A large variety of laboratory equipment, instruments, and computerized analytical systems, ranging from simple nitrogen evaporators to complex multiple-function technologies (see Instrument Categories), are used in the pharmaceutical industry to acquire data to help ensure that products are suitable for their intended use. An analyst's objective is to consistently obtain reliable and valid data suitable for the intended purpose. Depending on the applications, users validate their procedures, calibrate their instruments, and perform additional instrument checks, such as system suitability tests and analysis of in-process quality control check samples to help ensure that the acquired data are reliable. With the increasing sophistication and automation of analytical instruments, an increasing demand has been placed on users to qualify their instruments.
Unlike method validation and system suitability activities, analytical instrument qualification (AIQ) currently has no specific guidance or procedures. Competing opinions exist regarding instrument qualification and validation procedures and the roles and responsibilities of those who perform them. Consequently, various approaches have been used for instrument qualification, approaches that require varying amounts of resources and generate widely differing amounts of documentation. This chapter provides a scientific approach to AIQ and considers AIQ as one of the major components required for generating reliable and consistent data. Note that the amount of rigor applied to the qualification process will depend on the complexity and intended use of the instrumentation. This approach emphasizes AIQ's place in the overall process of obtaining reliable data from analytical instruments.
Validation versus Qualification
In this chapter, the term validation is used for manufacturing processes, analytical procedures, and software procedures and the term qualification is used for instruments. Thus, the phrase “analytical instrument qualification” (AIQ) is used for the process of ensuring that an instrument is suitable for its intended application.

There are four critical components involved in the generation of reliable and consistent data (quality data). Figure 1 shows these components as layered activities within a quality triangle. Each layer adds to the overall quality. Analytical instrument qualification forms the base for generating quality data. The other components essential for generating quality data are analytical method validation, system suitability tests, and quality control check samples. These quality components are described below.
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Figure 1. Components of data quality.
Analytical Instrument Qualification
AIQ is the collection of documented evidence that an instrument performs suitably for its intended purpose. Use of a qualified instrument in analyses contributes to confidence in the validity of generated data.
Analytical Method Validation
Analytical method validation is the collection of documented evidence that an analytical procedure is suitable for its intended use. Use of a validated procedure with qualified analytical instruments provides confidence that the procedure will generate test data of acceptable quality. Additional guidance on validation of compendial procedures may be found in the general information chapter Validation of Compendial Procedures 1225.
System Suitability Tests
System suitability tests verify that the system will perform in accordance with the criteria set forth in the procedure. These tests are performed along with the sample analyses to ensure that the system's performance is acceptable at the time of the test. USP general chapter Chromatography 621 presents a more detailed discussion of system suitability tests as related to chromatographic systems.
Quality Control Check Samples
Many analysts carry out their tests on instruments standardized using reference materials and/or calibration standards. Some analyses also require the inclusion of quality control check samples to provide an in-process or ongoing assurance of the test's suitable performance. In this manner, AIQ and analytical method validation contribute to the quality of analysis before analysts conduct the tests. System suitability tests and quality control checks help ensure the quality of analytical results immediately before or during sample analysis.

