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The office of the chemist: key to future gains in laboratory productivity.

Productivity in the analytical chemistry laboratory has traditionally come from new or improved methodology and instrumentation. What was once a more or less gradual evolution in methodology gave way to the revolution brought about by commercially-available analytical instruments of great sophistication. This instrument revolution, spawned by the needs of World War 11 and the ensuing world-wide industrial recovery, is now almost five decades old.

While still a significant contributor to laboratory productivity, analytical instrumentation has been given increased vigour by the new revolution in computers. Smaller, less expensive, more powerful computers have been combined with analytical instruments to create analytical systems that make the chemist more productive than ever. Recent years have seen the increasing proliferation of computer/ instrument systems used for instrument control and data handling.

Where does this revolution in productivity go from here? To better understand this, we need to clearly define the mission of the analytical laboratory and see the role of the missionary who is to carry it out.

The Analytical Laboratory Mission

Most simply stated, the mission of the analytical laboratory is to produce information. The information must be presented in its most useful form. Then it must be communicated to its ultimate consumers: other scientists, managers, manufacturing and quality control activities, government agencies, and others. At the hub of this activity is the chemist, working both in the laboratory and the office. Whether in industry, academia, or government, today's chemist is faced with increased demands for greater productivity in ever more competitive environments. The concept of the 'Office of the Chemist' plays a key role in helping the chemist meet these demands.

Focusing on the Chemist

Hewlett-Packard's' Office of the Chemist' combines laboratory and office functions in order to increase productivity. The chemist no longer has to divide time between two physical locations.

The 'Office of the Chemist' is the point of convergence of computing power, laboratory data, and information at the chemist's desk. From this one location, the chemist can acquire data from the laboratory, access other information from beyond the laboratory, and incorporate that data into various types of software packages. Then the chemist can perform a multitude of important tasks on the data such as word processing, spreadsheet preparation and statistical analysis. From this same location, the chemist can also perform specialized analytical instrument applications.

To be able to bring to reality the 'Office of the Chemist' requires the following:

* standard connectivity within the laboratory,

* standard connectivity beyond the laboratory,

* ability to share peripheral devices such as printers, plotters, data storage

* ability to use a variety of business and scientific software.

Access from a Single Work Area

The chemist should be able to access the laboratory and beyond from a single workstation in his or her office, whether personal computer or single- or multi-tasking workstation.

Regardless of the underlying computer operating system, the workstation user interface should be consistent with instrument/computer systems in the laboratory. This reduces training costs and enhances efficiency and productivity.

The workstation should also support international computer standards so that it can readily be incorporated onto a computer network with other laboratory instrument/computer systems. With the move more and more to standard operating systems, the choice for personal computer workstations is the DOS operating system while the choice for multi-tasking and multi-user workstations is UNIX. At the same time, widely accepted international networking standards such as ARPA/Berkeley and IEEE 802.3 provide networking systems from multiple vendors. Together, standard operating systems and standard networking assure connectivity of the 'Office of the Chemist' with systems in the laboratory and the rest of the corporation.

Connectivity Within the Laboratory and Beyond

Most chemical laboratories have analytical instrumentation from a variety of manufacturers. For the most part, these instruments are still operable with years of usefulness left.

Similarly, the computers used with instruments can be from a number of manufacturers and can function using a variety of computer operating systems: both standard and proprietary.

The huge investments in instruments and computers not only include capital acquisition costs but also time invested in development of laboratory procedures, in training operators and in the data collected and saved. To be successful, the 'Office of the Chemist' must be part of a system that brings order to this heterogeneous environment, building on existing equipment without obsoleting it. At the same time, it must be possible to add instruments and computers in the future without impacting the system.

For these reasons, multi-vendor, standards-based connectivity is an absolute requirement for the success of the 'Office of the Chemist'. Networking must be based on internationally recognized standards such as the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) reference model. The OSI model is defined by the International Standards Organization (ISO) as a data communication architectural model for computer networks and is internationally accepted.

Finally, these standards must apply not only to computer networking within a given laboratory but also to networking beyond the laboratory. This includes network-to-network connectivity to other parts of an organization, organizations at a distance, and to other systems such as minicomputers and mainframes from major computer manufacturers such as IBM, DEC, and Hewlett-Packard. The 'Office of the Chemist' With a consistent user interface accessed from a single center and standard connectivity to the laboratory and beyond, the chemist has a powerful, centralized focal point that allows for:

* access to other types of data across a local area network (LAN),

* sharing of peripheral devices (printers, plotters, hard disc storage) on the network to reduce costs of equipment while improving productivity,

* use of network facilities to automatically back up large quantities of data for safekeeping in a central controlled environment,

* processing of data locally that is acquired from a remote system.

Future opportunities include the abilities to control instruments remotely and to acquire data locally.

The above capabilities are the result of solving the connectivity requirements of a heterogeneous laboratory and computer environment by developing the necessary software and hardware to do the job. Equally important for interacting with the laboratory is development of file format and conversion routines so that data from one analytical instrument can be merged and used on other instrument/computer systems. This ability preserves historical laboratory data and allows it to be used on new analytical systems so that nothing is lost.

An added value of the 'Office of the Chemist' is the ability to incorporate laboratory data into a variety of third-party software packages. This allows the chemist to perform a multitude of tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet preparation and statistical analysis in order to best present the laboratory's product: information.

One such example is the ability to import DOS workstation chromatographic and spectral data and plots into Chem-Text, a chemical word processor developed by Molecular Design Ltd. The chromatograms, spectra and reports can be directly integrated by the chemist with chemical structures, reaction diagrams, equations, text and flowcharts to create customized reports with presentation quality.

Current Status of the 'Office of the Chemist'

A number of computer and analytical instrument manufacturers are working to make the concept of a centralized work area for chemists a reality.

Computer manufacturers bring to the concept the latest technological advances in computers and networking. Instrument manufacturers contribute their expertise in analytical technologies as well as their knowledge and experience in connecting instruments to computers.

Among the major manufacturers, the Office of the Chemist' is part of Hewlett-Packard's Unified Laboratory strategy to provide integrated solutions to the analytical laboratory. With the chemist at the centre, this strategy provides laboratories with:

* connection of analytical instruments from multiple vendors,

* integration of data from a variety of sources,

* conversion of raw data into information,

communication of information to entire organizations.

The 'Office of the Chemist' is the control centre within a unified laboratory for connecting the laboratory with the broader business environment. Its function is critical to increase overall laboratory productivity.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Chemical Institute of Canada
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Candelaria, Nash; Schafle, Laura
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:Nov 1, 1989
Words:1308
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