What is a LIMS and What is it Used for?Ryan White
In this day and age, most businesses need to store large amounts of data just to run effectively and nowhere is this truer than in a hard-working laboratory. As technologies advance, the amount of data we hold in a lab, and the technical detail it involves, rises exponentially.
This increase in complexity means modest spreadsheets simply aren’t up to the task of storing our records any longer which is where an LIMS (Laboratory Information Management Systems) can come in. At its most fundamental level, an LIMS exists to help a lab manage and maintain vast amounts of data.
From spreadsheets to record books, traditional methods of data recording are often insufficient to keep up with the demands of a modern lab. Recording, processing and analysing samples is a complicated and time-consuming process without the right tools and the large amounts of data storage required means any organisational methods must be well-maintained and adequately planned. Thankfully, that’s where a Laboratory Information Management System could help. A LIMS will make it easier to track data and reduce the amount of time it takes to record it. The software can make the process of storing and analysing complex data samples simple and easy.
LIMS allows scientists and technicians to enter detailed essential information relating to the samples they’re working with. Potential info to store includes:
- Inspection number
- Batch material
- Time and date
- Where the test was conducted
- Additional data
As a sample makes its way through the testing process, all of this information is held safely, securely and in one easy-to-access place. Many LIM systems will generate a barcode when the initial sample data is entered so that it can simply be scanned again by various staff members as additional information is obtained. Each user can scan the same code to ensure that the data is up-to-date, and the process is on track. As well as keeping all data safely contained, it can also track tests, schedule updates and even pass test results on to other systems in the chain. A LIMS means the need for manual recording of data (which obviously leaves room for human error) is no longer necessary as the system will automatically capture data. This reduces the time spent on admin and also lowers the possibility for inaccuracy.
Due to the nature of lab work, there are many different types of LIMS in operation. In fact, ask around and you may even get a different definition of a laboratory information management system depending on who you talk to, that’s how dynamic and fast-paced the system can be.
Different types of LIMS have different functionalities, and these are dependent on the requirements of the individual lab. You could choose a system that focusses on data capture, system info and the storage options. Each LIMS operates a little differently but there are a range of functions that the software is designed to perform.
How could it help in your lab?
If you’ve come this far, then chances are you’re considering an LIMS for your lab but just how could it help? That all depends on your requirements, but we’ve listed some of the most common functionalities that an LIMS offers.
Sample management is one of the key functions of an LIMS. As a lab manager or technician, you’ll no doubt be looking for ways to streamline processes and reduce error. An LIMS provides detailed and accurate records of each sample and stores it securely, thus reducing the chances that data could get lost or mixed up as it moves between workers and departments. As you record the initial sample, the system will make a detailed record that outlines:
- Who recorded the sample
- Who or what the sample was taken from
- Which researchers are working on the project?
- What part of the process it’s currently at
- Where it needs to go next
- How it should be stored
- Relevant dates and when it needs to move to the next stage of the process
On the whole, the system is fully automated, making the process simple and straightforward for lab workers.
An LIMS can play the pivotal role of streamlining decision making within the lab. In a busy lab with large-scale research and numerous technicians, this can come in incredibly useful.
Consider that an LIMS can
- Automatically assign work to team members
- Suggest which instruments should be used
- Outline current rules system to researchers
- Let staff know exactly where samples should go to next.
In a traditional laboratory, it’s generally assumed that 75% of the total outgoings in a lab go on manpower. Reducing the amount of admin involved gives staff more time and money to dedicate to research.
And last but by no means least, the LIMS can be used to assist with reporting, maintenance and inventories. The right system will:
- Identify how long your backlog is
- Outline how long it generally takes your lab to process a sample
- Highlight which instruments are used most in your lab
Another invaluable use is maintenance recording, it can provide detailed and up-to-date information regarding the upkeep of your equipment and notify you when any equipment is due for upgrade or maintenance work. For instruments such as centrifuges that are used extensively and come under a lot of wear and tear, accurate readings are key. An LIMS will ensure that you’re never working with substandard equipment. Not only will this information come in useful on a day-to-day basis but will also prove useful for auditing purposes.
If your lab needs redesigning to work optimally with your LIMS, the team at InterFocus can help. For more information about our bespoke fitted labs, visit our homepage or call our team on 01223 894 833.