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Informatics Snapshot: METTLER TOLEDO LabX

Mon, 03/03/2014 - 11:39am
John R. Joyce, Ph.D.

John R. Joyce, Ph.D.When it comes to control and integration with laboratory instruments, this application excels

Welcome to Informatics Snapshot — a feature that highlights the standout properties of the current crop of laboratory informatics systems. While not intended to be a full formal review of the featured product or to indicate whether the product is considered “good” or “bad,” its purpose is to present some of the “diamonds and rust,” as the Joan Baez song goes. In this article, we’ll take a brief look at the LabX system from Mettler-Toledo International Inc. To eliminate any potential confusion, let me state that this software package is totally unrelated to the LabX Marketplace or any other products of the LabX Media Group.

It is important to realize that, currently, Mettler-Toledo appears to use LabX as more of a brand term than as the name of a specific piece of software. At the low end of the scale, they have their LabX direct software. Available as both LabX direct balance and LabX direct moisture, these appear to be analogous to Mettler-Toledo’s classic BalanceLink Software for capturing data from an instrument and pumping it into another application. At the high end of the scale is their LabX Laboratory Software. The latter application adds significant new capabilities that would make this package very useful for many applications. It is significantly more than just a data capture package and incorporates many LIMS and ELN features. It is this application that the rest of this article will focus upon, and which will be meant when reference is made to LabX. With the release of LabX version 6.0, some of the above description is in the process of changing. Their legacy titration products have been discontinued and their features incorporated into LabX. Plans are to rename all of the existing LabX Direct products and reserve the LabX name for their higher level informatics product.

In their literature, Mettler-Toledo refers to LabX as lab instrument control software. However, it also contains some LIMS and ELN features. When it comes to control and integration with laboratory instruments, this application excels. It actually goes well beyond just instrument control, as it also can monitor and enforce compliance with a laboratory’s standard operating procedures (SOP) in a number of areas. For example, if it is configured in the method being used, LabX can require an accuracy test of the balance with standard weights at the start of the run, every given number of samples, or whatever is required by the laboratory. In addition to the calibration of the instrument, LabX can track the preventive maintenance of the instrument and lock out any that are either out of calibration or past their maintenance check.

As distributed, LabX supports the control of balances, density meters, refractometers, melting point systems, and automatic dosing systems. Its control features are quite impressive and make it easy to design analysis processes that are highly intuitive. For example, if you are weighing out a sample which must be within a specified weight range, the system can be configured so that, when the sample weight is within the correct range, the balance display turns green, while if it is above the allowed range, it turns red.

The attentive reader might be having suspicions right about now, as a balance’s display cannot change colors unless it is designed to do so, and the attentive reader would be correct. To take advantage of the full capabilities of this system, you must be using Mettler-Toledo equipment. Specifically, you must be using their Excellence series. This includes the XP and XS series balances, the LiquiPhysics density meter and refractometer, the Thermal Value melting point systems, and the Quantos dosing systems. These all allow you to control the measuring process either remotely or from the instrument.

However, LabX does come with the capability to interface with ‘foreign’ instruments. While the experience of interfacing with these instruments would likely be more in-line with using BalanceLink Software, you would be able to collect data from them. Whether this would be a deal-breaker or not would likely depend on the equipment being used in your laboratory and how standardized it is. Many labs buy only Mettler-Toledo equipment, so this might not be a big deal, while others have such a disparate assortment of instruments that they wouldn’t even bother. If a lab fits these requirements, LabX is an application worthy of closer scrutiny.

It is a modular system that can be configured and run in a variety of ways. LabX 2013 can be run as a standalone system on a single computer (LabX Express) or as a distributed system with multiple clients (LabX pro). For the modular configuration, Mettler-Toledo recommends running Windows 7 on the client PCs and Windows Server 2008 R2 on the servers. The optimal hardware configuration uses 3 GHz servers with two running tasks/core on the instrument server and five instruments or active users per core on the business server.

The LabX System Integration Option now incorporated directly into LabX, allows you to integrate LabX with other informatics systems, such as LIMS, ELN, CDS, or your own applications. However, if you are not up to that, a number of solutions already exist to interface LabX with other systems, such as The BEAST LabX Interface1 for connecting with Porter Lee Corporation’s BEAST forensic LIMS. These interfaces allow an analysis to be scheduled on the LIMS, transferred to LabX where the analysis is run and data collected, before then transferring the results back up to the LIMS.

LabX is provided with a number of resources to simplify system validation. As is almost mandatory in today’s labs (and something you should insist on anyway) it is compliant with FDA’s 21 CFR Part 11 regulations.2 This means that the system includes all of the resources, such as a detailed audit trail, to allow you to configure a compliant system. However, keep in mind that final compliance is in your hands, as the best tool can always be used incorrectly.

Other features you might find attractive include:

  • the ability to generate control charts and analytical reports
  • a complete overview of all running tasks
  • a uniform interface for all instrument varieties
  • maintenance of a detailed calibration history for all instruments

Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Express Edition is distributed with system, but Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 is recommended for larger systems.

The fact that to take full advantage of LabX you need to be using Mettler Toledo instruments is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it makes it difficult to incorporate non-Mettler Toledo instruments and could be viewed as a marketing move to encourage the purchase of more of their instruments. On the other hand, because LabX and these instruments were explicitly designed to work together, they provide a stronger control to insure that the laboratories SOPs are being followed. For example, while other laboratory informatics can monitor for things like validation check frequency and user certification status, in most cases they can’t actually lock the balances or other instruments out. The tightness of LabX’s integration with Mettler Toledo’s other instruments means that it is much more difficult to bypass these checks by dry-labbing the values, which might be a critical plus in a tightly regulated environment.

If your laboratory is a strong user of Mettler-Toledo instruments, this application deserves serious examination. You can even download the Mettler Toledo LabX Checker3 evaluation app from iTunes and other locations to review some of the potential benefits of the LabX software.

References
1. METTLER TOLEDO and Porter Lee Corporation Introduce BEAST LabX Interface. (2008). http://www.prweb.com/releases/2008/12/prweb1673194.htm
2. http://www.21cfrpart11.com/files/library/government/21cfrpart11_final_rule.pdf.
3. Mettler Toledo LabX Checker for iPad on the iTunes App Store. iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mettler-toledo-labx-checker/id651411829?mt=8

John Joyce is a laboratory informatics specialist based in Richmond, VA. He may be reached at editor@ScientificComputing.com.

 

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