Government Laboratory Improves Productivity
with Element LIMS.

The Challenge

For nearly forty years, government analytical laboratories have played a critical role in the effort to protect the environment. But several years ago, increased regulatory requirements and growing demand for testing converged to overwhelm lab operations. For one lab in particular, where testing volume was very high the situation had reached a breaking point. The Lab needed to improve the collection, analysis and reporting of essential information or it could not meet its mandate.

The Solution

The solution was the implementation of Promium Element LIMS, a highly automated Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) designed specifically for the testing protocols and workflow of an environmental laboratory.

The Need for Change

This regional lab, which employs a staff of thirty-five, is a full service, state-of-the-art facility specializing in chemical analysis, biological analysis and field sampling services. The Laboratory analyzes air, water, soil and biota samples. The analytical data is used for preliminary site assessments, site remediation, compliance monitoring, enforcement, or ecological assessment.

The Lab was determined to stay current with the latest science and technology but as regulations expanded and demand increased, their infrastructure and tools were slowly becoming outdated. This was especially true with regard to any kind of workable information management system. The Lab relied on semi-manual procedures and couldn’t easily generate useful analytical reports or produce electronic data deliverables (EDDs).

As the Lab’s Technical Director put it, “Sometimes we felt like we were working with clay tablets and papyrus. We simply couldn’t generate EDDs or QC summary reports to go with the data. And with a very manual mode of operations, there was potential for transcription errors.” Like a lot of labs, they had stretched their existing LIMS as far as it could go. The staff used spreadsheets and other ad-hoc tools to collect, store and report data. The average annual testing volume was around 9,000 analyses at the time, and it was difficult to manage the workload efficiently. With no real prospect of increased staffing, the Lab couldn’t keep up with testing demands without a significant change in operations. Lab management realized they would need to select and implement a new LIMS.

A new LIMS Infrastructure

The Lab Director and his team needed a solution that could help them manage essential information more efficiently, but due to limited resources required very little technical support. There was not a large internal IT staff available to write software code, generate reports, and maintain an internally developed system. “We needed a LIMS that was off-the-shelf that we could load up and start using right away,” noted the Lab Director. Five primary criteria were established for the new system: 1) breadth of feature set, 2) intuitive workflow and ease-of-use, 3) integration capabilities, 4) minimal ongoing maintenance, and 5) affordability.

The team looked around the industry for successful LIMS solutions. They also contacted colleagues at other governmental labs. That interagency effort led to another lab that was also conducting a formal search for a LIMS and the two teams shared information.

Both teams decided they wanted a system that was specifically designed for an environmental testing laboratory. The teams were concerned that a “one-size-fits-all” generic system would require too much customization and subsequent research validated those concerns. Most of the systems they reviewed required substantial changes to address the testing protocols, nomenclature, and reporting required for environmental labs.

The teams assessed several product demos and also took advantage of an outside consultant who ranked each system against predetermined criteria. Ultimately, the Element LIMS was selected for each laboratory. The factors driving the decision included Promium’s experience in the environmental laboratory space-which was demonstrated by the intuitive product workflow-integration capabilities, and the low system maintenance required.

Element LIMS was implemented in approximately six weeks. The existing information system was run in parallel for a couple of weeks to make sure things ran smoothly. During that time there was extensive training by Promium of the staff.

Productivity And Growth

Improvements to lab operations were apparent almost immediately with increased productivity, tighter quality control, and easier regulatory compliance.

  • Productivity increased due to an intuitive workflow that closely mirrored the basic needs of the lab but automated many of the functions. Lab staff could move seamlessly from client information to project creation, work order entry, sample processing, detailed analysis, and reporting. As the Lab Director notes, because of the improvements “…we spend less time entering data and creating reports.” Also, there was no need for customization of the system because Element LIMS included standard test protocols, typical analytical reports, and QC information already built in. And, the nomenclature and layout were the same as those the Lab previously utilized.
  • Quality control and productivity also improved because of increased integration. Element LIMS came pre-loaded with 85-90 percent of the instruments used in the Lab and the balance were configured during the implementation process. The Element DataTool made the effort to upload a highly automated and accurate process. Element DataTool is an embedded application that allows users to browse and select electronic data files from a multitude of analytical instrument data systems. Selected files can be merged with an Element LIMS data entry table and uploaded into the system database. The Lab has total control over merged data and is able to reduce repetitive and error-prone data entry.
  • Regulatory compliance became easier because the Lab gained the ability to produce EDDs, analytical reports, and QC summaries that were previously manual or couldn’t be done at all. “Definitely we are capable of providing EDDs that we never could before and producing fewer transaction errors,” the Lab Director emphasized. Promium offers an EDD library that can be downloaded from the Promium website and placed on the lab’s server, allowing for automatic updates. Custom EDD formats can also be created.

Since the implementation of Element LIMS, the average annual volume of analyses performed in the Lab has grown by 20 percent from 9,000 per year to more than 11,000. During that same time, the Lab staffing has remained relatively constant. The ability to support growing demand with the same resources is due in large part to productivity improvements. There is less time spent manually entering data and generating reports and more time available to perform testing and analysis.