Data loggers are a key part of a comprehensive environmental monitoring strategy. Having the most up-to-date digital data loggers can simplify regulatory compliance and help to protect sensitive assets.
Data logger technology has evolved significantly since the days of paper chart recorders, driven mainly by advances in microelectronics and wireless communications. This has enabled the safe storage and distribution of sensitive materials under very demanding, dynamic conditions. Along the way, much of the time and resource costs associated with the early environmental monitoring equipment has been eliminated. Environmental monitoring regulations in areas where consumer safety is a concern, including drugs, vaccines, and perishable foods, have also evolved with data logger technology.
Modern digital data loggers (DDLs) are compact and versatile pieces of equipment that can be configured to:
- Record and store large amounts of precise environmental data (temperature, humidity, pressure, voltage, and others)
- Transmit data wirelessly
- Integrate with software tools for collecting and archiving data
- Send customized alarms via email, phone call, or SMS text
In this article, we’ll identify six signs that it’s time for your organization to consider upgrading its data logger technology to take advantage of some of these advanced features.
Sign #1: You’re Still Relying on Chart Recorders
Paper chart recorders have built a long track record of reliability in many industries. However, since the 1990s, DDLs have far outpaced them in terms of capabilities, cost of ownership, and regulatory compliance. While paper chart recorders and digital data loggers essentially perform the same functions, DDLs provide advantages in a number of areas:
- Time and Resources. Chart recorders have ongoing operational expenses, including paper and pens, and staff time for routine maintenance. Digital data loggers have low operational expenses associated mainly with software licenses and sensor calibration.
- Precision: The precision and accuracy of paper chart recorders are limited by the physical mechanism that moves the pen across the paper, while a DDL does not have this limitation. This can be important in very sensitive products like vaccines, where 1 or 2 degrees could make the difference in whether a batch of product has to be scrapped.
- Data storage: The cumbersome storage, organization, and annotation of paper chart records is replaced by digital file storage in DDLs.
- Software Compatibility. As we’ll talk about throughout this article, the power and value of DDLs can be enhanced by connecting them to monitoring software. Chart recorders are stand-alone units that don’t have this capability.
- Regulatory Compliance. In highly regulated areas like drug, vaccine, and food storage, monitoring data must be stored for a fixed period of time. For example, vaccine storage temperature records should be kept for 3 years, with trends reviewed weekly. In some cases, regulators can request historical monitoring data within 24 hours. A digital data storage system greatly simplifies compliance with this type of regulation.
- Features/Customization. With a DDL, the measurement frequency, the way data is exported, the information displayed on the unit’s screen, and the properties that are measured can all be customized. Some DDLs also have the ability to send customized alarms, which we’ll cover in more detail in point #6 below.
For more detailed information on transitioning from chart recorders to digital loggers, see our article titled “5 Reasons It’s Time to Consider Upgrading from Chart Recorders to Data Loggers”
Sign #2: Your Organization Wants a Cloud-Based Monitoring Solution
The state of the art in environmental monitoring is a network of wireless DDLs integrated with a cloud-based software tool. In this type of system, environmental data from across a vast network of monitoring points can be accessed from anywhere in real time. These modern tools also provide the capability to quickly visualize data from a distributed network of monitoring points, and are designed with regulatory compliance in mind, including compliance with electronic record-keeping laws given in 21 CFR Part 11.
Cloud-based monitoring maximizes the use of modern tools to protect sensitive materials, and easily scales and adapts to changes in your business. To take advantage of these capabilities, you’ll want to make sure you have data loggers that are compatible with a cloud-based monitoring tool like DicksonOne.
Sign #3: Your Organization Is Growing Rapidly
If you’re planning to grow your business by adding new products, facilities, or distribution routes, this is a good time to evaluate whether your current set of data loggers should be upgraded. As your monitoring needs grow and become more diverse, data loggers with advanced features and more flexibility can help to maintain efficiency and prevent excursions related to scale-up. For example, if you’re still using loggers that require data to be physically extracted using a USB, switching to wireless data transfer can simplify gathering data from a wider network of sensors, and can help to identify potential problems before an excursion happens. .
Because of their flexibility and inherent scalability, cloud-based environmental monitoring systems are ideal for businesses planning to grow quickly, or which need to respond to dynamic markets. These systems allow easy reconfiguration of monitoring setups or adding new monitoring points, while maintaining the FDA’s ALCOA guidelines for data collection (Attributable, Legible, Contemporaneous, Original, and Accurate).
Sign #4: You’ve Experienced an Excursion that Wasn’t Caught in Time
Any excursion is a good opportunity to evaluate your monitoring strategy, and in particular to ask whether making upgrades to your system could prevent future excursions. Specifically, are there any additional features or customizations that would’ve prevented or mitigated the excursion?
Using advanced data logger technology can take your monitoring approach from being reactive to proactive. Consider a freezer holding sensitive product that has a malfunction in the middle of the night when the facility is unattended. A paper chart recorder or an older style, offline DDL will let you know the next morning that the product in the freezer experienced an excursion, which meets the minimum requirement of protecting consumer safety. An audible alarm could help to mitigate the excursion, if staff is present and properly trained in how to respond.
However, a DDL that transmits data in real time, with customized alarm triggers, could immediately alert offsite support staff that an excursion was imminent, allowing them to respond quickly to prevent loss of product.
Sign #5: Your Current Data Loggers Aren’t Fully Meeting Your Monitoring Needs
As the needs of your business change over time, it’s a good idea to periodically evaluate whether your current environmental monitoring strategy, including your data loggers, is fully optimized.
For example, have the environmental storage conditions changed in a way that your monitoring equipment didn’t fully adapt to? Have regulations changed in your industry, or are you entering a new industry with different regulatory requirements? Or has the configuration of your warehouse or manufacturing facility changed so that it isn’t effectively being covered by your current set of monitoring points?
The flexibility of modern DDLs can help you respond to all of these situations. For example, the mode of data transmission and how a DDL is powered can be selected to address issues with monitoring points that are difficult to access. The frequency of data collection, the type of data collected, and the way it is archived can also be changed to adapt to different needs.
Real-time environmental monitoring can also provide additional peace of mind that control systems are functioning properly while material is in transit. With continuing advances in wireless communication, there is an increasing expectation that environmental monitoring data will be available in real time, during transit through remote locations, rather than collected when a shipment reaches its destination. This level of real-time access can be provided by DDLs that upload data to the cloud.
It’s also important to think about how your monitoring system fits into day-to-day operations. Consider a busy healthcare site where temperature-sensitive vaccines, drugs, and biological specimens are stored. The automation of modern DDLs allows staff to focus on more critical tasks, rather than routine maintenance of monitoring equipment.
Sign #6: You Can’t Customize Alarms or Other Settings in the Way You’d Like
One of the most powerful features of modern environmental monitoring systems is alarm customization. Triggers can be set to send alerts using email, SMS, or phone calls, and include a description of the problem so that response personnel are prepared when they arrive. Historical data can be used to set up custom triggers, so that alerts are sent even before an excursion takes place.
As we discussed above, in this way, your monitoring system can become a proactive tool for asset protection. Carefully setting up custom alarms also helps to prevent “alarm fatigue”, a dangerous situation where excessive false or nuisance alarms cause staff to ignore or disable them.
Modern data loggers have a number of features that can improve and simplify any environmental monitoring system. Upgrading your data loggers can help you to scale efficiently, adapt to changes in your business or in regulation, and improve your ability to protect assets.
For more information or assistance with upgrading your data loggers, contact the experts at Dickson.