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Reliable instrument maintenance with a PC.

Imagine being awakened in the middle of the night to fix an instrument because your lab failed to perform consistent preventive maintenance. That used to happen to me. I even forfeited a Sunday afternoon picnic in the mountains just to get the backup equipment for our computer system operating. Now my associate and I use a preventive maintenance s stem that protects our sleep and recreation time-not to mention helping a lot at work, too.

Our laboratory had used the same preventive maintenance system for instruments for 12 years. It consisted essentially of reminder cards generated each month by the hospital's engineering department. The 7 /,- x 3 /,-inch cards, produced in the hospital's mainframe computer, listed maintenance tasks to be done. When technologists finished these jobs, they signed the back of the cards and passed them to my associate or me. After reviewing them, we filed them as a permanent record.

In 1989 the hospital, a 120-bed not-for-profit community facility, unable to find a suitable person to fill the slot of director of the engineering department, contracted with an outside firm to provide one. Since this company supplied its own computer software program for instrument maintenance, our hospital's engineering department stopped using the program that had supplied our cards. Left with no maintenance program for new instruments or applications, we had to devise one of our own.

* System overview. The best way to accomplish this was with a database software program. To learn how to create one, I enrolled in a 14-week class on dbase (Ashton-Tate Corp., Torrance, Calif.) at the local community college. We met two nights a week for three hours each. The class was in dBase Ill Plus, which we still use; the software is now in version IV.

I learned that each laboratory instrument constitutes a record and all records together compose the file. We studied file structure-namely, how to decide which fields (areas containing units of information) to include in each record. The five field categories are as follows:

character-a broad group that can contain any keyboard character; the default field.

numeric-adds and subtracts (not used in my program).

date-automatically inserts slashes for dates.

logical-answers yes/no and true/ false questions (not used in my program).

memo-an open-ended section for entering our own material. The memo field enabled me to customize my program. Without it, I might not have been able to use dbase for our purposes. In the class, we learned essential skills such as how to add append), edit, and delete records and how to design and print reports. File structure. In constructing our program, I chose fields (categories) we had identified as important for the cards we previously used: instrument identification number, laboratory department, instrument name, manufacturer, model number, serial number, frequency of maintenance, jobs (tasks to be performed), and buy-date (date of purchase) (Figure 1).

Following dbase protocol, we designated the jobs field as memo, the buydate as date, and all other fields as character. Each field included a sufficient number of bytes to accommodate its longest projected entry.

Most of our equipment had a ready been assigned five-digit identification numbers beginning with 38, to identify the laboratory, and ending with three numbers unique to each instrument. We retained the three final numbers and preceded them with twO meaningful ones indicating the frequency of maintenance required with a code: 41 for monthly, 51 for quarterly, 61 for semiannually, and 71 for annually. For instruments that had not previously been so numbered, such as refrigerators, I created identification numbers from scratch.

Our lab is divided into six departments, abbreviated as follows: chemistry (Chem), hematology (Hem), blood bank (BB), microbiology (Micro), specimen processing (Spec), and phlebotomy (PBT). The section heads of these departments are responsible for preventive maintenance of the equipment in their own areas.

In entering data for these fields, we use the following criteria. The instrument name, model number, and serial number are obtained directly from the instruments. We determine./Fequency after consulting material from the manufacturer and guidelines from the College of American Pathologists. The jobs field lists tasks to be completed on each instrument; beside each, a space is provided to check off after the task has been completed. Tasks are described in detail in instrument maintenance notebooks maintained by each laboratory section. The buydate is the date on which the instrument was purchased.

* Data entry and edit. To create the initial setup, I consulted our old instrument cards and instrument maintenance notebooks, which listed the jobs, frequency of maintenance, and purchase dates of equipment. In some cases, the manuals were not up to date on the jobs that had to be done; in others, the cards had become outdated. The append and edit features of dbase have made it easy to revise as needed to accommodate new instruments and add maintenance tasks for existing ones. 9 Report design. We designed two reports for our new system. One generates the maintenance sheets, individual pages for each piece of equipment describing the tasks to be performed on it. The other report, listing all instruments in a given department, serves as a master list for each department's notebook. Whenever a new one is inserted, the old one is thrown away.

On the double-spaced maintenance sheet, set on an unnumbered page called a plain" page in dbase), I set the left margin at 8. All other options were left at the default settings.

In dbase, you can "group on"-that is, call up and print-any field name. Since we print information about the maintenance of each instrument on a separate page, I grouped on the expression "ID No" and had the page eject after each group. This group is ideal for us because the number is a unique identifier with instruments listed in numeric order. I chose the following column widths: for instrument, 20 characters; for serial, 8 characters; and for jobs, 40 characters. We use a printout of this report as a worksheet (Figure 11).

The first page of the master list report for each lab section carries the title "Preventive maintenance for (department name). " I programmed the system to eject each page after printing and to use plain (unnumbered) pages. Data include ID No., instrument, frequency, and jobs. We insert the reports at the front of the preventive maintenance notebooks, Figure Ill shows an example from our specimen processing section. 9 Using the program. Each month my associate, who is our lab's chief technologist, and I generate reports by using the following procedure. At the dot prompt, we type:

USE PM INDEX,PMID Use brings up the file PM (for preventive maintenance). Index calls up the index on a field. PMID is the chosen field, named for "preventive maintenance identification number. "


This command will selectively print only tasks that must be performed monthly . For other intervals, we type QUARTERLY," SEMIANNUALLY," or "ANNUALLY."

Finally, we type:


This command generates a report for each instrument under consideration.

Use of reports. At the beginning of each month, I generate a worksheet for each piece of equipment and distribute the appropriate pages to section heads. Section heads are responsible for completing the required maintenance procedures, filling out the check-off sheet, and returning the sheet to me and my associate.

After documented review (Figure IV), we place the sheets in the appropriate instrument maintenance log to become part of the permanent instrument record. The summary report (master list), which includes all the instruments in each department, is placed at the beginning of the maintenance notebook for that department.

Expansion. The program is easily adapted for any periodic tasks the user has trouble remembering. I found, for example, that it was hard to remember to check the water purifier of our deionization system every six months. Once I had incorporated the task into those done semiannually, however, it popped up twice a year.

*Evaluation. Our maintenance system has provided an organized way to perform and document preventive maintenance procedures done monthly, quarterly, semiannually, and annually. Section heads appreciate having a month to perform maintenance tasks. We know when maintenance has not been performed, and can discuss the problem with the responsible technologist. Our instruments look and perform better than ever. Instrument downtime has decreased. Now the laboratory controls the generation of the program and worksheets, as well as all changes and additions, instead of relying on someone in the engineering department.

A picnic. instrument maintenance is no longer a problem in our laboratory. The new program allows flexibility while assuring that the appropriate maintenance on each instrument is performed and documented. It is no longer necessary for my associate or me to be jangled awake with the request to come fix a problem that routine maintenance would have prevented. When a bright Sunday beckons, I can head for a family picnic in the mountains, knowing the lab won't stop me on my way out the door. n
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Corcoran, Linda G.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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