The following sections address in detail the AIQ process. The other three components of building quality into analytical data—analytical method validation, system suitability tests, and quality control check samples—are not within the scope of this chapter.
Qualification Phases
Instrument qualification is not a single continuous process, but instead results from several discrete activities. For convenience, these activities can be grouped into four phases: design qualification (DQ), installation qualification (IQ), operational qualification (OQ), and performance qualification (PQ).
Some AIQ activities cover more than one qualification phase, and analysts potentially could perform them during more than one of the phases (see Table 1). However, in many instances there is need for specific order to the AIQ activities; for example, installation qualification must occur first in order to initiate other qualification activities. The AIQ activities will be defined and documented.
Table 1. Timing, Applicability, and Activities for Each Phase of Analytical Instrument Qualification*
Design Qualification Installation Qualification Operational
Timing and Applicability
Prior to purchase of a new model of instrument At installation of each instrument (new, old, or existing unqualified) After installation or major repair of each instrument Periodically at specified intervals for each instrument
Assurance of manufacturer's DQ Description Fixed parameters Preventive maintenance and repairs
Assurance of adequate support availability from manufacturer Instrument delivery Establish practices to address operation, calibration, maintenance, and change control
Instrument's fitness for use in laboratory Utilities/facility Environment
Assembly and installation
Network and data storage Secure data storage, backup, and archive
Installation verification Instrument function tests Performance checks
*  Activities under each phase are usually performed as given in the table. However, in some cases, it may be more appropriate to perform or combine a given activity with another phase. Such activities spanning more than one qualification phase are shown as connected by double arrows. If an activity listed under a given phase is performed under another phase, it is not necessary to repeat the activity under the phase where the activity is listed. Performing the activity is far more important than the phase under which the activity is performed.
Design Qualification
Design qualification (DQ) is the documented collection of activities that define the functional and operational specifications of the instrument and criteria for selection of the vendor, based on the intended purpose of the instrument. Design qualification (DQ) may be performed not only by the instrument developer or manufacturer but also may be performed by the user. The manufacturer is generally responsible for robust design and maintaining information describing how the analytical instrument is manufactured (design specifications, functional requirements, etc.) and tested before shipment to users. Nonetheless, the user should ensure that commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) instruments are suitable for their intended application and that the manufacturer has adopted a quality system that provides for reliable equipment. Users should also determine the manufacturer's capability for support installation, services, and training. This determination might be aided by the user's previous interaction with the manufacturer.
Installation Qualification
Installation qualification (IQ) is the documented collection of activities necessary to establish that an instrument is delivered as designed and specified, and is properly installed in the selected environment, and that this environment is suitable for the instrument. IQ applies to an instrument that is new or was pre-owned, or to any instrument that exists on site but has not been previously qualified. Relevant parts of IQ would also apply to a qualified instrument that has been transported to another location or is being reinstalled for other reasons, such as prolonged storage. The activities and documentation typically associated with IQ are as follows.
Description— Provide a description of the instrument or the collection of instrument components, including its manufacturer, model, serial number, software version, and location. Use drawings and flow charts where appropriate.
Instrument Delivery— Ensure that the instrument, software, manuals, supplies, and any other instrument accessories arrive as specified in the purchase order and that they are undamaged. For a pre-owned or existing instrument, manuals and documentation should be obtained.
Utilities/Facility/Environment— Verify that the installation site satisfactorily meets manufacturer-specified environmental requirements.
Assembly and Installation— Assemble and install the instrument, and perform any preliminary diagnostics and testing. Assembly and installation may be done by the manufacturer, vendor, specialized engineers, or qualified in-house personnel. Manufacturer-established installation tests and guides provide a valuable baseline reference for determining instrument acceptance. Any abnormal event observed during assembly and installation merits documenting. Installation packages purchased from the manufacturer or the vendor may, however, need to be supplemented with user-specific criteria.
Network and Data Storage— Some analytical systems require users to provide network connections and data storage capabilities at the installation site. When required, connect the instrument to the network, and check its functionality.
Installation Verification— Perform the initial diagnostics and testing of the instrument after installation.
Operational Qualification
After a successful IQ, the instrument is ready for OQ testing. Operational qualification (OQ) is the documented collection of activities necessary to demonstrate that an instrument will function according to its operational specification in the selected environment. Testing activities in the OQ phase may consist of these test parameters.
Fixed Parameters— These tests measure the instrument's nonchanging parameters such as length, height, weight, voltage inputs, acceptable pressures, and loads. If the manufacturer-supplied specifications for these parameters satisfy the user, the test requirements may be waived. However, if the user wants to confirm the parameters, testing can be performed at the user's site. Fixed parameters do not change over the life of the instrument, and therefore never need redetermination. [note—These tests could also be performed during the IQ phase (see Table 1); if so, fixed parameters need not be redetermined as part of OQ testing.]
Secure Data Storage, Backup, and Archiving— When applicable, test secure data handling such as storage, backup, audit trails, and archiving at the user's site according to written procedures.
Instrument Function Tests— Instrument functions required by the user should be tested to verify that the instrument operates as intended by the manufacturer. Manufacturer-supplied information is useful in identifying specifications for these parameters and in designing tests to evaluate the identified parameters. Users, or their qualified designees, should perform these tests to verify that the instrument meets manufacturer or user specifications in the user's environment.
The extent of OQ testing that an instrument undergoes depends on its intended applications. Therefore, no specific OQ tests for any instrument or application are offered in this chapter.
Routine analytical tests do not constitute OQ testing. OQ tests are specifically designed to verify the instrument's operation according to specifications in the user's environment, and repeating the testing at regular intervals may not be required. However, when the instrument undergoes major repairs or modifications, relevant OQ and/or PQ tests should be repeated to verify whether the instrument continues to operate satisfactorily. If an instrument is moved to another location, an assessment should be made of what, if any, OQ test should be repeated.
OQ tests can be modular or holistic. Modular testing of individual components of a system may facilitate interchanging of such components without requalification. Holistic tests, which involve the entire system, are also acceptable.
Performance Qualification
Performance qualification (PQ) is the documented collection of activities necessary to demonstrate that an instrument consistently performs according to the specifications defined by the user, and is appropriate for the intended use. After IQ and OQ have been performed, the instrument's continued suitability for its intended use is demonstrated through performance qualification. The PQ phase may include the following parameters.
Performance Checks— Set up a test or series of tests to verify the acceptable performance of the instrument for its intended use. PQ tests are usually based on the instrument's typical on-site applications and may consist of analyzing known components or standards. The tests should be based on good science and reflect the general intended use of the instrument. Some system suitability tests or quality control checks that are performed concurrently with the test samples can be used to demonstrate that the instrument is performing suitably. PQ tests may resemble those performed during OQ, but the specifications for their results may be set differently if required. Nevertheless, user specifications for PQ tests should demonstrate trouble-free instrument operation for the intended applications. As is the case with OQ testing, PQ tests may be modular or holistic.
Testing frequency depends on the ruggedness of the instrument and the criticality of the tests performed. Testing may be unscheduled—for example, each time the instrument is used. It may also be scheduled for regular intervals. Experience with the instrument can influence this decision. It may be useful to repeat the same PQ tests each time the instrument is used so that a history of the instrument's performance can be compiled. Alternatively, the instrument may be incorporated into an integrated support system to assure that it remains continually qualified. Some system suitability tests or quality control checks that are performed concurrently with the test samples also imply that the instrument is performing suitably.
Preventive Maintenance and Repairs— When an instrument fails to meet PQ test specifications, it requires maintenance or repair. A periodic preventive maintenance may also be recommended for many instruments. The relevant PQ test(s) should be repeated after the needed maintenance or repair to ensure that the instrument remains qualified.
Practices for Operation, Calibration, Maintenance, and Change Control— Establish practices to maintain and calibrate the instrument. Each maintenance and calibration activity should be documented.

