OPC UA for automating sampling processes – Improving data harmonization for biobanks and cell and gene therapies


Data should not stand still. It is imperative that information can be exchanged within machines, between machines and from machines to systems where it is secure so that researchers can read their data. To improve connectivity and enable efficient and secure data exchange, Thermo Fisher Scientific now offers the CryoMed™ controlled rate freezer with Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture (OPC UA) functionality.

Technology networks had the pleasure of speaking with Wilfredo Marin, Senior Product Application Specialist at Thermo Fisher Scientific, to learn more about OPC UA and how it is suited for biobanking and cell and gene therapy development. In this interview, Wilfredo also highlights the benefits of integrating OPC UA into the CryoMed controlled rate freezer and the importance of OPC UA functionality in the lab of the future.

Zoe Braybrook (ZB): Can you briefly describe what OPC UA is and the benefits it offers?

Wilfredo Marin (WM): Of course, OPC UA stands for Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture allowing the exchange of information in a standardized way. This means that it is a well-organized and defined protocol allowing interoperability of instruments. Benefits include flexibility to work on all operating system platforms, data security, and scalability as data is transformed into information. In industrial environments, OPC UA provides end users with the building blocks to integrate into their control system workflows.

ZB: OPC UA has already been successfully integrated into other industries, including food and beverage, and energy and utilities. Could you perhaps tell us how you think it is suitable for biobanks and those who produce cell and gene therapies?

MW: It has certainly been mainstreamed into many other industries as they can make better and faster business decisions using insights from accessible information. This is key to OPC UA, as it follows industry-advised complementary specifications for providing contextualized data in a process system. For biobanks, this helps support the process of sample traceability, standardization and documentation sought for collaboration. As these researchers seek to modernize their facilities and potentially expand their operations within a building information management system, OPC UA functionality in their equipment provides biomaterial-like benefits with associated clinical data. .

For cell and gene therapy production facilities, cryopreservation is an essential step to maintain the integrity of modified, stored or distributed cells. Having a controlled rate freezer with OPC UA integrates well as a server to communicate with several types of client programs they currently use.

ZB: Why did Thermo Fisher Scientific choose to integrate this feature into the CryoMed controlled rate freezer in particular?

MW: Thermo Fisher Scientific is continually at the forefront of innovation that enables our customers to succeed. The investment in research and development is huge and our same customers provided valuable feedback to support how we implemented OPC UA when launching the previous updated model. As a former end user, the CryoMed Controlled Rate Freezer was an excellent choice to update as a necessary instrument for several important research and production workflows. Biomaterial cryopreservation is performed at multiple points, so it was essential to maintain the precision performance and reliability that the CryoMed is known to deliver.

ZB: How does CryoMed provide researchers with modern connectivity while ensuring the security of their data?

MW: The CryoMed has several options for connecting in a research environment, including wireless remote monitoring, PC-connected remote control, and now OPC UA functionality. It was also one of the first cryopreservation products to meet the FDA’s 21 CRF Part 11 requirements for electronic records. On the new UI, as a starting point, the updated firmware requires unique usernames with passwords, defines user roles, and maintains audit and event logs. To go further, OPC UA also integrates security into its protocol for access control, authentication and encryption. Thus, in a control system, there will always be rules between different levels to connect, find and read data like information.

ZB: What factors should labs wanting to improve their processes consider when adopting OPC UA? Is it easy for labs looking to improve their processes to adopt OPC UA products?

MW: One factor we continue to highlight is that OPC UA communication has been well supported and industry approved for several years. Unified Architecture evolved as a successor to classic OPC with a focus on independence, security, and platform integration. Therefore, a product with OPC UA like the CryoMed can be easily deployed to improve their process efficiency. For laboratories, a real advantage applies when they seek to evolve for a production requiring GMP. It can turn a very manual method into tightly documented automatic outputs between multiple machines as it orchestrates the data. OPC UA can be easily adopted but requires the same future mindset that we attribute to biological samples with potential for discovery or therapies.

ZB: How important will OPC UA functionality be in the lab of the future?

MW: With the rapid pace of technology and the associated expense, labs are looking to prepare for the future by incorporating sustainable planning into their operations. We are thinking about how various instruments in the same workflow can communicate and support manufacturing with OPC UA as a framework in the Industrial Internet of Things. Through these efforts, there will be more products developed that use OPC UA, making it easierier to exchange compliant and contextualized data, thus maintaining high quality at a lower cost. Altogether, the lab of the future will be able to use information from these physical machines for predictive analytics by modeling the data to provide multiple paths to success.

Wilfredo Marín was speaking to Zoe Braybrook, Marketing Campaign Coordinator for Tech Networks.

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