Element LIMS Case Study SF Analytical Laboratories (Eurofins)

SF Analytical Laboratories uses Element LIMS to support growth.

The Challenge

From the salt of the Dead Sea to arsenic in a woman’s cupcake, and from food safety for a grocery chain to the needs of a mid-western wastewater treatment facility, SF Analytical Laboratories (Eurofins) supports a diverse set of clients and strong growth. But at one point growth also created challenges. Laboratory operations became strained as the existing Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) could not support the changing regulatory environment or the increasing reporting.

The Solution

SF Analytical selected Element LIMS from Promium, to automate and streamline the sample management and reporting workflow. The increased functional capabilities, flexibility, configurability, and scalability of Element LIMS  provided SF Analytical with a platform that supported current needs and future expansion plans.

Growing Pains

Originally founded in 1900, SF Analytical Laboratories is one of Wisconsin’s largest Environmental, Industrial and Food Analysis facilities. It is also the only private aquatic toxicity lab in the State. An independent commercial testing lab, SF Analytical serves over 3,000 clients in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and other International regions. Using a multi-disciplined approach, SF Analytical specializes in six areas of testing: Water/Wastewater, Fuels/Oils/Soils/Sludge/Paints, Toxicity/Bioassay, Investigative Analysis, Microbiology, and Food Chemistry. The lab employs a staff of thirty-five and processes over 200,000 analyses per year with the capacity to do five times that amount.

After many years of expansion into new markets and steady growth, SF Analytical found its existing LIMS simply could not keep up with the workload or fully support business activity. The system was nearly a decade old and did not adequately accommodate new regulatory and reporting requirements. There was also an issue of limited support from the LIMS vendor. Further, manual procedures and a lack of integration with test instruments made the old system cumbersome, vulnerable to errors, and inefficient. Instead of providing a reliable platform for lab operations, the existing LIMS was becoming a barrier to success. As Lab Manager and Analytical Chemist at the time, Joe Pickar noted, “The LIMS is the backbone of the lab. If it doesn’t work right, nothing else does.”¬†Former owner and CEO David Kliber agreed and recognized the importance of staying current with technology to better meet customer needs. He asked Pickar to explore LIMS alternatives and implement a new system.

New Backbone for Lab Operations

As a medium sized lab, SF Analytical needed to keep one eye on budget and the other on functionality that increased testing capability. Kliber’s commitment to running a profitable lab also meant that the new system was expected to deliver clear productivity improvements. After identifying business requirements, Pickar established a formal RFP process. System requirements were divided into three categories: mandatory features, desirable features, and wish-list features for the future. Each feature was weighted for importance although the ranking was kept from the vendors. Several vendors were encouraged to submit bids.

In the end, Element LIMS from Promium was selected for three reasons: 1) capabilities, 2) flexibility, and 3) affordability. Element quantitatively scored the highest ranking among the competitive systems in terms of mandatory and desirable features. Element LIMS also offered support for some key functionality on the wish-list. And in addition to a robust feature set, system flexibility was rated very high.

Because of SF Analytical’s diverse set of clients and aggressive growth plans, it was important to select a system that supported a variety of testing protocols without expensive and time-consuming customization. “The framework of Element LIMS is such that we could build tests that would meet our needs whether it was water/wastewater, inorganic analysis, toxicity, microbiology, food chemistry, or investigative analysis-all in one system,” noted Pickar. And while budget was not the primary driver, Pickar and his team found that robust functionality and flexibility often came at a much higher cost in other systems. “There are some LIMS out there at three times the cost. Element meets the same criteria but with a much lower investment.”

“We saw tangible benefits quickly and we have been very happy with how it’s gone.”

Joe Pickar, Lab Manager

CEO Kliber sees an even broader impact on the business. “I view the LIMS as the brains of a lab operation, and Element LIMS keeps us informed with key metrics needed for tactical and even strategic business decisions.”

Element LIMS was implemented over the course of six weeks. The implementation was staggered to bring the staff up to speed. Basic functionality was implemented first. Then standards and reagents were added. Finally, instruments were integrated. Implementation required very little IT support other than some basic infrastructure upgrades and a separate server network for security purposes.

Element LIMS Features Improve Productivity

The team at SF Analytical is very satisfied with the implementation and new capabilities. “We saw tangible benefits quickly and we have been very happy with how it’s gone,” said Lab Manager Pickar.

  • Instrument Integration: Of particular note was the integration of instrument data collection and the use of the Element DataTool. Element DataTool is an embedded application that allows users to browse and select electronic data files from a multitude of analytical instrument data systems. With the old LIMS if a customer sent twenty-six samples requiring testing for ten metals each, it would have resulted in 260 data points that would have needed to be manually entered. In addition to the drain on human resources, the manual activity greatly increased the chance of transcription error. With Element LIMS, the data was easily transferred and what used to take 2 hours of data entry now takes just 5 minutes. “Data is pushed automatically. It is incredibly convenient,” said Pickar.
  • MessageManager: Another feature that has made a big impact is the MessageManager. MessageManager enables users to create automated email alerts about scheduled events. For example, SF Analytical has set up email alerts on sample hold-times so that lab staff are automatically notified when a hold-time is about to expire. The same process was set up for standards and reagents to pro-actively monitor expiration dates-a need that is common to all labs. Instrument Preventative Maintenance is also tracked in Element LIMS and MessageManager is used to alert the team of required maintenance. Prior to Element, the lab used ad-hoc databases and manual methods to track all these critical activities. This new process has not only improved operations and quality but according to Pickar, is viewed positively by regulators because the system creates a pro-active check point.
  • Flexibility: In addition to the current functionality in Element LIMS, SF Analytical was interested in how the system supported future needs. One critical area is integration with the company’s financial and inventory management system. For example, it is important to be able to generate invoices that are specific to each department (i.e. water treatment vs. toxicity vs. investigative analysis) which have different requirements. Element LIMS already includes that integration capability and can easily transfer data. The SF Analytical team plans to implement this capability as part of the next phase of integration.

After years of living with a collection of separate systems and manual paper-trails, SF Analytical is now benefiting from an intuitive streamlined system that captures all testing data, sample inventory, standards and reagent data, and instrument maintenance information-all in one place.


Note: SF Analytical was acquired by Eurofins in January 2016.