cloud Solutions & Strategies, Education, Technology

Omniflex director Gary Bradshaw explains the benefits of wirelessly operated remote temperature monitoring systems for research facilities and laboratories.


In medical research facilities around the world, cryopreservation is used for the long-term storage of vital materials like human tissue samples, blood and bone marrow. In these environments, even small fluctuations in operating temperatures leads to degradation of samples and the loss of valuable research materials.

In the era of Industry 4.0, and with the widespread adoption of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) - and smart technologies, the benefits of remote monitoring key assets are more compelling than ever for site managers. In recent years, it has become evident that remote monitoring offers the most convenient and cost-effective way of managing asset status and system performance. Crucially, by remotely managing them over long periods of time, facilities reap the rewards in the shape of lower operating costs, faster response times and better service levels. Whether it be at an academic or an industrial institution, site managers who implement remote monitoring are reaping the rewards at their facilities.


Keeping an eye on Oxford

It may be home to some of the world’s finest minds, but Oxford University is still susceptible to machine failure and system errors just like any other institution. In its medical laboratories, where cryopreservation technology is commonplace, lab managers previously monitored the operating temperatures of -80oC and -200oC freezers by conducting visual inspections and manually recording the results.


This method isn’t reliable since it only registers the temperature at the time of reading and does not account for variation throughout the day. Furthermore, if the temperature is compromised by machine failure outside of regular working hours, valuable samples would be compromised before the problem is discovered. As the freezers in question are currently storing COVID-19 samples, and materials related to the work on developing a vaccine to the virus, it goes without saying that protecting the integrity of research samples is of the upmost importance.


To overcome these challenges, the team at Oxford University engaged Omniflex to provide them with a way of monitoring operating temperatures remotely, 24 hours a day and with rapid response capabilities. Omniflex networked sensors to monitor operating temperatures in real time, with alerts sent out to site managers and engineers, via SMS and email, in the event of abnormal temperature fluctuations. This allows operators to act quickly and take appropriate action if problems arise. Furthermore, the unit was supplied with battery backup so it could function independently of local power supply in the event of an outage.


Installing wireless remote monitoring systems helped researchers at Oxford University overcome the challenges they faced when it came to cryopreservation of materials. Furthermore, it also lowers ongoing costs at the site since any problems with the freezers are quickly identified and fixed before they cause significant damage to the equipment and samples. This is a key benefit in the context of developing vaccines for coronavirus, since there are limited research samples available.


Aiding African research

South Africa’s Medical Research Council (MRC) is a world leading institution when it comes to research into AIDs and TB, and anti-retro viral drug trials. When the MRC needed to upgrade 16 of its facilities nationwide to monitor operating temperatures and humidity levels in its -80oC sample storage areas and lab stock room areas, they also engaged Omniflex. Notably, the project included the MRC’s head office where over 50 freezers and fridges needed to be remotely monitored 24/7, 365 days a year.


The MRC had three main criteria that the new system had to meet. Firstly, it needed a single centralised control system for admin staff and site managers to monitor and review operating parameters. Secondly, it needed to be installed using GSM services to update the cloud-based server and provide up-to-date reports. Finally, it had to alert key personnel, like site managers and engineers, by SMS and email in the event of any problems arising.


Omniflex was able to meet all the MRC’s key objectives by installing its Data2Desktop system at the facilities in question. Data2Desktop records all system data and timestamps it to produce a chronological record of all historical data for audit purposes. Also, it automatically produces hourly reports that can be accessed remotely by staff with the necessary login credentials. Finally, should a system error or outage occur, the SMS and email alerts are automatically distributed to all relevant personnel so the problem can be addressed immediately.


Following the lead of the MRC, the University of KZN in South Africa has now adopted the Data2Desktop system in its medical research labs. The University is a research pioneer of AIDs and TB, whose site includes several biohazard level three facilities. Omniflex has installed 24/7 remote monitoring at 15 of the University’s sites, including the nitrogen freezer research repositories. This helps to ensure that the University can protect its valuable research assets and respond quickly in the event of a problem arising.


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