What is a LIMS?

A Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) helps laboratories catapult their work processes into an automated future where they’re more compliant, with more throughput, for greater success.

But not every lab uses a LIMS (or likes the one they use). We’re breaking down available features, the benefits you should expect, and the types of LIMS available.

LIMS Basics: What is a LIMS?

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.

What Can a LIMS do?

There are three primary functions of a LIMS: 

Data management

  • Workflow management
  • Compliance

Here’s what you can expect from each:

Data Management

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. 

Workflow Management

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. 

Compliance and Regulations

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.

Benefits of Using LIMS

As you can see, there’s quite a bit a LIMS can do for your lab. It’s hard to choose the top benefits of using a LIMS, but ours might be:

  • Increased efficiency
  • Improved data accuracy
  • Enhanced collaboration
  • Better decision making
  • Increased productivity

Let’s walk through each of these in a bit more depth.

Increased Efficiency

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 reducing manual intervention, labs can focus on more complex tasks, thereby increasing overall throughput. For more efficiency tips, check out our guide to 6 ways a LIMS can make your lab more efficient.

Improved Data Accuracy

A LIMS plays a crucial role in enhancing data accuracy by reducing manual inputs. 

Manual data entry is prone to errors and can be time-consuming. By automating this process, LIMS reduces the likelihood of human error. By eliminating tedious manual data entry, you could join the 90% of users for whom a LIMS improves data integrity. This accuracy is crucial, especially in fields requiring stringent documentation and compliance with regulatory standards.

Enhanced Collaboration

As teams grow and become more distributed, you must select a platform that allows for secure collaboration no matter where your team is. 

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.

Better Decision Making

A LIMS provides a centralized data management solution that enhances decision-making capabilities. With accurate and readily accessible data, managers and scientists can make informed decisions. 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%.

Increased Productivity

The automation features of LIMS extend beyond just processing efficiency. They also significantly impact overall productivity. By automating routine tasks, LIMS frees up staff to focus on critical, high-value activities. 

Use automation to free workers’ time for mission-critical tasks. Reduce manual steps by 80% and lower turnaround time while you’re at it. Check out our guide to automating your lab with a LIMS for our best ways to streamline and automate your lab.

Types of LIMS

How will users access your LIMS? Where will you store your data? These are the primary differences in LIMS options. Each has unique advantages.

Client-server LIMS 

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. 

Web-Based LIMS 

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.

Cloud-based 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. 

Standalone LIMS 

A standalone LIMS is a basic system that can be installed on a single computer, making it suitable for smaller labs with minimal IT resources. If your lab is looking to scale or hire remote employees, a standalone LIMS is not recommended.

How is a LIMS different from an ELN?

If you’re new to lab software it’s easy to mistake a LIMS for an ELN.

While a LIMS and an ELN (Electronic Lab Notebook) play essential roles in streamlining a lab's operations, they serve distinct functions.

A LIMS is best suited for:

  • Managing samples and test data.
  • Automating lab workflows.
  • Generating reports.
  • Integrating lab instruments.
  • Providing support for inventory and billing management.

An ELN, on the other hand, serves as a digital version of what a physical lab notebook provides. You can manually input data into an ELN and record notes and observations from tests; however, ELNs don’t offer the same reporting and automation capabilities as a LIMS.

Many laboratories benefit from using a LIMS alongside an ELN to completely digitize their operations and data. If you need more than a digital record and source of truth, then a LIMS is a better choice for your lab than relying solely on an ELN.

How to Choose the Right LIMS for Your Lab

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:

  • Costs
  • Time
  • The Effort to build and maintain a LIMS

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.

Check out our complete guide to choosing the right LIMS for more information.

How to Implement a LIMS

Like any piece of software, a LIMS will need to be implemented for your team to set your lab up for success and ensure things are working properly.

The implementation time of a LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) varies widely depending on several factors, including:

  • The size and complexity of the laboratory.
  • The specific features required.
  • The LIMS vendor's implementation process.

Typically, you can expect the implementation process to be broken down into the following phases:

  • Project scoping: First, an assessment will be needed to see the scope of the overall implementation project. 
  • System configuration: Systems will need to be configured to match your lab’s processes and data setup.
  • Data migration: Data will be migrated from your existing systems (either a separate LIMS or homegrown solution) and imported into your new LIMS.
  • Testing: While you aim to get everything right the first time, it’s important to test and ensure that your LIMS is set up correctly.
  • Training: The last step is to train your lab staff on using the new LIMS to ensure everything runs smoothly.

Each phase can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on the scope and complexity of the project.

What is the Best LIMS on the Market?

The LIMS market was estimated to be worth $3.3 billion in 2023, so needless to say there is no shortage of options to choose from.

When determining which LIMS to use, we recommend focusing on which one best meets the needs of your lab and matches your budget. Some things to consider are:

  • Ease of use
  • Speed to implementation
  • Quality of support
  • Flexibility as your lab processes change

QBench is the leading option for labs of all sizes and many industries looking to get more done and scale. 

QBench takes a unique approach to LIMS by creating a highly configurable and flexible LIMS. This puts the power to make changes into your hands. Since all labs operate and evolve differently, they need a flexible LIMS that adapts with them over time.

Boasting powerful automation features, the ability to configure your LIMS to adapt to your lab's needs, and a growing list of integrations, it’s no wonder that QBench was awarded numerous badges in 2023 from G2 and is currently #1 on G2’s Highest Rated LIMS in North America list.

Check out our breakdown of the best LIMS on the market for a deeper industry comparison.

Make Sure You Choose the Right LIMS for Your Lab

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? Download the free guide: How to choose the right LIMS.