The introduction of a LIMS has streamlined sample processing time to increase throughput at a US analytical lab
Culligan Water provides innovative water treatment solutions to domestic, commercial and industrial markets through its range of water softeners, water filtration systems, commercial and industrial water treatment solutions, drinking water systems, whole-house filtration systems and bottled water delivery. Laboratory testing to provide an accurate analysis of a customer’s water quality is a key component of the company’s success, especially as many customers are using well water. Testing ensures that the optimum treatment solution can be recommended. The company’s well-equipped laboratory, based in Illinois, USA was certified by the State of Illinois EPA to be compliant with National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (NELAP), which is modelled after similar ISO standards.
The Culligan lab is well equipped to carry out a wide variety of water quality tests, such as well water testing, total coliform and lead in water. Handling around 17,000 samples per year the need for lab efficiency is very important. Each sample undergoes multiple tests with customers often requesting turnaround times as short as 24 hours. Such a fast turnaround time is challenging in itself given that microbial testing can take that long. The lab had previously made use of a LIMS from LabVantage, but when support for this product ceased, a new system was required. One particular bottleneck using the old system that had been identified was that test request forms for each sample were being scanned and saved as a PDF, which was taking a lot of time. It was also important that the new system provided full sample tracking in order to meet NELAP requirements, as well as offering the flexibility to be able to manage any future change in laboratory practices and procedures.
The Matrix Gemini LIMS from Autoscribe Informatics was chosen for use in the lab. It provided all the functionality required both to meet the regulatory requirements and to give the flexibility needed to accommodate changing needs. This flexibility comes from Matrix Gemini’s inherent configurability. It features a set of configuration tools that allow the set-up and modification of the front end of the LIMS to precisely reflect the lab’s own operating procedures without needing to change any underlying code. These easy to use tools allow the configuration of workflows, screen designs, menu designs, terminology, numbering schemes and report designs. The initial configuration was set up by Autoscribe Informatics. However, since no programming experience is needed to use these configuration tools, the lab manager at Culligan Analytical Lab attended a configuration course and has been able to make further modifications as needed since the system went live. The comprehensive audit trail facilities provided within the LIMS track all actions on each sample registered into the system. For example, the date, time and user i.d. is automatically included as a minimum alongside functions such as sample registration, sample receipt, sample preparation steps, individual result entries and so on. Therefore a complete history of each sample can be stored from the point of initial registration to the point where a sample is disposed of or used up. Matrix Gemini also allows barcodes to be pre-printed to provide a unique reference and allow tests to be started rapidly. The system has also been configured so that results from ICP, IC, UV/Vis, and titration equipment are transferred directly into the LIMS There are also plans to also include ICP-MS when the existing instrument has been replaced.
The LIMS has brought a number of benefits, most noticeably in time saving. These include the use of barcoding instead of scanning in the sample request forms and saving them as a PDF has reduced a task that was taking 3-4 hours per day to just a few seconds
The flexibility provided by the configurability of the LIMS has also been important as various changes have occurred within the lab. For example the lab manager has been able to create new test groups and add new test packages.