When planning a LIMS system implementation, connecting the instrumentation is very often in the scope of the project. However, its execution is almost always left among the final tasks of the plan, if not even after the go-live, as the analysis of the laboratory business processes, the configuration of the sample life cycle, reporting and training are usually taking precedence over the interfaces with instruments. After all, a LIMS system can be put into production even when the result entry is performed manually.
Yet, effective and streamlined interfaces between a LIMS system and analytical instruments can have a great and positive impact on the productivity and profitability of the laboratory.
We discuss this topic with Daniele Nasci, Head of the analytical laboratory of Sasso Marconi (Bologna, Italy) of Hera Group, one of the biggest Italian, multi-utility companies which provides environmental, water and energy services. Hera Group was created in 2002 from the merger of eleven public utilities companies operating in Regione Emilia Romagna. They are publicly traded on the Italian stock exchange, have a workforce of almost 7,000 employees and have impressive revenues, which exceeded 3.7 billion euros in 2010.
Q: Mr. Nasci, could you please give us a short history of the evolution of the laboratory within the Hera Group?
DN: Since the inception of the holding, the laboratory has always been an important part of our enterprise business processes and over the years it has become a paramount business unit, playing a critical role in the control of the quality of the services provided by Hera to its customers.
Q: How many laboratory units belong to your organization and what geographical area do they cover?
DN: There are three lab units, specialized by analytical matrix and localized in the following sites:
- Sasso Marconi (Bologna) for water and microbiology analyses
- Forlì for solid waste, micro-pollutants and atmosphere emissions
- Ravenna for hazardous liquid waste
The collected samples come from an area covering more than 60% of Regione Emilia Romagna and in particular the districts of Bologna, Modena, Ferrara, Bologna, Forlì, Cesena and Rimini.
Q: For how many years have you been using a LIMS system and what are the most important benefits?
DN: We adopted a LIMS system back in 1991 when we launched the initial implementation on SQL*LIMS version 4.0.16, subsequently upgraded to newer versions, a milestone achievement which drastically boosted laboratory productivity and produced countless benefits. To name a few: a dramatic increase in speed and accuracy of the electronic processing, management and archiving of data, ease of access by our customers to the information stored in the system. Our LIMS is centralized, it serves the three laboratories and our clients can review analytical results in real-time, be notified via email in case of out-of-specs, generate and print analysis reports, etc.
Q: What were the main factors which drove the adoption of interfaces between LIMS and laboratory instruments?
DN: In the Sasso Marconi laboratory alone, we perform about 500,000 analytical tests per year. Prior to establishing the connectivity between LIMS and the instrumentation and automating the data collection procedures, 2 FTEs were assigned to manual result entry. With the adoption of instrument interfacing we were able to re-assign this staff to more productive tasks, almost eliminate the errors in the transcription of results from the instrument to the LIMS and greatly reduce the task turn-around and time. We could then deliver analytical results to our customers faster and more reliably, reduce the re-analysis rate, abate the number of complaints and increase the overall quality of our services.
Q: What are the types of instruments currently interfaced?
DN: We connected the most commonly used analytical methods such as Inductively Coupled Plasma (ICP), Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS), Total Organic Carbon (TOC).
Q: In light of your experience ,what do you think future developments might be?
DN: We aim to implement fully bi-directional protocols in that complete worklists (including the list of samples to be analyzed and the required analytical parameters) can be transmitted to the instrument, sparing the operator from the hassle of manually specifying on the instrument’s computer the list of submitted samples and the wanted analytical determinations.
Q: Where do you see margins for improvement and how do you think LABVANTAGE can help you?
DN: I’m seeing a clear trend towards the adoption of fully computerized procedures and progressive elimination of paperwork. This trend, which is proceeding at a fast pace in other industries such as pharmaceuticals, is now gaining momentum in laboratory units of utility companies like ours. We are therefore considering with great interest the electronic laboratory notebook solution (ELN) offered by LABVANTAGE.