temperature monitoring thermometer

January 12, 2022

How to Know if You Need a Temperature Monitoring System

In September 2021, shocking reports revealed 15 million Covid vaccine doses were thrown out—unused—in the United States. Why? At some point in their journey to the pharmacy, the vaccines got too warm.

That turned them useless.

When temperature-sensitive products get too hot, they undergo chemical changes—some, almost instantly. These changes can render some products deadly, fast. Others just can’t function properly anymore.

The ruined vaccines cost roughly $17.8 million. And tossing out lab and pharmaceutical products isn’t just expensive. It’s also becoming a global environmental hazard. 

Fortunately, you can prevent these types of losses with a temperature monitoring system. But how do you know if you need one?  

What is a Temperature Monitoring System?

A temperature monitoring system is a precision, high-end tool for pharmacies and labs. It integrates the functions of a thermometer and an alert system, but with greater breadth and accuracy.

temperature monitoring system lets lab managers stay aware of any temperature fluctuations. Thus, they can intervene quickly—ideally before any products take damage. 

A complete temperature monitoring system has five functions:

  • Monitor temperature
  • Monitor other environmental factors
  • Record information
  • Act within custom parameters
  • Immediate notification 

These functions work together to maintain an appropriate environment for your chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Explore each function in greater detail. 

Continually Monitor Temperature

Temperature monitoring systems continually track and report the current temperature, even when a staff member is not physically present. Systems with more sensors can alert you to fluctuating “cold spots” and “warm spots,” even when the average room temperature is stable. 

Premium systems use machine learning software to predict temperature changes, as well as report them. 

Continually Monitor Other Environmental Factors

Temperature is not the only environmental factor that can affect chemical products. You can integrate instruments with diverse monitoring capabilities into a single system.

In addition to temperature, monitoring systems can track humidity, pressure changes, ambient light levels, and CO² fluctuations. This lets labs maintain an Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) high enough to meet federal standards.   

Record Detailed Environmental Information Per Product

Temperature monitoring systems offer precise records differentiated by exact location. You can set up a system to log data taken from different product storage and use locations. A remote system lets you note all records while you stay in one place.

This lets staff stay on top of temperature control mandates. Different biochemicals have different temperature requirements, but a single monitoring system can report on all of them. 

Set Environmental Parameters

A temperature monitoring system lets you set environmental parameters. That lets you determine the minimum and maximum temperature, humidity level, and other settings unique to each product in your space.   

Immediate Notification

Temperature monitoring systems notify you immediately when the environment is hotter, colder, or more human than the boundaries you set. You can even set multiple boundaries. Alerts can notify you more urgently the farther away the measurements are from those boundaries. 

Temperature Monitoring System Components

Different temperature monitoring systems grant labs diverse benefits. One way to compare models is to investigate their components. 

When you learn the purposes of each system part, it illuminates how the system may serve your pharmacy or lab. And, it gives you a starting point before you choose which system is right for you.  

Temperature Sensors, Probes

Sensors and probes take measurements. They react to temperature changes in the atmosphere. There are three tools a system may use to take measurements. These are: 

  • RTDs
  • Thermistors
  • Thermocouples

Thermocouples are the most popular type of sensor. They’re also comparatively inexpensive. Engineers fuse wires of two different alloys to create thermocouples. Changes in temperature trigger different electrical output, which is how they measure temperature.

But, thermocouples are the least accurate. RTDs are the most accurate.

A temperature change creates a change in resistance in an RTD. To calculate the temperature change, the logger calibrates the default resistance against 0℃. RTDs can report even narrow temperature changes, to a hundredth of a degree.

Thermistors are similarly accurate. Like RTDs, thermistors can measure fractional fluctuations in temperature. 

But, thermistors have the narrowest range. Engineers design thermistors with diverse materials, so each is suitable to a different temperature range.  

Other Sensors (Optional)

Your temperature monitoring system may incorporate other sensors. These sensors note other changes in the environment.

There are unique sensors that track whether a door opened, changes in atmospheric pressure, or levels of light and CO². Learn more about the range of metric measurements available. 

Thermal Buffer

Thermal buffers insulate temperature probes. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend high-quality thermal buffers in temperature monitoring systems in hospitals, blood banks, and pharmacies. 

Thermal buffers are also critical for laboratory systems. These insulators make sure the reported temperature is as close as it can be to the actual temperature of the refrigerated product. Common thermal buffers include:

  • Solid nylon thermal block
  • Glycol vial
  • Glass bead bottle

Buffers reduce false alarms due to temperature spikes when someone opens a refrigerator door. Glycol vials are relatively low-cost and perform well in tests. Yet, a solid thermal block is more durable than glycol. They’re also easier to maintain than glycol. 

Measurement Device

The measurement device automatically, continually takes measurements and records them. These records are useful in the moment because they can trigger alarms. They’re also useful when you want to recognize patterns in temperature fluctuation.

There are three measurement device options for a temperature monitoring system. These are:

  • Wireless + base station (or gateway)
  • Networked (LAN or Wi-Fi)
  • Data logger (non-networked) aka “logger unit”

These devices can generate a graph from the data, so you can create a temperature profile of your refrigerator or storage container. Please note that different loggers have different sampling rates. A high sampling rate gives you a more accurate picture.  

Data Storage

Once your measurement device logs the data, it stores the data. There are four data storage options on typical temperature monitoring devices. These options are:

  • Internal memory
  • Local gateway, base station
  • Cloud storage
  • Local PC

A standalone data logger stores the data itself. You need to upload the data to a computer manually to use it. 

In contrast, a data logger connected to a local area network (LAN) will store the data on a local PC, or send it through a gateway and base station. This makes it easier to use the data. You can retrieve data from a local PC with a flash drive.

