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LIMS transforms data management

20th June 2018


The laboratory carries out a wide range of microbiological tests, which adds value by supporting, developing and optimising the baking process
Sample management screen

 

Case study showcasing the importance of a LIMS in a cereals, milling and baking science lab

The use of a laboratory information management system (LIMS) in the Cereal, Milling and Baking Science Laboratory at Allied Technical Centre (ATC) is a perfect example of how a flexible, configurable LIMS can be adapted by the users themselves to meet changing requirements. Successive versions of the Matrix Gemini LIMS have been implemented at ATC, beginning with V2 in the late 1990s.

The background
Allied Technical Centre Berkshire, UK, is part of Associated British Foods (ABF). ATC provides technical leadership in a number of areas, including food safety, food law, product assurance and nutrition, bakery development, environmental management, consumer contact management and cereals, milling and baking science. Facilities include a UKAS-accredited Cereals, Milling and Baking Science laboratory, pilot milling and controlled-temperature shelf-life rooms. The laboratory acts as a primary reference laboratory for the Milling & Baking Group as well as providing a testing service for other clients. The laboratory carries out a wide range of microbiological tests, which adds value by supporting, developing and optimising the baking process. This in turn drives process control to enable delivery of consistent product quality and optimum production efficiency. By monitoring and evaluating ingredient functionality, manufacturing costs can be minimised. The laboratory also has a role to play in new product development and product formulation

Challenges
Prior to 1997 ATC used a LIMS that was popular in its day but was fairly crude in its capabilities and inflexible to use. Nevertheless, the head of Analytical Services at ATC at the time recognised the importance of LIMS and the potential it had to offer the company, so instigated the purchase of a new, Windows-based LIMS. The initial requirements for the LIMS were simply for sample registration and job logging, but it was recognised that much more could be accomplished with a system that could grow with the laboratory to meet its changing needs. The challenge was therefore not just to find a system that made this possible but to actually implement these changes, as required over an extended period of time.

Following a successful demonstration by Autoscribe that highlighted the company’s expertise in the field of LIMS and the capability and configurability of the product, Matrix V2 was purchased. Initially it was not operated as a full LIMS, but configured for registering samples and logging jobs. The first database used was Microsoft Access. Following training on the configuration of Matrix, the ATC Technical Support team took ownership of Matrix and began an internal development program that has continued to the present day, to use the LIMS to the best benefit of the laboratory.

A variety of capabilities have been added over the years. These include:

* Incorporation of internal and external costing information into the sample registration screens – this allows invoice generation for work conducted for non-ABF companies and an allocation of effort for work carried out for ABF companies
* Development of individually configured registration pages for wheat, flour and milled products, and baked product samples
* Addition of runsheets into the system
* Inclusion of results in the system to replace the increasingly unmanageable number of spreadsheets previously used for results
* Developing methodology for direct results entry from a variety of instruments in the laboratory to save time and reduce transcription errors. Adaptation of methodology if required when instruments are upgraded. Tests are carried out in batches – around 30% test results are entered manually and 70% directly from instrumentation

Multiple users now have access to the system – around 20 mainstream users of Matrix with a further 20 occasional users. For ease of use, most users access Matrix via the web user interface.

It is fair to say that the use of this LIMS has transformed the management of sample data at ATC – and this is extremely important since the Cereals, Milling and Baking Science laboratory handled approximately 19,000 samples in 2016.

Benefits
The major benefit offered by Matrix Gemini LIMS is the configurability and the flexibility it brings in allowing staff at ATC to evolve the system to meet their needs. The system now follows the laboratory process flow of: sample registration; test runsheets; result entry; test results reporting; and financial reporting.

Many of the individual functions within the LIMS have been found to be particularly useful, such as the SQL 992 button, which runs an SQL statement, and Transformer – this function turns user selected data into a comma-separated list of SQL compliant values, in a form suitable for use in a SQL statement to query databases or for Crystal Reports. For ATC, Transformer is used to select samples from a screen and then push them to another activity such as a report. ATC has also purchased the Bulk Sample Registration module for Matrix, which has simplified the registration of large numbers of samples or where a variety of sample types are being registered. This module provides a grid with spreadsheet-like data-entry functionality for registering large numbers of samples. It allows entry of the sample data to be done in advance of the registration operation, and has also been used to generate templates for regular repeat batches of samples.

Ongoing changes continue to be made to the system in response to laboratory needs. In recent months a new module for monitoring instrument calibration dates has been completed.





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