September 5, 2018
In many scientific laboratories, routine laboratory operations are still carried out using manual, paper-based systems. Paper-based systems can be everything from transcribing instrument test results to managing inventories and documenting and scheduling instrument calibrations on spreadsheets. Lab automation is a critical business re-engineering that is enabled and optimized with the implementation of a good LIMS solution. Without the core LIMS technology, true lab automation can not be achieved and reliance on paper will continue to hold back growth. This reliance on paper has many negative side effects:
- decreases the efficiency of the laboratory workplace
- stifles innovation by forcing scientists into manual activities when they could be doing actual science
- leaves the laboratory vulnerable to having valuable data misplaced, lost or destroyed
- creates data integrity issues due to manual data transcription
- exposes the company to regulatory risk due to data integrity and audit trail challenges
Informatics solutions, such a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), have been widely adopted across industries in order to meet these challenges. While LIMS provide a diverse array of functionality that serves to improve laboratory operations, the most important feature of a LIMS may be the ability to automate manual processes. In this blog, we will discuss some of the most important ways that LIMS can help automate your laboratory.
Laboratory Automation With LIMS
A few of the many ways that a good commercial LIMS can help automate your laboratory environment include:
Workflow automation is one of the biggest opportunities offered by LIMS for laboratory productivity improvement. Most LIMS allow complex workflow automations with simple drag and drop functionality. Some LIMS even offer out-of-the-box (OOB) laboratory execution system (LES) functionality for extremely detailed workflow automation capabilities.
Note that many organizations make the mistake of automating inefficient workflows and processes with their LIMS. A thorough workflow analysis prior to a LIMS integration or upgrade allows for the production of a set of optimized requirements detailing process improvements that will guide the implementation for maximum productivity and efficiency enhancement.
Integrating your laboratory instruments with your LIMS is a highly effective way to automate your laboratory. Most commercial LIMS have out-or-the-box (OOB) instrument integration capabilities, along with a comprehensive application programming interface (API) that allows for customized integrations with instruments. Once instruments are integrated with LIMS, test results flow directly into the LIMS database without the need for manual transcription. This effectively eliminates manual transcription errors and serves to guard against data integrity issues. Two-way interfaces can be set up between the instrument and the LIMS so that data can flow in both directions. This allows for more complex automation that can drive big productivity gains through controlling the instrument from the LIMS.
Instrument Calibration and Maintenance
Manually maintaining instrument calibration and maintenance records can be both a hassle and a source of workflow inefficiencies in your laboratory. Modern LIMS come with the ability to automate the process of tracking this information. Additionally, lab managers will be able to seamlessly access the up-to-date calibration and maintenance records to confirm that instruments are ready for use before work assignments are made.
Besides instruments, LIMS can be integrated with many other laboratory and enterprise applications/systems to improve automation across the organization. These integrations often are accomplished via the LIMS’ API, although they can also come as a standard OOB interface. Some examples of systems that are commonly interfaced with LIMS include: ELN, SDMS, LES, MES, ERP, inventory management system, data visualization and analytics, etc.
Reporting can be a source of substantial inefficiencies in scientific laboratories. LIMS allow automation in the generation and delivery of reports, allowing scientists to spend more time doing the science that drives innovation and helps the organization remain competitive.
Laboratories in industries adhering to GxP regulations need to make sure that all scientists and technicians are properly trained for the tests and other procedures that they perform. As with instrument calibration and maintenance, modern LIMS come with OOB functionality to automate training schedules and records. Additionally, providing the actual training courses/videos, as well tracking verification of training/retraining, through the LIMS will provide for further workflow automation efficiency gains.
Testing Results Review and Approval
All QA/QC results on a particular sample in a laboratory typically need to be reviewed and approved before the material can proceed to the next step in the production process. Modern LIMS can facilitate automation here by enabling a “by exception only” review process, where staff only have to do a review if the result is assigned a “Fail” or “Alert” status. In addition, the review process will be significantly more efficient since all the information that has been collected about the sample/batch (i.e., test results, batch information, etc.) will be easily available to the reviewer within the LIMS. This is a huge efficiency upgrade over having to go to all the various individual instruments involved to track down test results on a particular sample.
The digital revolution is rapidly changing the laboratory environment. Large amounts of data generated in modern laboratories, along with high throughput requirements, are necessitating the use of informatics solutions such LIMS to improve laboratory automation. We have presented just a small sampling of the many ways in which a properly implemented LIMS can help facilitate laboratory automation for your organization.
In order to ensure that your LIMS implementation optimizes laboratory productivity and efficiency and maximizes business value for your organization, however, it is important to follow a comprehensive and proven methodology. Astrix Technology Group has over 20 years experience helping scientific organizations implement and integrate LIMS in the laboratory. If you would like to have an initial, no obligations consultation with an Astrix informatics expert to discuss laboratory automation or your overall laboratory informatics strategy, please feel free to contact us.