Energy utility laboratory cuts turnaround time with Element LIMS.

The Challenge

The issues began to pile up as the environmental laboratory felt the strain an outdated laboratory information management system (LIMS). Old technology and limited functionality became even more of a burden when the LIMS vendor withdrew support.

The Solution

The solution was to implement a commercial-off-the-shelf system that blended well with the workflow of the lab and could significantly improve efficiency. Element LIMS from Promium was selected and has delivered quantifiable results.

Time for a change

This regulated public utility in the State of California provides energy to millions of people. The environmental lab is a fully accredited testing facility supporting a variety of utility operations. The lab performs 20,000 to 30,000 tests annually and has approximately 100 chemical methods available to them to analyze pollutants, metals, oil, and inorganic material. They also provide certified and non-certified analytical testing and consulting services to outside organizations, such as universities, government agencies, and other power plants.

Information is the lifeblood of the lab and any significant disruption would prove damaging to the lab’s mission and reputation. For several years a basic system met the information management needs of lab but there came a day when the software had simply come to the end of its lifecycle. Upgrades and maintenance were no longer provided. Limited functionality and technological weaknesses increasingly impacted productivity and the lab began to search for a more powerful and reliable solution.

The lab supervisor was put in charge of finding a new LIMS. The team set out four critical criteria. The new system needed to: 1) be relatively easy to implement because IT resources were scarce, 2) be intuitive to use so that training and disruption to the lab was minimized, 3) have an automated interface to download instrument data, and 4) fit within a limited budget.

The lab supervisor seized the opportunity to find a new LIMS in order to transform the information practices at the lab and increase efficiency. He surveyed his peers at other utility companies to see what systems they used and then did online research to identify any other products that could work for an environmental lab. Ultimately, three solutions were chosen for further investigation. Each of the three vendors was called in to do on-site demonstrations so the selection team could get a closer look at functionality and features.

Element LIMS from Promium—the only system exclusively designed for environmental labs—was selected. According to the lab supervisor, it was the overall value of the solution that was the deciding factor. “The simplicity of use and value of what you got with Element LIMS was far better than the other systems.”

Speedy Implementation

Following the Promium four-step implementation process was straight forward and the project went extremely smoothly. Promium provided assessment and planning, system configuration, administrator/user training, and system testing over the course of one week. After a break to deal with end-of-year sample testing, the lab staff rapidly transitioned to the new system. They were essentially up and running in a total cumulative time of less than three weeks. “We turned it on and never looked back,” said the laboratory supervisor.

Creating a More Efficient Workflow

Element LIMS utilizes a unified approach to system functionality and data flow. All core LIMS components are included and there are no other separate modules that need to be purchased, integrated or maintained. This creates seamless access to data and reduces the cost of upgrading and maintaining the system. Further, Element LIMS incorporates standardized processes based on best practices to improve efficiency, and because the system is highly configurable it can also be modified to meet unique needs of the lab without the heavy customization required with other systems.

Element LIMS is purpose-built for environmental and water/wastewater labs, and the workflow is modeled based on EPA protocols and best practices for labs that test soil, water, air, and food. The product design focus results in a feature set that is highly relevant and that also creates a very intuitive user experience. “The system is straight forward and easy to use,” said the laboratory supervisor. The benefit to a lab is the ability to streamline operations while at the same time meshing well with existing policies and procedures.

Areas of improvement

  • Instrument Integration: One big problem the lab faced was the difficulty getting data from their fifteen data-generating instruments. The whole manual process slowed down turnaround time and introduced quality issues. With Element LIMS however, the data is downloaded automatically with the Element DataTool feature—saving a great deal of time and improving quality by eliminating data entry error. “Data coming off the GC or ICP instruments goes right into the LIMS,” notes the laboratory supervisor. “That was quite a bit of data we use to enter manually. We saw the benefits of Element LIMS pretty much as soon as the instruments were connected.” An added benefit is that all current and future instruments are integrated with Element LIMS at no additional charge.
  • Turnaround Time: Element LIMS had a significant impact on turnaround time. By streamlining the workflow and automating certain processes, the lab was able to improve turnaround time by fifty percent. The way Element LIMS handles batching with multi-level tracking is one example. Previously, batching was done manually. “Before Element LIMS, the average turnaround was 6-7 days, with a goal of no more than 10 days.” said the laboratory supervisor. “The current turnaround with Element LIMS implemented is now in the 3-4 day range.”
  • Workload Management: Balancing the lab workload used to be a manual challenge. Keeping track of where everything was proved to be so painful that it generally wasn’t done well. With Element LIMS, the team is now able to start every day with a quick view of the work orders and their status. The granular tacking that Element LIMS enables the team to make informed decisions about work assignments and priorities for each group. “It used to be that at least 10% of our work was always late,” said the laboratory supervisor. “Now, it’s very rare that we have anything late—maybe less than one percent of work orders.”
  • Quality Control: Managing standards, calibration data, and QC parameters is no longer a burden for the lab. Element LIMS keeps track of standards and calibration control standards automatically. “You know right away if the numbers are within limits or they get flagged by the system with color coding,” said the laboratory supervisor. Element LIMS also enables you to setup batches to automatically populate with QC Samples, eliminating the need to enter QC Samples each time a batch is created.