LIMS as an information management system
LIMS is the information management system used in the Analytical Laboratory, Water Laboratory and Biological Sciences Laboratory at Scientific Services. LIMS was implemented in July 2007 to improve work processes, traceability, turn-around time, data security and accountability and to incorporate the aspects and requirements of ISO 17025.
Sample lifecycle using LIMS
Sampling of samples
Samples are sampled by either internal or external samplers. Our internal samplers perform their sampling routes using handheld units with a built-in GPS functionality that are interfaced with the LIMS system and capture valuable data e.g. sample date and time, distance travelled, field tests performed, sampling and field test notes.
Samples are logged into LIMS via bar-code scanning or scheduling. Once this is done, a unique sample number, which can be used as a tracking or reference number as part of the ISO 17025 standards, is assigned to it. A bar-coded label containing this number is attached to the sample bottle, and this is used in the laboratories for label scanning. Receiving, logging, bar-coding and distributing of samples is undertaken at our centralised Sample Receiving Area.
Analysing and receiving of samples into the laboratory
Samples are scanned into the various laboratories for traceability purposes, so as to define their exact location. Afterwards, Laboratory Technicians create work batches in LIMS which batch the samples according to preset requirements e.g. grouping samples of the same product type together in a pre-determined sequence. After completing analysis according to strict ISO 17025 requirements, the results are either manually entered into LIMS or exported directly from the laboratory instruments into the system.
Authorising of samples
Sample results are authorised by senior laboratory staff who evaluate the data against the prescribed specifications as set in LIMS. The results are then either approved for reporting purposes or rejected for further processing.
Interfacing handheld units with LIMS
Handheld units with built-in GPS functionality have been interfaced with LIMS, assisting internal samplers in the sampling of water samples and capturing exact sampling information i.e. name of sampler, sampling route, sampling time, kilometres travelled, field tests performed and any other observations made at the sampling points. This data forms a vital part in the overall sample data and ensures that samples are taken at the correct sampling sites.
Scanning of samples into LIMS
Barcode scanners have been configured to allow for scanning of samples at various stages in the sample lifecycle in LIMS, e.g. logging of samples, receiving of samples into the various laboratories, inputting samples on the instrument benches, etc. and therefore improving on sample lifecycle turn-around time.
Interfacing laboratory instruments with LIMS
Fourteen laboratory instruments have been directly interfaced with LIMS, eliminating the need for result entries by users and thereby avoiding errors, improving on sample turn-around time and storing of instrument output file records for ISO 17025 requirements.
Interfacing LIMS with various other systems
LIMS has been interfaced with various other information management systems e.g. Departmental Information Management System (DIMs) which is an internal management tool, Blue Drop System (Department of Water Affairs) and Green Drop System (Department of Water Affairs). This has drastically improved the ability to transfer data between the different information management systems and enables a high level of data integrity to be maintained. Interfacing LIMS with these information management systems enables water quality data on management levels to be displayed. Interfacing the various information management systems has also improved the turn-around time in publishing the water quality data on the Department of Water Affair’s website.
Information and communication upgrade
Besides the laboratory information management system, we have also upgraded our network infrastructure, hardware and software requirements e.g. we have installed additional network points, bar-code scanners, label printers and anti-virus software on instrument computers.
Outputs of the information management system
Various reports which display water quality data to internal and external clients have been configured in LIMS. These range from simple to complicated and are either generated manually i.e. user input driven, or automatically i.e. no user input required. They are produced on specific days and times. These reports have been configured inline with ISO 17025 accreditation requirements, covering all aspects of traceability, accountability, analysis methods, measurement of uncertainty and uniformity.
Future enhancements of the information management system
- A statistical package will be interfaced with LIMS which will present water quality data statistically and expand on the interpretation of outliers, charting, repeatability, reproducibility, the analysis of variances, multiple comparisons of data, multiple linear regressions, distribution fittings and other statistical models. The software package is able to provide comprehensive statistical analyses and can link up to the branch’s existing information management system and can work in situ or allow for the import of data from existing information systems into the statistical software.
- Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) computer screens linked to LIMS will be installed in all the Laboratories at Scientific Services, providing clear visualisation of dynamic data in the system and allowing necessary staff to react on bottle necks, urgent samples and other problem areas within the sample Lifecycle promptly and therefore advancing on the reporting of the water quality data
- Additional barcode scanners and zebra printers will be purchased and connected to the information management system. This will drastically improve the turn-around time in the sample lifecycle as sample bottles will be scanned in faster and by various staff
- The information management system will be upgraded to the latest version, allowing for more advanced functionality in the database and improved functionality on current applications
Achievements using the information management system
A variety of achievements using LIMS have been accomplished, ranging from change management at Scientific Services to productivity enhancements to attaining Prestige Awards.
- Change management: When changing to the new Information Management System, different changes in work ethics, work processes and staff’s approach to the relationship between the overall Sample lifecycle and the Information Management System had to be altered. In-house awareness and training sessions were held which assisted staff with this adjustment. When the advantages of the System were outlined and personally experienced, the System was effortlessly accepted. Continuous improvements or suggestions are persistently encouraged by staff, making, accepting changes less troublesome.
- Productivity improvement: the number of samples received after 2007 has increased drastically due to automation, workflows enhancements and interfaces using the same number of staff prior to 2007. This led to business expansion in the analysis of crucial parameters in water and growth in revenue recovery for services rendered. Suspicious results are followed up proactively and necessary actions are taken before client intervention is required. Due to automation and instrument interfacing, results are more frequently and correctly transferred to LIMS, leading to increased proficiency and customer satisfaction.
- Integration of ISO 17025 Requirements: the Information Management System has been configured inline with the requirements of ISO 17025 which focuses on the competencies of Analytical Laboratories and the traceability of data. Achieving this status will directly influence the credibility of Scientific Services and inflate business development.