What is a LIMS and why do you need one?
A LIMS or laboratory information management system is a type of software designed to improve lab productivity and efficiency, by keeping track of data associated with samples, experiments, laboratory workflows, and instruments. A proper LIMS acts as an additional member of your team, automating workflows and tracking all the important sample information, data, workflows, and QA/QC results your lab generates each day.
Top 8 Workflow Benefits of a LIMS
LIMS are constantly evolving to serve the needs of the lab. If you haven’t recently investigated what a LIMS can do, you may still think of LIMS as simply a sample-based tracking system, but modern LIMS systems do all of that and more. Let’s step through the most critical components of a modern LIMS:
- Sample location and tracking – At its most basic, a good LIMS should allow you to accession (log in) samples, record their exact location (site, lab, freezer, shelf, box, cell), while also tracking and recording each step in their journey through whatever lab workflow you are performing. Samples are often divided into aliquots and LIMS not only tracks the sample and result at each aliquot, but also provides a consolidated view at the sample, patient, project or batch level, depending on your workflow. LIMS is the great agreggator of your data and as such it is important that it also tracks any changes throughout the sample lifecycle and produces a full audit trail of every action performed on each sample.
- Reagents and consumables inventory – A LIMS will allow you to record all reagents and consumables that enter your lab. It will record expiration dates and restrict use of expired goods, track recipes including these reagents, record who made them, deprecate volumes as reagents are used, and prompt users when it is time to reorder. Because the LIMS knows your inventory, it can also reduce over-ordering which leads to waste and increased costs and eliminate unexpected reagent depletion which causes work delays and project overruns. Perhaps even more importantly, is the traceability this provides. If there is a problem with a particular lot of reagent, the LIMS will enable you to immediately identify which samples are impacted and need to be retested.
- Instrument integration – Lab workflows often include several types of instruments, each of which produce various result files which are potentially in different file formats. Your LIMS solution should be able to integrate all these instruments and their results, ultimately tying these results back to your sample records. Additionally, LIMS should allow some level of analysis of QC results to determine which samples meet expected criteria, and then route passed samples to their next step in the workflow, and failed samples back to the previous workflow step your business rules dictate. Additionally, you can record instrument calibration results, and receive prompts for scheduled preventative maintenance. While these instruments are undergoing calibration or maintenance, they can be removed as selectable options within the LIMS, so technicians are not using instruments which are out of specifications.
- Development, optimization, and expansion of workflows – Laboratories are heterogeneous environments and use multiple types of instrumentation from multiple manufacturers. Laboratories want to choose the instrument that is the most robust for their application. The challenge this creates is that each instrument has unique protocols, methods and workflows that need to be managed. Your LIMS should be able to support multiple workflows which you deploy as needed for specified samples or projects. Or maybe you plan to expand your laboratory to adopt a new type of instrument, equipment or robotics? Your LIMS solution should allow you to add these workflows quickly and easily through configuration.
- Configurability – The best LIMS solutions provide intuitive ways for users to configure their unique workflows and business processes in the system. In the early days of LIMS, this required o custom coding making it difficult to adopt new instruments and expand methods and workflows. Today, LIMS supports more agility in the lab and workflows can be created or modified rapidly, without requiring support from the LIMS provider.
- Modularity – Working with a modular LIMS allows you to construct new workflows using components you may already be familiar with from existing workflows and adding new modules to reflect your lab’s expanding expertise. For example, you are already accessioning samples as part of your current workflow. As you incorporate a new scientific method, you should be able to take advantage of the existing and well understood accessioning module to speed development of the new method.
- Report and dashboard generation – While most labs are trying to be more paperless, it is important to be able to visualize your laboratory data and metrics in meaningful ways. A LIMS collects a great deal of information related to samples, reagents, instruments, workflows, and more. A LIMS should also give you the ability to visualize data in real time to see the status of all samples and projects and to generate valuable quality control information. Is one of your instruments underperforming your others? Could maintenance improve your overall laboratory performance? LIMS can help you discover that before it becomes a larger problem. Do you have a process bottleneck that isn’t easily discernible? Your LIMS reports can show you how samples are stalled at a specific step, allowing you to assign additional resources to relieve the slowdown. Are you meeting your stated turnaround time (TAT)? A LIMS can generate reports and dashboards that show what percent of samples are through the entire workflow in the expected time, and where you have missed the target TAT so you know where you need to improve your process.
- Compliance – Many laboratories have to comply with multiple regulations including regulations that cover everything from laboratory practices like ISO 17025 and GxP to ensure proper handling of data like the 21 CFR Part 11 and the data integrity guidances. For many laboratories, compliance alone necessitates the use of LIMS. Given the importance of compliance, you should keep an eye out for our next blog that will talk about the specific value of LIMS for compliance and the financial benefit of LIMS.
These are just some of the capabilities a LIMS will bring to your laboratory. Click here to find out more about LIMS solutions from Thermo Fisher Scientific.