Element LIMS Case Study ReWa

ReWa drives award winning performance
with new LIMS.

Profile

Located in Greenville, South Carolina, Renewable Resources (ReWa) purifies 40 million gallons of water per day and the water laboratory processes over 30,000 analyses per year. Wastewater is treated from nine wastewater recovery facilities representing tens of thousands of residential customers and commercial customers.

Highlights

Facing mounting inefficiencies from their existing LIMS, ReWa instituted numerous changes to laboratory operations, including automating and streamlining with implementation of Element LIMS. The laboratory realized dramatic improvements to operational efficiency. After cutting workflow times from weeks down to days, ReWa has received awards for their innovative management practices.

The Need for Change

The inefficiencies in the ReWa laboratory grew every day, along with piles of paper. Laboratory Services Supervisor, Babs Johnson and the rest of the management team knew their existing LIMS was at the root of the problem. The system didn’t have the capabilities to meet their needs any more. Showing its age and lacking features, the system was holding the lab back from achieving its goals and objectives.

The laboratory had three business objectives: 1) improve efficiency, 2) eliminate paper, and 3) find an easier way to meet the oversight needs of the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DEHC). And soon, the lab would be moving to a new facility and wanted to have process improvements in place in order to perform at a high level. “We wanted to improve efficiency and reduce human error,” said Johnson.

The existing LIMS, even though it was an established commercial system, relied heavily on widespread use of manual data entry. Many of the standard workflow activities involved entering data by hand, and none of the instrument data or subcontract data could be transferred automatically. The antiquated system couldn’t be used to track samples from start to finish, didn’t have adequate QC, and couldn’t print labels and documents without considerable effort.

To get back on track, Johnson and her team took the initiative to transform the lab with the implementation of Element LIMS. “I wanted there to be a radical change. I wanted us to have a clean slate because we just were not efficient,” she said.

The Selection Process

The LIMS selection committee included Johnson, the pre-treatment manager, the laboratory manager, and an IT representative. The team identified their specific needs for the new LIMS and then got demonstrations of all the leading software offered for water treatment laboratories. “We really liked all the features in Element LIMS,” said Johnson. “Contract lab integration, QC, the way EDDs could be pulled in, DMRs, labels, and the ability to follow a chain of custody all the way through.” But something else stood out as well. It was the way that some LIMS companies charged for their products. “With the other companies, there were a lot of hidden fees, and different add-ons,” said Johnson. One prominent example which some companies charged extra for, is instrument integration. “With Element LIMS, the instrument integration was included and there were no hidden fees,” she added.

“Element LIMS gave us more capacity
by increasing productivity.”

Babs Johnson, Laboratory Services Supervisor

Dramatic Improvements in Efficiency

As proof of the success that ReWa has achieved in improving operations, the laboratory and staff have won several awards. Perhaps most relevant, is the Crystal Crucible Award. The award, presented by the Water Environment Association of South Carolina, was given to Johnson and the laboratory for the work they did to streamline and improve workflow. The award recognizes contributions to develop innovative laboratory operations in the water and wastewater industry. “Element LIMS helped win this award,” said Johnson. “It was a big part of the changes we made.”

The improved efficiency meant the lab could get more work done without adding headcount.  “Element LIMS gave us more capacity by increasing productivity,” said Johnson. “It takes a lot less time and effort for data entry and we were also able to reduce the load on the admin side because we didn’t have to type in results. Plus, it took analysts less time to enter data, so they could focus more on analyses.”

Element LIMS has been particularly impactful at eliminating the login logjam. The lab is able to use the scheduling features and log in samples a month or two in advance. Bottles and labels are ready and waiting when the samples arrive. Previously the lab had to log in the samples the same day they arrived, creating a massive backlog. An added benefit is the ability to check and double check for accuracy. In addition, when there is a sudden surge in volume from storm water or manhole demand, using the flexible login capabilities of Element LIMS, the login technician is able to quickly process the samples.

Reducing Paper and Improving Reporting

The increase in efficiency with Element LIMS has also led to the reduction in paper across the lab. Automation, streamlining, and instrument integration have replaced manual data entry and note taking. The Element Datatool feature for example, uploads instrument data and takes out any chance of human error. “We used to have mounds of paperwork because we would write a result in one place and then write it in another place and then have to type it into our old LIMS,” said Johnson. “Now it’s all connected. We’ve reduced our paperwork by tenfold.”

  • The process for generating discharge monitoring reports (DMRs) has also improved immensely. According to Johnson, the lab can produce the necessary DMRs in a few days compared to the three weeks it used to take with the old system. Initial DMRs and electronic data deliverables (EDDs) were setup by Promium. The requirements from the Department of Environmental Control (DHEC) were very stringent. And now, because the DMRs and EDDs are easy to modify, the ReWa team can make necessary changes themselves to stay current with DHEC updates.
  • Workflow between the lab and the Solids Department has also improved. The Solids Department sends samples to the lab and in turn, some of the samples are then sent to a subcontract lab. With Element LIMS, a concise report with all the data and QC for each sample is provided to the subcontract lab. The old LIMS required data to be manually entered into a spreadsheet and there was no ability to include QC. The information was tedious and difficult to produce. The new process saves a tremendous amount of time, which is critical because the information is used for farmers that land-apply the biosolids.
  • The way Element LIMS manages analysis and the integration of QC made a big improvement as well. Calculations are automated to eliminate complexity and errors, and visual flags identify when conditions are out of control limits. Colored indicators and email messaging highlight violations and speed up the process of addressing issues or troubling results.
  • A user configurable dashboard is used to identify daily activities and workload. Each person can set up their own dashboard items and Johnson worked with her team to make sure everyone had information relevant to their specific function in the lab. The dashboards have helped track work through the lab and to make sure data is being entered correctly.
  • As part of their oversight, DHEC periodically reviews chains of custody, MDLs, analysis, bench sheets, and other data. With Element LIMS the laboratory provides the information virtually at a glance, on a limited number of screens. “They can see pretty much everything from start to finish,” said Johnson. “They are able to see our chains of custody, if we subcontracted it, the subcontract lab chain of custody, the data, the QC, graphs, everything.” The same process used to require notebook upon notebook and take an onerous amount of time to assemble and review.

Embracing Change

“I’m very satisfied with Promium and Element LIMS,” says Johnson. “Anytime I have a question, customer support is always there to help me. I’m also still in contract with Promium implementer, and he is always willing to answer questions as well.” And what about the rest of the team? Implementing a new software system can be a notable change for chemists and technicians. “I involved and engaged with everyone on the team to show them how much more efficient they would be,” said Johnson. She noted that some staff members did have reservations in the beginning because of having to learn a new way of doing things. Now that the team has had time to experience the improvements they have embraced the change.

ReWa has taken action to continuously improve their laboratory operations. A new LIMS was instrumental in achieving their objectives to become more efficient, reduce paper, and improve reporting. The success that ReWa has experienced is due in large part to a dedicated and focused leadership team, and a LIMS application that directly meets their needs as a wastewater treatment organization.