The Automatic Methods Group
The Automation and Analytical Management Group
From time to time the Committee of the Group sets a period aside specifically to review the Group’s strategy. In particular we look at how well we are meeting our formal Remit and whether it needs changing or broadening. In 1998, after considerable discussion, it was agreed unanimously that our remit did not, at present, require change but that we should seek to change the name of the Group in order to reflect a succession of evolutionary changes that have occurred during the 32 years since the Group was formed.
Rationale for the change in name
The Group has been called the Automatic Methods Group since it was formed in 1965. The intervening years have seen substantial progress in analytical instrumentation. At the time of the Group’s formation, analyser sequencing was usually controlled by cam-operated switches driven by synchronous motors, results were displayed on chart recorders, and data handling and data evaluation were carried out manually. If computing was used at all, it would have been carried out off-line on a mainframe computer. The formation of the Group in 1965 coincided with the production by DEC of their PDP 8 – the first mass-produced general purpose mini-computer. The microcomputer had not yet been invented. Six years later Intel produced the first microprocessor, (a 4-bit device called the 4004) to be followed two years later by the 8008, the forerunner of a range of microprocessors that eventually led to the development of the microcomputer in the 1980s.
In the early days the Group held meetings at which members demonstrated mechanised or automated equipment that they had constructed. Some of these ideas were taken up and developed into commercial products by instrument companies. Such meetings would not be possible today. The emphasis is less on the mechanics of the process and more on sample tracking, information pathways, and the use that can be made of derived information for management purposes.
Present day instrumentation is highly sophisticated by the standards of 1965 and contains levels of “intelligence” that were then not even contemplated. Many incorporate multiple microcomputers that are far more powerful than mainframe computers of that time. Integral systems to self-calibrate and self-validate are becoming more common. In addition, many laboratories now have Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) which typically provide a service to both the analyst and the laboratory manager. Such a LIMS can communicate with instruments to download method parameters and access raw data. Such capabilities are integrated with sample tracking, and the evaluation of QA and GLP information following QMS (Quality Management Systems) protocols. A LIMS can provide basic data-editing, data-display and data-archiving facilities. It can document, summarise and assist in the control of laboratory resources. A LIMS system can bridge the gap between laboratory activities and the corporate financial and administrative mainframes.
These changes have been reflected in the content of meetings organised by the Group. We still organise meetings that examine particular automation techniques in depth, but increasingly our meetings are concerned with all aspects of the organisation and management of laboratories. Our meetings recognise that modern laboratories use a wide range of automated equipment coupled with advanced techniques of data handling, quality management and information management to the benefit of laboratory management in general.
Our proposal that the Group should be renamed, and the new name should be The Automation and Analytical Management Group, has received formal approval by the Councils of the Analytical Division and of The Royal Society of Chemistry.
23 August 1999