As lab processes have become more complex, new software solutions have emerged to help laboratory professionals conduct safe, repeatable, well-documented work. From digitizing age-old lab notebooks to ensuring data integrity, they’ve improved lab work in many ways but have rarely made it simpler.
Enter LIMS. A LIMS helps make increasingly complex lab work more straightforward. At their core, all LIMS are software platforms that manage and track samples, data, and workflows and integrate other software and instruments. By streamlining laboratory operations, they increase efficiency so labs can grow.
Lab staff and technicians use LIMS in various settings, including agriculture, food, environmental, manufacturing, diagnostic, and materials labs. Anytime regulations, data complexity, and sample volume are concerns, a LIMS can help. But necessary functions vary by lab.
Digital efficiencies, like those provided by a LIMS using process automation, data analytics, and cloud, have driven 30% reductions in some laboratory development timelines.
Understanding what a LIMS does and what it can provide in your lab is essential. In this comprehensive guide to LIMS, we’ll detail the functionalities a LIMS can deliver, the types of LIMS available, and how to select the best LIMS for your laboratory.
There are three primary functions of a LIMS: data management, workflow management, and compliance. Here’s what you can expect from each:
Sample Tracking: Manage the entire sample lifecycle by populating a few key fields, then allowing the LIMS to auto-populate pre-configured analyses, keep track of sample locations, and monitor the environment to ensure samples aren’t compromised along the way.
Test Result Management: Monitor the quality of the results by configuring the LIMS to automatically flag any abnormal or out-of-range results and alert staff to take corrective action.
Quality Control (QC): Automate routine quality control procedures, such as instrument calibration, reagent testing, and QC sample analysis. Generate notifications when results fall outside predefined thresholds.
Automation of Laboratory Processes: Automate sample registration, labeling, storage, and data analysis, then ensure that tasks are performed according to predefined protocols.
Task Scheduling: Create schedules for routine tasks such as sample preparation, data analysis, and equipment maintenance, and assign these tasks to individual staff members or teams. Automatically generate alerts for upcoming tasks and adjust schedules based on changing priorities or resource availability.
Reporting and Documentation: Generate reports with up-to-date data without manual data entry and without cross-referencing multiple platforms. You'll reduce the time required for data analysis and reporting.
Good Laboratory Practices (GLP): Maintain complete and accurate records of all laboratory activities, from sample tracking to test results. Use audit trails and user access controls to prevent data tampering and ensure the integrity of lab operations.
Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP): Streamline manufacturing workflows by automating data entry and enabling real-time monitoring of critical processes. Implement quality control measures, such as tracking raw materials, validating manufacturing processes, and ensuring product traceability.
21 CFR Part 11 Compliance: Configure a LIMS to meet regulatory requirements, such as FDA 21 CFR Part 11 or ISO 17205, by documenting QC measures and improving reporting traceability and transparency for easier audits.
What can you accomplish? With automation and workflow mapping, you could double the number of daily samples processed, just as one lab did at the height of the COVID-19 testing crunch.
By eliminating tedious manual data entry, you could join the 90% of users for whom a LIMS improves data integrity.
Fifty percent of preclinical data can’t be reproduced. Because the problem costs billions annually, you could save money and share data better with LIMS.
You could use your enhanced, centralized data to make business decisions and become 1.5 times as likely to report high revenue growth of over 10%.
Use automation to free workers’ time for mission-critical tasks. Reduce manual steps by 80% and lower turnaround time while you’re at it.
How will users access your LIMS? Where will you store your data? These are the primary differences in LIMS options. Each has unique advantages.
This custom-built LIMS suits larger laboratories with a dedicated IT department and the resources to maintain an on-premise (on-prem) server. This type of LIMS provides more control over data, is highly customizable, and can be tailored to meet specialized lab requirements.
This LIMS is flexible and accessible, making it ideal for smaller labs requiring remote data access from multiple locations. It’s hosted on a web server, allowing labs to control their data on-prem with fewer IT resources than a client-server LIMS.
A remote server stores and manages lab data in a cloud-based model, and users access the system online. This type of LIMS is scalable. Because a third party controls server and software maintenance, it is also cost-effective, eliminating the headache of hiring IT staff and developers to modify the system and ensure it’s always up and running.
This basic system can be installed on a single computer, making it suitable for smaller labs with minimal IT resources.
Deciding whether to buy or build a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) can be a challenging task that requires careful consideration of several factors.
First, evaluate your organization's needs and determine whether an off-the-shelf LIMS can meet them. Remember, you’ll have multiple options to configure and customize any LIMS. Building a LIMS may be the better option if your needs are highly complex, provided you have the necessary resources and expertise to develop and maintain the system.
When evaluating vendors and products, factor in the following:
Weigh each option's benefits and drawbacks, including the customization level, integration with existing systems, and ongoing maintenance.
No matter the type, LIMS need regular testing to ensure they’re functional and accurate. Use automated testing tools to cover interfaces, workflows, and data management capabilities. Testing can help identify and resolve issues before they impact the accuracy of laboratory results.
While deciding which features will help a lab grow best can be difficult, having a single overhead view of lab processes is a necessary first step. Without the tools to collect, analyze, and store vast amounts of data in a single, centralized place, no lab can make data-driven decisions to capitalize on improved accuracy and efficiency.
Want to dive deeper into which features make up the perfect LIMS for you? Talk to one of our team members and get a demo customized to your lab's workflows: https://qbench.com/demo-request.
With this comprehensive overview of the six key factors every lab must consider, you’ll know which LIMS features you need to streamline and scale your operations.
March 15, 2023