Users are ultimately responsible for instrument operations and data quality. The user's group encompasses analysts, their supervisors, instrument specialists, and organization management. Users should be adequately trained in the instrument's use, and their training records should be maintained as required by the regulations.
Users should also be responsible for qualifying their instruments because their training and expertise in the use of instruments make them the best-qualified group to design the instrument test(s) and specification(s) necessary for successful AIQ. Consultants, equipment manufacturer or vendors, validation specialists, and quality assurance (QA) personnel can advise and assist as needed, but the final responsibility for qualifying instruments lies with the users. The users must also maintain the instrument in a qualified state by routinely performing PQ.
Quality Unit
The role of the Quality Unit in AIQ remains the same as for any other regulated activity. Quality personnel are responsible for assuring that the AIQ process meets compliance requirements, that processes are being followed, and that the intended use of the equipment is supported by valid and documented data.
Manufacturers and developers are responsible for DQ when designing the instrument. They are also responsible for validation of relevant processes used in manufacturing and assembly of the instrument. Manufacturers should test the assembled instruments before shipping them to users.
Finally, it is desirable that manufacturers and vendors should notify all known users about hardware defects discovered after a product's release; offer user training, service, repair, and installation support; and invite user audits as necessary.

Software used for analytical work can be classified into three categories: firmware; instrument control, data acquisition, and processing software; and stand-alone software. Although software validation is not the primary focus of this chapter, the following sections describe in which cases this activity is under the scope of the analytical instrument qualification.
Computerized analytical instruments contain integrated chips with low-level software (firmware). Such instruments will not function without properly operating firmware, and users generally cannot alter firmware design or function. Firmware is therefore considered a component of the instrument itself. Indeed, the qualification of hardware is not possible without operating it via its firmware. Thus, when the hardware (that is, the analytical instrument) is qualified at the user's site, the integrated firmware is also essentially qualified. No separate on-site qualification of the firmware is needed. Whenever possible, the firmware version should be recorded as part of the IQ activities. Any changes made to firmware versions should be tracked through change control of the instrument (see Change Control, below).
Instrument Control, Data Acquisition, and Processing Software
Software for instrument control, data acquisition, and processing for many of today's computerized instruments is loaded on a computer connected to the instrument. Operation of the instrument is then controlled via the software, leaving fewer operating controls on the instrument. Also, the software is needed for data acquisition and postacquisition calculations. Thus, both hardware and software, their functions inextricably intertwined, are critical to providing analytical results.
The manufacturer should perform DQ, validate this software, and provide users with a summary of validation. At the user site, holistic qualification, which involves the entire instrument and software system, is more efficient than modular validation of the software alone. Thus, the user qualifies the instrument control, data acquisition, and processing software by qualifying the instrument according to the AIQ process.
Stand-Alone Software
An authoritative guide for validating stand-alone software, such as LIMS, is available.1 The validation process is administered by the software developer, who also specifies the development model appropriate for the software. Validation takes place in a series of activities planned and executed through various stages of the development cycle.

