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Manage your data better with a LIMS system.

Manage Your Data Better With a LIMS System A laboratory information management system (LIMS) is used to automate the acquisition and management of raw analytical data. It also can carry out analysis of that data and enable the sharing of data after it has been interpreted--i.e., has become information useful to the researchers.

At the lowest end of the market, a LIMS might comprise a couple of PCs running a common spreadsheet program or even a files maintenance program in BASIC. At the high end, a LIMS might entail the use of a mainframe or mini-computer to oversee data operations, some hardware interfaces, a relational database offering a lot of flexibility in configuration, together with support and training from the LIMS supplier.

A LIMS is important to applied research, says Randall Stein, a laboratory automation consultant with Chespeake Software, Chadds Ford, PA, because of its ability to foster new synergistic paths of scientific discovery. In this role, it provides new and faster methods to search, correlate and analyze data.

The LIMS also allows senior researchers to spend more time working creatively on scientific issues by offloading routine work to less technically advanced personnel.

A typical LIMS can act as a repository for a wide variety of data, including those generated by electronic notebooks, statistical software, data input devices, intelligent device controllers, project management systems, and chemical and sample tracking systems.

With this broad spectrum of data inputs, ease of machine-to-instrument communication has always been a key need of a good LIMS. For the LIMS based on a personal computer or a computer workstation, the presence of a local area network (LAN) is essential to permit this inter-device communication, since these installations do not inherently offer a multi-user environment.

By contrast, in the mini and mainframe domains, choosing between a LAN or a centralized system is more an issue of the means of technical implementation. LANs do, however, provide the benefit of assisting in connecting necessary terminal, printer/plotter, workstation, and instrument interface resources across a site.

The LIMS, notes Michael Milano, director of the LIMS Business Unit at the PE Nelson Div. of Perkin-Elmer Corp. in Norwalk, CT, has found a secure niche in government-regulated industry labs, especially those testing for conformance to environmental regulations and pollution standards.

Other industries are discovering the LIMS, too, including pharmaceutical manufacturers. They use it for auditing and tracking lab data pertinent to new drug submissions to the FDA, as well as validation of test procedures on existing ones.

Companies in the petrochemical industry also are finding the LIMS useful for automating and interacting with process controls. In addition, physical testing labs doing analyses on a diverse range of materials find that a LIMS can help them schedule jobs on a routine basis, so that continuity of data can be maintained. In-house service labs find the LIMS useful for internal record keeping and for the automation of procedures and protocols.

In general, the LIMS can serve any firm where the ability to retrieve and correlate analytical and experimental data over a span of time is of scientific benefit.

But in the view of Brian Levey, marketing manager for Laboratory Automation Operations at Beckman Instruments in Allendale, NJ, the ability to acquire data, on-line and in real time, from a wide range of lab instruments may well be the greatest single cost justification for buying one.

Bill Stapelkamp, a scientistt at the Rohm & Haas Corp., Bristol, PA, is currently leading a pilot study on a LIMS for a lab in his firm where 50 researchers are providing analystical support to plastics research. The labortory is using the LIMS for tracking samples.

Keith Cartnick, an analytical chemist with Hackensack, NJ, Water Co. who carries out quality tests on the city's water supply, says the biggest advantage of their LIMS is its ability to track the status of a sample's testing and location. In addition, he says the LIMS allows them to easily flag sample parameters found to like outside of statistical quality control limits, as well as to generate reports.

At Chemical Waste Management in Riverdale, IL, John Hicks, a software engineer and manager of analytical systems, claims his facility could not get by without its LIMS; it has a streamlined the flow of samples through the labortory. The facility is engaged in analyzing samples to determine the best disposal method and facility for a wide variety of hazardous waste.

However, the concept of a LIMS still meets some resistance. One big impediment to swifter adoption of these systems, according to one expert, may be a result of misunderstanding of syste, capabilities on the part of LIMS users. He adds that quite a few sales presentations for systems today are being made to second- or even third-generation LIMS users who had to abandon earlier systems that did not live up to expectations.

Another cause for the slow growth in the number of LIMS users thus far may be a lack of widespread knowledge on the part of the user about how to analyze the suitability of a system for a particular site.

The hunt for a system can be confusing, and this field of technology abounds with buzzwords and jargon phrases. To make your own purchase decision an informed one, it is recommended you look for the following attributes in any system you consider:

* "Soft" configuration. This will allow the LIMS to be put into use on the first day of ownership. The system can be refined gradually as desired system capabilities are identified. Randall Stein notes that this concept stands in contrast to the case of systems that require weeks or even months of setup before they can be used effectively.

* Ability to integrate vendor-software and hardware with intelligent analytical instruments withou regard to brand. As a LIMS user, you will want to avoid being limited to instruments from specific vendors.

* Ability to add customer-specific shortcuts. These may include LIMS methodologies such as a sample-identification techniques, special databases, and data analysis applications.

* Responsive support. Potential users should inquire about the level of support their supplier promises after five years of use. Look at support-related features like the number of supplier staff that can be dedicated to each user, response time statistics, and problem resolution policies.

* Relational databases. Such databases have proven to be flexible, cost-effective, and efficient regarding data storage and handling.

LIMS user Bill Stapelkamp mentions that Rohm & Haas wanted its LIMS to use a relational database because it would be easier to customize than a hierarchical database would have been. Stapelkamp advises potential LIMS purchasers to keep this need for flexibility in mind.

He also notes that his firm insisted that any LIMS it bought be based on a commercial database technology, not a proprietary system. He feels the latter never fully meets an individual firm's needs. It typically requires some tailoring, he says, in which case the user is dependent on the supplier for the modifications.

Perkin-Elmer's Michael Milano goes as far as to say that the relational database is one of the most significant factors driving change in the LIMS field today, with relational database systems like Oracle and Rdb coming to the fore.

Other forces for change cited by Milano are the operating system and graphics user-interface standards now being adopted by suppliers.
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Title Annotation:laboratory information management system
Author:Keeler, Robert
Publication:R & D
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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