Due to technological advances in laboratory instruments and higher throughput processes, data volumes in modern analytical laboratories have increased dramatically over the last several decades. While this increased data volume presents the opportunity to improve innovation and enable timely and effective business decisions, it also presents significant data management and processing challenges. In order to meet the challenge of turning this data into knowledge, laboratories are looking to automate and integrate laboratory operations and processes as much as possible in order to provide digital continuity throughout the product lifecycle.
Integrating laboratory instruments with Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) is one of the best ways to automate laboratory processes. Instruments that are commonly integrated with LIMS in laboratories include:
- Particle Counters
- DNA Sequencers
- AA Analyzers
Unfortunately, many LIMS implementation projects either run out of time or lose the momentum before they are able to accomplish their initial instrument integration goals. In this blog, we will discuss both the benefits of instrument integration and best practices that help to ensure instruments are integrated effectively during a LIMS implementation.
Benefits of Integrating Instruments with LIMS
Integrating laboratory instruments with LIMS provides many important benefits. Some of these include:
Increased Operational Efficiency and Productivity
Key benefits of integrating instruments to your LIMS are improvements in lab efficiency and scientist productivity. Scientists save a lot of time when they no longer have to do manual transcription or cutting and pasting of data from the instrument to the LIMS. In addition, instruments integrated with a bi-directional interface can be programmed with necessary run information directly from the LIMS, saving additional time for scientists.
Better Data Quality and Integrity
By eliminating manual data transcription errors in laboratory workflows, instrument integration can help to improve both data quality and integrity. Data integrity is a primary focus of the FDA in recent years, and issues with the data pathway from instrument to the LIMS (or ELN) has been a source of many warning letters. Instrument integration with a properly validated system eliminates this data integrity concern.
Enhanced User Satisfaction and LIMS Adoption
No scientist enjoys the task of writing down results and entering data manually. Scientists want to do science! By integrating instruments with a LIMS, you save scientists a lot of time and tedious effort, ultimately improving job satisfaction and encouraging LIMS adoption.
By freeing up scientists from menial tasks like data transcription, instrument integration allows scientists to focus on the science that leads to innovation. Additionally, instrument integration supports the data integrity and continuity necessary to allow better scientist collaboration, ultimately improving innovation.
Best Practices for Integrating Instruments with LIMS
Instrument integration is one of the areas in informatics projects that can easily contribute to time and cost overruns if careful planning and an effective methodology is not practiced. Some best practice recommendations for instrument integration follow:
Conduct a Site Survey for Instruments
The first step in the process of instrument integration is to do a thorough survey of the instruments at the site so that you know what you are working with. The survey should include integration options available for each instrument present, along with the type and quantity of data the instrument exports.
Prioritize which instruments are worth integrating
Implementing an instrument integration is typically a time-consuming task that can take anywhere from a few hours to a several days. As such, it is advisable to determine if the return on investment (ROI) for this effort makes the instrument integration worth pursuing. Several factors should be involved in this analysis:
- How frequently is the instrument used and what is the quantity of the results it exports?
- How critical are the instrument’s results for laboratory processes?
- How much time and/or effort would integrating the instrument save for scientists?
- Would integrating the instrument contribute significantly towards data integrity in the lab?
- Can the instrument’s PC be easily connected to the network so the instrument can be integrated with the LIMS?
For this last point, it is important to consider operating system actualization, network compliance issues such as company IT policies, and the complexity of the data being exported by the instrument.
Interface critical path instruments first
Once you have identified which instruments it makes sense to integrate, it is wise to interface the instruments that are low hanging fruit first. These are generally critical path instruments that provide a high ROI and add a lot of value to the business. Getting these done first will help to build project morale and momentum. Instruments with high throughput and compatible software like a GC or an HPLC are often the best choice to place at the top of the integration list.
Schedule instrument integration for the first phase of the project
Even though instrument integrations are often a critical part of a LIMS implementation ROI, they are often put off until later phases of the project. This is a mistake, as it creates the risk of the instrument(s) never getting integrated due to the project running out of time, budget or momentum. Oftentimes, IT members of the project team are hesitant to begin working on the LIMS-instrument interface until the LIMS is fully implemented, thinking that the LIMS needs to be stable before interfacing with instruments. The truth is that this assertion is not entirely correct. Data structures and entities within the LIMS where the data is captured or exchanged should certainly be clearly defined and relatively stable prior to beginning work on the interface, but the reality is that there are usually data elements that need to be added that only become obvious once work on the interface has begun.
Another common reason that instrument integration is postponed has to do with improper or unbalanced prioritization of project tasks. Instrument integration may end up getting relegated to phase 2 of the project, for example, because of management stakeholders assert that their needs and priorities need to be met first in phase 1. The danger here is that the project loses momentum when bench scientists and other users discover that phase 1 of the project doesn’t deliver value in their day-to-day activities.
Effective instrument integration is crucial to improving your organization’s LIMS adoption and utilization rates, and a key factor in enhancing productivity, efficiency, data integrity and innovation in your laboratory environment. Whether you have old instruments that were not integrated with your LIMS during your initial implementation, or new instruments that have come online since, a system upgrade or a new implementation is a convenient time to integrate instruments with a LIMS.
Whereas instrument integration with a LIMS was once a daunting task, recent years have seen the development of new tools and technologies in the laboratory informatics area has made instrument integration a more reasonable and doable undertaking. In fact, most LIMS on the market today have several tools available to facilitate interfacing instruments with LIMS, some even having standard interfaces designed for popular instruments like Chromatography Data Systems (CDS). The bottom line is that any LIMS implementation or upgrade project should include a prioritized plan to integrate as many laboratory instruments with the system as is reasonable and provides for a good ROI.
If you would like to discuss your instrument integration plan, or if you need help in getting your plan justified and/or implemented, feel free to contact us for a free, no obligations consultation.