Changes to instruments, including software, become inevitable as manufacturers add new features and correct known defects. However, implementing all such changes may not always benefit users. Users should therefore adopt changes they deem useful or necessary and should also assess the effects of changes to determine what, if any, requalification is required. The change control process enables them to do this.
Change control may follow the DQ/IQ/OQ/PQ classification process. For DQ, evaluate the changed parameters, and determine whether need for the change warrants implementing it. If implementation of the change is needed, install the changes to the system during IQ. Evaluate which of the existing OQ and PQ tests need revision, deletion, or addition as a result of the installed change. Where the change calls for additions, deletions, or revisions to the OQ or PQ tests, follow the procedure outlined below.
Operational Qualification— Revise OQ tests as necessitated by the change. Perform the relevant tests affected by the change. This ensures the instrument's effective operation after the change is installed.
Performance Qualification— Revise PQ tests as necessitated by the change. Perform the PQ testing after installation of the change if similar testing is not already performed during OQ. In the future, perform the revised PQ testing.
For changes to firmware and to software for instrument control, data acquisition, and processing, change control is performed through DQ/IQ/OQ/PQ of the affected instrument. Change control for stand-alone software requires user-site testing of changed functionality.

Documents obtained during instrument qualification should be retained in an accessible manner. Where multiple instruments of one kind exist, documents common to all instruments and documents specific to an instrument may be stored separately. During change control, additional documents may supplement those obtained during the qualification process, and both sets of documents should be retained and maintained in a suitable manner that allows for appropriate protection and access.

Modern laboratories typically include a suite of instruments and equipment varying from simple nitrogen evaporators to complex automated instruments. Therefore, applying a single set of principles to qualifying such dissimilar instruments would be scientifically inappropriate. Users are most capable of establishing the level of qualification needed for an instrument. On the basis of the level needed, it is convenient to categorize instruments into three groups: A, B, and C, as defined below. Examples of instruments in each group are provided. Note that the list of instruments provided here is for illustration only and is not meant to be exhaustive. It does not provide the exact category for an instrument at a user site. That category should be determined by users for their specific instruments or applications.
The exact grouping of an instrument must be determined by users for their specific requirements. Depending on individual user requirements, the same instrument may appropriately fall into one group for one user and another group for another user. Therefore, a careful selection of groups by users is highly encouraged.
Group A
Group A includes standard equipment with no measurement capability or usual requirement for calibration, where the manufacturer's specification of basic functionality is accepted as user requirements. Conformance of Group A equipment with user requirements may be verified and documented through visual observation of its operation. Examples of equipment in this group are nitrogen evaporators, magnetic stirrers, vortex mixers, and centrifuges.
Group B
Group B includes standard equipment and instruments providing measured values as well as equipment controlling physical parameters (such as temperature, pressure, or flow) that need calibration, where the user requirements are typically the same as the manufacturer's specification of functionality and operational limits. Conformance of Group B instruments or equipment to user requirements is determined according to the standard operating procedures for the instrument or equipment, and documented during IQ and OQ. Examples of instruments in this group are balances, melting point apparatus, light microscopes, pH meters, variable pipets, refractometers, thermometers, titrators, and viscosimeters. Examples of equipment in this group are muffle furnaces, ovens, refrigerator-freezers, water baths, pumps, and dilutors.
Group C
Group C includes instruments and computerized analytical systems, where user requirements for functionality, operational, and performance limits are specific for the analytical application. Conformance of Group C instruments to user requirements is determined by specific function tests and performance tests. Installing these instruments can be a complicated undertaking and may require the assistance of specialists. A full qualification process, as outlined in this document, should apply to these instruments. Examples of instruments in this group include the following:
  • atomic absorption spectrometers
  • differential scanning calorimeters
  • dissolution apparatus
  • electron microscopes
  • flame absorption spectrometers
  • high-pressure liquid chromatographs
  • mass spectrometers
  • microplate readers
  • thermal gravimetric analyzers
  • X-ray fluorescence spectrometers
  • X-ray powder diffractometers
  • densitometers
  • diode-array detectors
  • elemental analyzers
  • gas chromatographs
  • IR spectrometers
  • near-IR spectrometers
  • Raman spectrometers
  • UV/Vis spectrometers
  • inductively coupled plasma-emission spectrometers

1  General Principles of Software Validation: Final Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration, Rockville, MD, January 11, 2002. http://www.fda.gov/cdrh/comp/guidance/938.html (accessed September 2004).

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