Instrument Interfacing

One of the key ways to add efficiency and accuracy to your laboratory is by interfacing your instruments. The instruments that are used within laboratories range from simplistic 'dumb' instruments that simply output a number to instruments that include data management software that can communicate with external systems (such as WinLIMS.NET) in a bidirectional manner. The most important thing to know is that QSI has NEVER encountered an instrument that it could not interface!


Because instrument manufacturers do not provide common communication or data formats it is up to QSI to provide a tool (the WinLIMS Bridge) that allows integration, regardless of the capabilities of the various instruments that you depend on to acquire data on a day-to-day basis.


Instrument Types

Because instrument manufacturers do not provide common communication or data formats it is up to QSI to provide a tool (the WinLIMS Bridge) that allows integration regardless of the capabilities of the various instruments that you depend on to acquire data on a day-to-day basis. Instruments can be classified into three general classes that identify the communication mechanism. These are:


  • Dumb Instruments (pH meters, balances, ion meters, gauges, etc.)
  • Smart Instruments
  • Bi-Directional Instruments


Dumb Instruments

Dumb Instrument Interface
Dumb instruments such as balances or pH meters are usually highly used, but don't provide a way to associate the required reference to their associated record within the database (e.g. the unique sample identifier and parameter {a.k.a. analyte, characteristic, etc.}); they simply provide electronic output via an RS232 or USB port. This means that WinLIMS.NET must provide both a communication acquisition and software front-end that provides these missing pieces. Although this is quite simple within a traditional LAN environment, it becomes more complicated in a web environment where these pieces must be able to communicate with a remote server across the Internet (or your corporate intranet). Fortunately, QSI had the technical expertise to make this a simple task, despite its complexity, by using the WinLIMS.NET Bridge option.


The WinLIMS Bridge provides the desktop application that is required to interact with the local PCs communication port and provides a user interface that associates the data acquired from the instrument with the sample and associated parameter (analyte, characteristic, etc.). As data is acquired, it is passed to the WinLIMS.NET database to add convenience, reliability and efficiency.


Smart Instruments

Smart Instrument Data Flow
Smart Instruments provide two key features that simplify interfacing to WinLIMS.NET:


1) they allow you to associate the unique sample identifier to each measurement

2) they provide files in a format that can be processed by software applications


The format of the files that are produced will vary greatly; some use modern, common formats such as XML that are simple to process while others use proprietary text layouts that must be parsed to extract the data that is germane to the needs of each test within each laboratory. Files that are created are automatically transported to the web server where it is processed to extract the appropriate data and pass it to the WinLIMS.NET database in a totally seamless manner.


Bi-Directional Instruments

Like Smart Instruments, Bi-Directional Instruments allow the input of sample identification and produce files that contain the instrument-produced data in a consistent format, but it also provides the added capability of receiving information from WinLIMS.NET. For example, test queues can be scheduled for this type of instrument within WinLIMS.NET (including the test method, standards, controls, etc.) and passed to the instrument where the user can simply load the instrument and run the analysis. Upon completion of analysis, the data is automatically sent back to WinLIMS.NET to complete the bidirectional communication cycle.