Data loggers in a wireless system store data on the cloud. This is useful when you need to access the temperature profile of a non-stationary freezer. 

A temperature monitoring system in a refrigerated truck can report logged data instantly using cloud-storage networks (like those in a cellular data network). 

Operations Software

Operations software controls the various functions of a temperature monitoring system. The software runs the following processes:

  • Charting
  • Configuration
  • Data retrieval
  • Alarm management
  • Reporting

Some software applications only engage some of these functions. Yet, each is important.

Configuration is easiest when the software has an easy-to-read user interface. That makes it easier to separate and identify the separate sources of temperature readings. 

Alarms and Notifications

When a sensor determines the environment has exceeded your configured parameters, the system will alert you and your team. There are five alarm and notification options. These are:

  • Audible alarm
  • Visual alert
  • Text message notification
  • Email alert
  • Automated phone call

Audible and visual alarms typically alert staff on-premises. Thus, staff can respond quickly to the temperature fluctuation.

Texts, emails, and phone calls function via wireless networks and software applications. These functions send messages to critical user devices directly.  

Merits of a Temperature Monitoring System

How do you know if you need a temperature monitoring system? If you work with chemical or pharmaceutical products, you may need one to stay legal. 

In the United States, the FDA, CLIA, and OSHA mandate safety standards to mitigate field-specific risks. Penalties for non-compliance include fines and, more rarely, criminal charges. Internationally, the Joint Commission sets global standards.

Even if you have other ways to stay compliant, there are other reasons to invest in a temperature monitoring system. It’s likely a good investment if you constantly battle logistics problems while ordering and maintaining supplies. 

Likewise, a temperature monitoring system is an asset when your lab has trouble with equipment failure (or it’s a legitimate concern). And, if you lose quality control of your products when they’re in transit as a matter of course, a temperature monitoring system is in order.

FDA Compliance

The Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 outlines the legal temperature calibration requirements for facilities that store food and drugs. 

That section later describes the accuracy and maintenance requirements for temperature sensors. These regulations apply to food, drugs, biologics, and medical devices. Any facility that works with these products must use an up-to-code temperature monitoring system. 

CLIA Compliance

CLIA is the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988. Any organization that tests human specimens for diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of diseases must meet CLIA standards. 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services hosts published documentation of CLIA’s temperature measurement regulations.

OSHA Compliance

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandates temperature monitoring. OSHA requires all organizations to prevent heat hazards to workers’ health. 

If heat or cold will trigger a chemical reaction that will harm an employee, the employer must implement temperature monitoring. OSHA also requires humidity monitoring in certain circumstances.

Meet Joint Commission Requirements

The Joint Commission sets international regulations for medical safety. It requires organizations to store medications at temperatures recommended by manufacturers. To ensure compliance, any organization that works with medications should monitor cold storage temperatures. 

Solve Logistics Problems

Even if you already comply with regulations, you may need a temperature monitoring system. Or, your current monitoring system might need an upgrade. Consider a temperature monitoring system to deal with common logistics problems.

Monitor Drug Temperature in Transit

A pharmacy, hospital, or medical center is responsible for medication quality. Ensure quality by monitoring drug temperature when medication is en route. An effective temperature monitoring system can assess and prevent problems that crop up in a supply line.

Save Money, Time, Resources

Is your organization losing product often? Or, are you wasting time and resources with frequent inspections and manual data analysis? 

An effective temperature monitoring system can aggregate data for you. And, you can pinpoint any problem sources easily, rather than wasting time hunting through a paper trail. 

Prevent Equipment Failure

Equipment failure is a significant risk. The typical large facility experiences five refrigeration failures per year.

Premium temperature monitoring systems can predict and prevent system failure. They measure AC power used to assess use efficacy problems, which indicate a refrigeration unit needs maintenance. Some systems even use machine learning to improve predictive potential.

Protect Pharmaceutical Goods

Quick action protects pharmacy products even when equipment fails. An accurate temperature monitoring system alerts staff when something goes awry. Thus, staff can act to rescue products in the event of a shutdown or power outage. 

Temperature Monitoring System Considerations

A temperature monitoring system is a useful asset. But not all systems are created equal. Consider diverse features and how those features may meet your laboratory’s needs. 

Performance, Quality, Safety (PQS)

The World Health Organization requires PQS tests to maintain system performance. The best temperature monitoring systems are already prequalified.

For temperature monitoring systems, it’s wise to regularly test your system for performance, quality, and safety.

Run periodic calibration checks. How accurate are your temperature readouts? How useable is your data? Is data reported readily enough that you won’t miss problems as they arise?

Make sure your monitoring system doesn’t overlook hot spots or cold spots within a refrigeration unit or freezer. Inconsistent environments require more sensors or probes to generate high-quality readings. 

Pharmacy Temperature Monitoring System Considerations

Pharmacies must meet all federal and international regulations unique to pharmaceuticals. Prioritize up-to-the-minute information. Monitoring goods in transit is particularly useful for pharmacy dispensaries. 

Laboratory Temperature Monitoring System: Quality Factors

Labs that work with human specimens must meet CLIA standards. They also must pass public health inspections.

Even labs without biologics must maintain a high-quality temperature monitoring system. Consider sensors with high temperature sensitivity (like RTDs or thermistors). Make sure heat never triggers an unanticipated chemical reaction. 

Explore Custom Monitoring System Options

A temperature monitoring system is a precise tool. Want to learn how you can make it work in your lab? 

Talk to our experts. At Sensoscientific, our monitoring system engineers can learn exactly what you need, then design a system tailor-made for your work. Request a consultation and quote today. 

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