Instrument automation with I-Collector
With today’s advancing lab processes with LIMS software, instrument integration has become an essential part of lab automation. Moreover, labs that need to follow regulations laid by the FDA, ISO, etc need to be more vigilant in their lab workflow. Manual errors can create various hurdles for such labs. Most of the lab processes are today made sophisticated and organized by LIMS such as LabCollector. However, collecting data from instruments and analyzing it, is still something difficult, to attain for many labs. Thus automated data acquisition is becoming a need for every lab. Generally, any instrument can be communicated with the help of API (Application Programming Interface). API communicates with the instrument, by giving commands using a ‘middleware’ application. However, one needs to create commands, by using scripting programming languages, to process the files. This is a work for a developer, which consumes a lot of time and needs to be scripted according to respective instruments. I-Collector is ready to use ‘middleware’ that eases the process of communicating with several laboratory instruments.
Check our webpage to read more about I-Collector automation by LabCollector!
I-Collector by LabCollector is the ultimate Windows middleware for instrument automation. It is a Windows service that is configured to launch and operate in the background. So to explain it in layman’s terms, web service is an application that runs in the background, for example, in the server. It is a service without a GUI (Graphic User Interface), meaning you cannot see it as an application. On the computer, you can see it running in the back end by clicking WIN + R on the keyboard to open the run dialog and type “services.msc”. It will open a window where you will be able to see all windows services that are currently running. If you have installed the I-Collector Core application, you will see it as a background application in the services window and not as a shortcut icon on desktop.
I-Collector core can be hosted either on-premise or Cloud (SaaS on AWS, etc). It is a service that can run independently of LabCollector LIMS. It acts as middleware, that is capable of communicating with LabCollector, as well as various laboratory instruments. One can imagine, that if we cannot see the application upfront, then how can we connect or see what is happening with the instruments? For exactly this purpose, our AgileBio IT team has developed various applications and plugins that can help to view and communicate with the I-Collector Core windows service.
The communication with the instrument depends on the type of the machine. The communication can be based on instruments that can do file processing or can have direct communication. To simplify it, we all know that some machines don’t need cables to connect to the computer, these fall in the ‘file processing’ category. The other machines that need cables to connect to the computer or directly to the server; fall in the ‘Direct communication’ category. Depending upon these instrument connections the I- Collector can have different communication pathways. However, the I-Collector core and the LabCollector always communicate via Application Programming Interface (API). API is a computing interface that defines how the interaction between different software will take place; in this case I-Collector core and LabCollector.
- File Processing (instruments connected without cables)
File processing instruments connection have unidirectional communication with I-Collector Core. Such instruments connect to Core via local network or internet.
- Direct Communication (instruments connected with cables)
On the other hand, direct communication instruments have bidirectional communication, via RS232 or TCP/IP with the server hosting I-Collector core.
- RS232 is a communication protocol between two instruments, that transmit and receive data. It uses the electrical cable connector that allows bi-directional communication of data.
- TCP/IP is Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol are two different protocols that are interdependent on each other. TCP helps in communication between two devices over a network, for example like telephone communication where you can conversate with one another. An IP is a numerical label assigned to each device connected to a computer network that uses the Internet Protocol for communication. IP is the part that obtains the address, to which data is sent. TCP is responsible for data delivery once that IP address has been found thus making them interdependent.
- I-Collector Viewer
For a person without much IT information, it is difficult to imagine any application that doesn’t have a Graphic User Interface (GUI), where you can see the application and interact with it. Especially in terms of laboratory instrument which is connected to an application without GUI, where you cannot see the process that is happening inside the instrument. No need to panic!! For this reason, our instrument integration team developed an I-Collector Viewer application, that not only shows you the file being processed by the instrument but also helps you communicate visually with I-Collector Core.
- I-Collector Client App
For instruments falling in the ‘File Processing’ (without cables) category, sending any file to the I-Collector Core requires a File Transfer Protocol. This is why our IT specialists developed I-Collector Client App that helps to send any result files from the instrument to the I-Collector Core via SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol), where the result data is further processed. In SFTP, the transfer of files is done with the help of SSH File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) which securely transfers files from the I-Collector Client App to the server hosting I-Collector Core.
We don’t want you to lose your valuable data in the result file! So how do we send files by the SFTP process?
SSH is a secure shell method for secure remote login from one computer to another. It provides several alternative options for strong authentication, and it protects the communications security and integrity with strong encryption. The SSH client drives the connection (with private-key) setup process and uses (public-key) cryptography to verify the identity of the SSH server. We launched a new feature in the I-Collector where you can not only send the file to I-Collector core for parsing but also receive the parsed & processed log file (for example containing sample names, processed values) back from the I-Collector core application.
- I-Collector parser edition
Not every laboratory needs a complex process to function. So let’s say, that you only want to parse files coming from the instrument to import into LabCollector. Thus I-Collector parsing edition is the ultimate plugin to use in such cases. Parsing will help rearrange the complex data into a structure that can be read by LabCollector. It could be files like results from an instrument or file containing some information on tests, samples, etc that you need to import in LabCollector. All one needs to do is transfer the files (CSV, xls, xlxs) you want to parse in the I-Collector parser edition. One of the things to remember about the parser edition is that the data type in the file is important for parsing function. For example, let’s say that you receive data from your instrument in a text (.txt) format. If this text format is similar to a CSV (delimited by a comma or a semicolon, etc) or you save your CSV file in a text format, then you can parse such files using the I-Collector parser edition plugin.
- I-Collector exporting customized
Our Lab Service Management (LSM) add-on, offers templates for creating test reports and invoices. Let’s say, you want to export these reports containing results or invoices containing costs. Imagine a scenario where you are a researcher in a test lab. You get your samples for testing, from a clinic, for example. This clinic wants you to send them the test reports or invoices in a CSV format. WHY?? Maybe because the clinic could have other software, that they use to create results or invoices for their customers or for some other reason. For such cases, the I-Collector exporting customized plugin helps to export files in various formats such as CSV, xlxs, xls, jason, etc. This makes it easy and flexible to generate report templates in various formats which can be processed further by clients.
- Plugins for respective instruments
As a researcher, you must have used several instruments throughout your research career. Every lab uses instruments that they are comfortable with and used to. Every laboratory instrument as its own system configuration. For this reason, we need specific plugins for every instrument that helps them to connect to I-Collector. Our developers have created several plugins that are used to connect several specific instrument to the I-Collector based on the instrument’s communication type (see image above).
Check our webpage to see the list of instruments compatible with I-Collector
Check out all LabCollector v6.0 today!
Image/Graphics Credits: –Icons from https://flaticon.com/