September 14, 2020Michael Creighton
As the manager of a clinical laboratory or hospital, the buck stops with you. With the stakes so high, lab managers should continually strive to streamline their processes, improve data reliability, and reduce operating and maintenance costs. One way to accomplish all of the above is to take a close look at one of the most misunderstood factors of laboratory operations—the power environment.
Laboratory instruments rely on the power supply to run mission-critical tests, processes, and functions, but electrical power is not always clean. In fact, 90 percent of the electrical disturbances that impact the integrity of the power flowing through the sensitive instruments in your lab are invisible. Left unchecked, these disturbances can lead to breakdowns, data errors, inaccurate measurements, shortened equipment life, and increased service calls. Clinical lab facilities are subject to particularly harsh power environments, where errors caused by electrical disturbances can appear as problems with instruments or equipment, software glitches, and corrupted data that result in false positives and inaccurate readings.
But what causes these harmful disturbances in electrical power?
While a massive lightning strike might immediately come to mind, it is actually far more likely the power environment is impacted by the very equipment already within your lab—centrifuges, heaters, coolers, pumps, and even the building’s HVAC system or electrical motors, all of which are necessary to keep lab operations up and running daily. The issue is, under normal operation, these devices cause electrical impulses, high frequency noise, and high voltage transients, and are present to some degree all of the time. These power disturbances can interfere with the system’s ability to make proper logic decisions, slowly degrade sensitive instrument components, and cause outright system failure. The result is expensive service calls, shortened equipment life, and downtime. A solution to maintaining uptime and protecting the instruments within the lab is a power quality system. Power quality systems filter electricity to ensure smooth performance of connected equipment, similar to the way a fuel filter protects a car engine from impurities. However, not all power protection is created equal. The three key components that ensure a solid power quality system are: a surge diverter, a low impedance isolation transformer, and a noise filter.
The majority of solutions available deploy a surge diverter, a noise filter, or a combination of the two. However, the most important element is the low impedance isolation transformer, which acts to isolate the power between the outlet and the connected equipment to ensure only clean, reliable power consistently flows through instruments. Solutions without a low impedance isolation transformer may actually cause disturbances, leading to downtime.
When you think of the power environment within the lab as an iceberg, it is not the visible disturbances such as power outages or lightning strikes that cause the greatest damage but rather, the disturbances you do not see. The medical, social, and economic benefits provided to society via the work done within clinical laboratories mean the stakes are too high to neglect the issues an unstable power environment can cause in a lab. Fortunately, there are power quality solutions designed specifically to protect against the hidden day-to-day power disturbances caused by normal equipment operations as well as visible power disruptions.