Element LIMS Case Study ECCS (Pace)

ECCS strengthens data management and extends market position with Element LIMS.

The Challenge

In the face of increasing market demand and the desire to expand market presence ECCS was in need of a seamless way to provide efficient on-site reporting and data management, and maintain productivity and quality assurance in the fixed-base lab.

The Solution

The solution was to implement a comprehensive LIMS that supported the fixed lab and burgeoning mobile lab business. Element LIMS from Promium became the cornerstone of that effort.

Meeting Market Demands

Environmental Chemistry Consulting Services, Inc. (ECCS) was established in 1991 and is headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin. ECCS uniquely offers a fixed-base lab service and comprehensive on-site mobile services. With twelve mobile labs that have operated in more than thirty states, three countries, and 1,000 project sites, ECCS is the largest organization of its type in North America. The company has tested samples from Madison to Micronesia. Twenty permanent chemists and staff are supplemented by additional staff assigned to specific projects. ECCS maintains several certifications including NELAC accreditation and support for DoD QSM. As many as twenty thousand sample tests are conducted annually.

The combination of a fixed lab location seamlessly integrated with a large mobile lab service makes ECCS unique. Managing projects and laboratories scattered across the country (and sometimes outside the country), presents challenges that other laboratories don’t face. For many years ECCS was able to expand with a relatively lean infrastructure. But as the company grew, project management, access to data, sample management, and the overhead required to maintain high quality data became challenging. If ECCS wanted to continue to grow and remain profitable, something would have to change. “Our turn-around time was too long and we were doing a lot of typing into spreadsheets for reporting,” said Karl Olm, ECCS Operations Manager. “It was taking us more than ten days to turn around final reports even for small jobs.”

Streamlining Sample Management and Access to Data

The company established three primary goals for upgrading their information management system. The first objective was to find a system that would drive compliance with NELAC standards so they could facilitate accreditation and the associated audit requirements. The second was to replace all the manual reports with online reports and Electronic Data Deliverables (EDDs). And lastly, ECCS wanted to streamline processes in order to improve profitability. That meant among other things, reducing production time for final reports by as much as fifty-percent.

A LIMS selection committee was established and the committee spent eight months looking at over one hundred systems with a cautious eye. “Everyone’s prior experience with LIMS was that the LIMS was driving the business instead of serving the business.” The vendor list was eventually culled to thirty and then finally to a short list of fifteen serious contenders. Each vendor was interviewed and then provided product demonstrations.

Even a home-grown system was considered. A home-grown system—which essentially represented the fully customized option for a LIMS—just couldn’t meet the company’s needs. “From a risk management perspective, it required more overhead because of the constant tweaking and the maintenance,” said Olm. The team felt such a solution would also be a distraction to the day-to-day operations of running a laboratory. They wanted a vendor to take responsibility for managing the development and life-cycle of the software.

The strengths and weaknesses of each solution were evaluated and two months later, Element LIMS from Promium was selected.

“Element LIMS was clearly tailored to our industry,” said Olm. “The whole software was geared to an environmental lab whereas other vendors just had an environmental module in their system. Element LIMS did ninety-percent of what we needed,” says Olm. “And the rest could be added.” In fact, the initial phase of the implementation was accelerated in order to take advantage of the staged electronic data deliverable (SEDD) format included with Element LIMS. “We were able to implement some of the system immediately and generated a profit from a project we could not have otherwise achieved,” added Olm.

Element LIMS can be configured to treat mobile labs as additional facility locations within the general lab structure. A subset of the master database which includes information for performing sample login, analysis, and report generation is created for each mobile lab. When the mobile lab returns to the central facility, data can be easily uploaded into the main database. This synchronized approach provides for strong data management and reporting.

Productivity Improvements

One area of significant benefit to the team is instrument data interpreters. As part of the annual maintenance contract, Promium furnishes interpreters for virtually any lab instrument at no additional charge. “The number of interpreters and compatibility for Element LIMS went above and beyond what other vendors offered. And with the annual maintenance, we don’t have to worry about buying a new instrument because we know it will be supported.”

“What used to take hours or days now just takes a few minutes.”

Karl Olm, Operations Manager

Another area that improved significantly is reporting. “We used to spend all day typing on a 10-key and now we just click the mouse a few times to get a report,” says Olm. “What used to take hours or days now just takes a few minutes.” The whole process from instrument to client has been streamlined. Before implementing Element LIMS when a client would call for a status update, project managers would scramble to track down the information from the lab. And traceability was especially difficult with the mobile labs. Now with a few key strokes, the information is easily accessed and communicated to clients. “Element LIMS has enabled us to have better documentation with more complete reporting on higher quality data,” says Olm.

Project managers are not the only ones who have benefited from improved access to information. Olm says outside auditors love the system because they no longer have to sift through logbooks, folders, and file cabinets. With Element LIMS, the data is readily available.

Other areas of improvement include:

  • Sample Management:The flow through the lab has become much more efficient and that’s had an impact on turn-around time. Where a job used to take about ten days on average, now projects are more frequently closed in five days—a nearly fifty percent improvement.
  • Visual Cues: Action level color coding has improved the responsiveness of the team—especially in the field. Rather than wade through a sea of data, analysts can quickly identify problem areas.
  • Reporting: Reporting quality and completeness are greatly improved. Previously a considerable effort was required for reporting for every project. Now reports can be customized on the back-end but changes don’t have to be made to day-to-day operations. And those reports can be re-purposed and re-used.
  • Improved quality management: In addition to online audit trails and internal system alerts that strengthen the quality control system, Element LIMS was key to achieving compliance with NELAC’s quality assurance requirements. As a single, consolidated source of information, Element meets the stringent traceability requirements for accreditation.

ECCS has established a special relationship with its clients. Other labs may focus on pushing as many samples through their instruments as they can in order to squeeze out a little more profit margin, but ECCS focuses on customizing their services to the precise needs of each project. The flexibility and capability that Element LIMS provides has made a key difference. “Work plans for every project are specific and unique and Element LIMS along with the experience of our chemists provides our clients with the most efficient sampling plan in the field,” says Jodie Peotter, ECCS Director of Sales and Marketing.

Note: ECCS was acquired by Pace Analytical in December 2015.