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environmental testing

Sampling from watercourses has to be thorough and tracking and managing those samples and the associated data from the water source to the lab is critical

available to help. Systems such as laboratory information management systems (LIMS) make easy work of managing large amounts of samples, requirements and regulations. ‘Organisations like [one of our clients]

Nova Biologicals carry out around 1,500 tests per day and the workload can just explode on the whim of the regulator,’ says Turston of Termo Fisher Scientific. ‘Te more automation that they can build in, the better. Having a computer-based system is much more reliable than paper-based.’ Dale Seabrooke, QA/QC product manager

of PerkinElmer, agrees: ‘Environmental customers have been saying that they have the same pressures as everyone else – driving operational excellence, prices being limited and the market shrinking. It is really about paper replacement and becoming sample focused, not experiment focused,’ he says. He illustrates this point with two examples

from PerkinElmer’s customers. Te first is a large waste water facility that has been using LabWorks for 10 years or more. ‘Tey were very happy with it, but a lot of what they do is sample preparation,’ explains Seabrooke. ‘Te client had been using Excel to track sample preparation. Te problem that they were having was that people could go in and modify the data. Electronic systems are good, but they need controls.’ Te environmental lab at the facility has

now installed PerkinElmer’s iLAB Laboratory Execution System (LES), which Seabrooke says means that things are now tracked and audited. ‘For them, it was about traceability, knowing who’s done what and when. It’s not just tracking sample-preparation information, but also tracking instrument-calibration and training,’ he says. Another example was a customer’s

microbiology lab, which was heavily paper- based in its workflows. Te analysts wrote every result down on paper and then typed them into the lab’s system later. Tis type of double entry increases the chance of making errors, says Seabrooke. PerkinElmer’s solution for this lab was to change the medium that the lab staff worked with, so that the previously print-based forms became electronic versions of the same forms, which operators interacted


with directly. ‘We take the forms, turn them into PDFs and render them into our LES. Te PDFs at the end are not editable and so the system can also be used to track the audit trail. We try to eliminate variance,’ says Seabrooke, although he does concede that customers oſten still print out the resulting PDFs.

Following and tracking Following and tracking processes have become increasingly important for informatics to achieve in environmental and other labs. As Michael Gannon, managing director of

Orbis Information Systems, which specialises in implementing LIMS for customers, mostly Termo Fisher Scientific products, explains: ‘Te market has changed. Most companies have had LIMS systems in the past so they are more aware of what they can do now. Budgets are tight, but customers are much more

informed about what systems can do. Whereas in the past the systems were seen as data-entry systems and repositories, customers are now looking at using them to improve practices. Customers require minimum data entry and access from different devices, including iPads.’ In terms of the sample, the first part of this

process is managing the sample-collection schedule and tracking the sample’s journey from water source to lab. ‘With environmental testing, samples generally come from far and wide,’ notes Gannon. ‘Outside the lab, quite a complex management system is required involving districts and zones. Sometimes samples come in via other methods such as couriers, so tracking is important.’ To help with this tracking, systems might

provide pre-barcoded labels, so that once samples are taken they are fully traceable. Tis also helps labs to track what happens to samples aſterwards. Sometimes samples need to be kept for a certain time period and the laboratory system can track when samples can be disposed of. Back in the lab, informatics tools help

environmental labs by planning and distributing the workload, ensuring that samples are tested within a required time period of sampling. Operators also need to be able to see which samples are pending. Informatics is becoming more heavily

involved in the testing process itself too, beyond tracking samples and collecting results. ‘Full traceability is needed on samples,

results, and instrumentation used,’ notes Gannon. He adds that most LIMS already manage the operators and what they are trained to do. ‘If they are not qualified, then the system should not allow them to do the analysis,’ he explains. ‘Systems should not just capture results, but enforce rules,’ he adds.


Thermo Fisher Scientific

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