Element LIMS Case Study Trace Analytical Laboratories

Trace Analytical Laboratories meets critical compliance requirements and improves productivity with Element LIMS.

The Challenge

Years of trying to get their existing LIMS to work adequately, and a frustrating relationship with the LIMS provider, forced the management team at Trace Analytical to find a new solution. With stringent customer demands and rigorous regulatory requirements to be met, the lab could no longer afford to continue with their current system.

The Solution

Trace Analytical selected Element LIMS from Promium to replace their existing LIMS. The decision was based on ease-of-use, cost, and support. Element LIMS was implemented to automate laboratory procedures and instrument integration, as well as provide a unified and streamlined quality management system.

Replacing an Inadequate LIMS

Trace Analytical Laboratories specializes in technologies to analyze soil, air and water. Founded in 1989, the independent lab has a staff of twenty-five and is experienced in serving a broad range of clients including consulting firms, wastewater facilities, homeowners, governmental agencies and even other laboratories. Trace is accredited by the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (NELAP), and certified by the State of Michigan, the State of Wisconsin, and is validated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence (AFCEE) and the Department of Defense.

After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and untold staff hours, Trace found that the commercial LIMS they had invested in was coming up short. There were three main issues: 1) the product was lacking—it did not have an integrated reporting function or instrument data streaming, 2) the continuing cost of upgrades and maintenance was prohibitive and 3) the lack of vendor response time for issue resolution was creating internal and external tensions.

What seemed like a fully functional system during the original selection process proved inadequate to meet the lab’s needs. Annual maintenance costs were excessive and burdensome—requiring separate support contracts for the software, the database, an external reporting system and instrument data streaming. “We spent quite a lot of money with our old vendor and it seemed like they were just using us to get the bugs out of their system,” notes lab co-owner and President Bruce Pelletier. Project Manager Jon Mink echoes that sentiment. “They really never had a good reporting solution and there were significant performance issues. It could take months to get something from them. Also, we had to purchase a separate data streaming product because they did not have an integrated solution. Then we were charged for each instrument template.”

The Trace team was worried about going to a new system for fear they would have to re-invent the wheel. Then, after attending a User Group meeting, the Trace team found out that they were not alone in their displeasure with their system. It was a painful decision but lab owner Pelletier moved aggressively to find a new LIMS.

The Search Leads to Promium

“We started asking other laboratories what LIMS they used or knew about,” noted Pelletier. Several laboratories referenced Element LIMS from Promium. “When we talked to other users of our current LIMS there were lots of complaints. When we talked to Element LIMS users they were all pretty happy.” The Promium team provided an online demo of Element LIMS and then a more detailed onsite demonstration. The Trace team was impressed with breadth of features in Element LIMS and Promium’s knowledge of the laboratory. “The system looked user friendly and data streaming and flexible reporting are built in. You could tell that everyone at Promium had been a lab person—that they understood the lab,” notes Project Manager Mink.

There was one remaining question to be answered—the investment. It turned out the financial considerations were even more convincing in favor of the switch to Promium. “Everything we needed was included in Element LIMS—even instrument interfaces—so there weren’t a lot of incremental costs. It was also nice that the Promium package was able to work across several operating systems and databases. Our old LIMS required three separate servers and workstation requirements were always changing so computers in the lab constantly needed upgrades,” explains Mink. ” The savings were substantial and all the money went to the bottom line.” Because of Promium’s design approach, Trace was able to purchase Element for almost the equivalent of what they paid annually to their other vendor for maintenance, upgrades, and customization.

Improvements in Productivity and Quality Management

According to Pelletier, Trace typically does about 300 projects a month, with a project having anywhere from one to five hundred analyses on the samples. This volume has been fairly steady but with Element LIMS they are able to meet the demand with fewer people in the lab or grow without adding. “The system automates the flow of samples through the lab and helps manage hold times, flags testing outliers, automates bench sheets, calculates final results, and presents a nice report,” says Pelletier. “In terms of productivity, some steps that used to take fifteen minutes now only take a few seconds.”


“In terms of productivity, some steps that used to take fifteen minutes now only take a few seconds.”

Bruce Pelletier, President

Every savings of time is critical, not just financially but in relation to turnaround time. The lab shoots for a five day turnaround on most tests and Element LIMS has helped make that possible because of data integration and automation of reporting. Pelletier notes “We can now rely on the LIMS system to help manage the work load and the system takes a lot of stress off the lab staff—data is processed more efficiently because so much data entry and reporting is automated.”

In addition, many of Trace’s customers—like the Army Corps of Engineers—demand defensible results. They require Level 3 and 4 data packages and Trace felt it could not meet those requirements and still make money without an efficient LIMS. Trace goes through at least one or two external compliance audits every year and they rely heavily on Element LIMS. “Element LIMS has the quality control measures, sample tracking, and documentation to meet regulatory requirements—and the auditors frequently complement our LIMS capabilities,” lab owner Pelletier notes. Container tracking and bar coding streamlines and centralizes data collection while improving access to real-time information. “We used to review all kinds of manually entered data. Now it is automated and does not require the same level of review,” adds Mink. Consequently, the lab has virtually eliminated the paper-based log books.

Element LIMS has become the core of the information management system at Trace. Lab owner Pelletier notes, “Probably the best move we ever made was going to Promium.” He and Mink see several features and functions that have made the difference.

  • Instrument Integration: Element LIMS includes interfaces for a vast list of common laboratory instruments and the library is updated regularly. The use of the on-board DataTool which enables data streaming replaces hand entry of key instrument data. According to Mink when the system first went live, “Instrument data streaming was so good—everyone was asking how come we didn’t do this before.”
  • Enhanced Reporting: Analytical and operational reporting needs are addressed by a large collection of standard Element LIMS reports and electronic deliverables. An intuitive user-based built-in tool provides the ability to create customized electronic data deliverables and the reporting software is easy to use to customize the standard report templates that are included with the system. “Reporting is faster, quality and content is more comprehensive. We can easily customize reports and still make rush deadlines,” notes Project Manager Mink.
  • Internal Chain of Custody: Trace has found the Internal Chain of Custody in Element LIMS extremely useful—particularly when dealing with the Army Corps of Engineers. “We have scanners available throughout the lab and any time a sample is moved, it is logged in and out. This automated tracking saves time and keeps a trail of who touches the samples. Consequently, we are much better prepared for audits or if we ever have the need to testify in court,” Pelletier notes. A report lists each sample’s location, time in/out and name of person last handling the sample and Element LIMS wraps all critical data manipulations within transaction sets to minimize opportunities for data corruption.
  • Intuitive Workflow: Element LIMS is designed to closely match the work flow of the laboratory. Easy configurability further enables the system to meet any unique lab requirements. “Promium has made sure that real-world needs are incorporated into the LIMS,” says Pelletier. “Element is very intuitive and it is exactly what we need for the type of samples we have.

Lab owner Bruce Pelletier sums up the value he has seen with Element. “We eliminated much of the manual data entry and transcriptions. Element LIMS automates sample testing, checks results against QC statistics and flags issues for us. We just couldn’t run the lab as efficiently without Element LIMS.”