ARI, a mature full-service environmental laboratory located in Washington State, was still growing but their laboratory information management system could not keep pace. Manual activities required too many resources and increased volume was overwhelming the technical limits of their system.
By implementing Element LIMS, ARI leveraged broad analytical functionality to develop a more streamlined and automated sample management process. Improvements were made to login, workflow management, client reporting, and laboratory decision making.
Founded in 1985, ARI provides a large array of environmental testing services including testing for organics, inorganics, and dioxins/furans. ARI is one of a limited number of laboratories that performs testing for the Contract Laboratory Program (CLP). The lab, located in Tukwila, Washington, has clients around the world, from the Pacific Northwest, to South America, to Japan, and New Zealand. ARI has developed several unique analytical techniques to achieve special analytical requirements, some of which have been adopted by the U.S. EPA nationwide.
ARI analyzes around 25,000 samples per year, primarily from environmental engineering and consulting firms. Their reputation is so strong that they haven’t found the need to hire a sales team, with referrals providing a steady and growing stream of business. Sue Dunnihoo, Chief Operating Officer and one of the founders, attributes the firm’s success to an intense focus on technological innovation, data quality, and unparalleled client service. Over the course of several years however, all three of these key areas became impacted by the limitations of their LIMS.
The first LIMS that ARI implemented met their needs for many years but only provided rudimentary functionality. As the lab grew and expanded analytical services, the volume and scientific complexity overwhelmed the system. A considerable amount of manual effort was required to keep the system functioning. “We always met our client needs but it was difficult on our side and took a lot of resources,” said Dunnihoo. For example, critical aspects such as reporting were extremely cumbersome. The lab employed two people full-time just to manage the report assembly process.
To address the issues with their original LIMS, ARI looked at several commercial systems and selected a well-known brand (currently owned by a large instrument maker). But after two years of attempting to customize the system to fit the business, the team realized that the system would never fully meet their needs. They were very disappointed at the results based on the time and money invested. “There was too much customization and too much programming required by our staff,” said Dunnihoo. “There was just too much that we had to do.”
After the bad experience with the last LIMS, the team took another look at the eight commercial LIMS on their list. This time around, enhancements to Element LIMS from Promium pushed it to the top. “When we looked at Element LIMS, we saw that it was still being improved upon and that it would work well for us now and probably even better in the future.” Ultimately, it was the full collection of functionality (including CLP support) and a very affordable price that resulted in the selection of Element LIMS.
ARI has made a big investment in technology and automation. The lab has been able to maintain and even grow sample testing volume over many years while decreasing the number of full time staff. In addition to installing new robotic test equipment, Element LIMS is the latest contributor to that automation.
From login to final report, the entire sample management process has been streamlined. In the old system, every project was built from scratch. With Element LIMS a project is built once and information doesn’t need to be re-entered over and over again. The electronic bench sheet is another example of improved performance. “The analysts used to write the bench sheets all out by hand and then hand calculate dry weight corrections and the wet weight. That’s all automated now,” said Dunnihoo. Other areas of automation include integrated barcoding, invoicing, bulk login, and instrument integration. “With Element LIMS, we’ve automated all of our raw data production so we have very little scanning, and we’ve reduced our use of paper eighty-five percent,” said Dunnihoo. ”Chromatograms and quantitation reports are all taken from the instrument as PDFs and uploaded into Element LIMS.”
Sue Dunnihoo, Chief Operating Officer
Prior to implementing Element LIMS, there were dedicated resources for assembling and printing reports. Now, there are zero. The reporting process has become so streamlined that project managers simply generate their own. “It’s a lot faster to generate reports,” said Dunnihoo. “And the case narrative templates help to make sure that all the project managers are writing similar types of narratives so there is more consistency in the product.”
Workflow management and access to information has improved dramatically as well. As soon as samples are logged in, the laboratory knows what work is ahead of them, including rush requirements. The information if easily viewable to everyone on large overhead color-coded screens in each lab—like an airport departure/arrival display.With the use of the Element LIMS dashboard, the project managers don’t have to spend their time running around the lab asking if work is done. They simply look in the system and see where the samples are in real-time. “With Element LIMS, managers can look at their work count and see how many samples are coming in. We can actually evaluate what analyses we get a lot of and we can see which ones we can drop because we aren’t getting enough requests for them,” said Dunnihoo.
Access to information is important from a management perspective as well. As COO, Dunnihoo benefits from greater operational oversight. “My dashboard shows all the work orders that are received, or reportable, or invoiced for all the project managers,” she said. “I can track all of the project managers and for the projects I manage, I don’t have to run around the lab to find my data. I can actually see online that it’s coming or ready to go.”
Implementing Element LIMS has had a direct impact on ARI’s relationship with their clients. The improved access to information has allowed them to respond quicker and with better information when a client calls with questions about their project. “When a client calls and asks when they are going to see their report, we used to run around the lab and try and figure out when it was going to happen and who was going to be done when and how far they were in the testing process,” said Dunnihoo. “With Element LIMS it’s all right there online and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen.”
“Just like the business, Element LIMS is still evolving,” says Dunnihoo. “It makes me feel good to know that the system is continuing to improve. We do so many kinds of analyses and specialized tests and the system handles all of that pretty easily. Element LIMS makes all of our jobs a lot easier.”