FreezFiler Introduction

In short

FreezFiler is kleinlabs’ solution for automated lab freezer inventory. Standardized sample boxes are equipped with a QR code. A camera on the top of the freezer detects  insertion, removal and rearranging of sample boxes.

All actions with boxes are stored in a database, which can be accessed from mobile devices or PCs. A label printer produces stickers for lab journals, which can be used to retrieve samples fast and securely by scanning the labels via the camera of a mobile device or PC.

Free rack space can be found without opening the freezers, but by looking at the graphical mapping in the system. This reduces open door times and reduces damages on samples, saves rack space, amount of freezers, energy costs and time.

The FreezFiler solution can be installed on any upright freezer and is economic starting from with the first freezer.

Before FreezFiler

Researchers in different areas of science need to store samples in laboratory freezers in temperatures around -80°C. Those samples are usually organized in standardized boxes and standardized racks. A freezer can store between 400 and 700 boxes. Quite often researchers share space in the freezers, which means that they have to organize the freezers.  This is done quite often via pen-and-paper or ad-hoc spreadsheets. In both cases updating the position of a sample box needs manual effort and therefore discipline: A box may “gets lost” if it is moved without updating is position, making its retrieval hard. The freezer’s door needs to stay open for long while searching for the lost box, which puts the samples in the freezer in danger and costs a lot of energy.

FreezFiler ALFI

The mission of FreezFiler Automated Lab Freezer Inventory (ALFI) is to simplify the life of the user by tracking the location of the sample boxes automatically. The user only needs to perform a one-time registration of the box to enter relevant meta-data, such as project name. FreezFiler eliminates reoccurring manual work like checking in or out the box.

Read on to understand the components, and the workflow of the patent pending FreezFiler ALFI solution or just have a look at our introduction video. It is less then 3 minutes long and offers also closed captions to watch the video silently.

System Components

The solution is based on the following components:

The Labels

The labeling of boxes and notices with machine readable codes is the main concept of FreezFiler ALFI. There are two label types:

  • Machine label holding only the QR code which is used for automatic detection via the freezer camera.
Machine Label
  • Human label holding the QR code to be recognized by a camera operated by the user (e.g. smartphone, PC) and additional meta information. Some labs already mandate labeling boxes so as to make them easy to identify.
Human Label

The Sample Box

We are using standard sample boxes, enhance them with FreezFiler machine and human labels, and they are ready to got with FreezFiler!

Sample Box with FreezFiler Labels

FreezFiler Eye

The FreezFiler Eye is the core part of the kleinlabs offering for ultra low tempertures (ULT) freezer inventory management. It allows robust move­ment and adjacency detection of QR code marked objects in a wide spatial area under standard light conditions. Possible applications for the FreezFiler Eye include inventory management automation in many areas where ULT freezers are used. Even completely new application areas like management of parts for small production volumes or flexible storage inventory solutions are feasible due to the flexibility of the hardware design, App­li­ca­tion Pro­gram­ming Interface (API) and the user inter­face.

FreezFiler Server

The FreezFiler server receives the detected user actions, such as box insertions and removals, from the FreezFiler Eye and updates the database.

All sample boxes, their positions in the freezers and the actions on the boxes are stored in a database. Additional tables hold user accounts and group relations. This database is the main access point for the user via the FreezFiler app.

The FreezFiler server

The Label Printers

There are two printers in the solution:

  • Printer for machine labels
  • Label printer for human labels
Human label printer

FreezFiler App

The end-users, such as researchers and lab managers, connect to FreezFiler ALFI via the FreezFiler app. This web app can be used both on a PC and a mobile device, like a tablet or a smartphone. The app uses the device’s camera for recognition of the machine and/or human labels.

Detailed operation of FreezFiler ALFI

First acquisition of a sample box

The central element of the solution is the QR code of the sample box. When using a box for the first time, the user picks a pre-produced machine label and sticks it on a sample box (in fact, even a pile of such boxes can be pre-produced, so that a user just picks a ready-labeled box). Then the FreezFiler application is used to acquire the QR code. The user will be notified that the box is new to the system and is able to edit the data of the box. After editing the data, a human label may be printed which can be attached on the side of the box, for easy identification. Another print of the same label can be attached in the lab book, e.g., to link the experimental protocol with the box containing its output. Labeling sample boxes is already mandatory in many institutions, so it presents no additional work for the user. In fact, the double use of the human label, both on the box and the lab book, even saves time as the box data has to be entered only once.

Finding free space in freezer

The FreezFiler database has knowledge of all space in all freezers. The user gets a visualization of the freezers with possible space along with a recommendation of a freezer and rack. Still the researcher may choose a placement in any of the free areas of the freezers. FreezFiler will record, where the sample box was inserted.

Inserting the sample box

The sample box can now be inserted into the freezer. This is the point where the patent-pending FreezFiler Eye delivers all its power. The camera which is mounted on top of the freezer monitors the movement of the freezer’s door.

Insertion of a sample box

The video stream is analyzed continuously by the FreezFiler Eye to detect codes, their position and movements. On successful detection, an audio acknowledge is played to inform the user on the success. No manual check in of the sample box is necessary.

Rack and sample box detection and tracking

The position of the sample box in the freezer is immediately sent to the FreezFiler server to update the database.

Retrieving a sample box

The sample box can be removed from the freezer at any time, which is recorded in the same manner as the insertion described above. There is no need for a manual check out.

Lab notebook label scan

In the case the user does not remember the position of a sample box, this can be found using the FreezFiler app, either by scanning the label in the lab notebook, by searching for the box’s data or by virtually navigating the content of a freezer.