A LIMS provides the framework for structured and automated recording of experimental data and its sharing and reporting. LIMS systems have proven their worth many times over during the COVID-19 pandemic, with one US-based testing laboratory stating that a project centered on its LIMS would help double testing capacity nationwide.
The main purpose of a LIMS system is to improve laboratory productivity and efficiency and it does this by providing a central, collaborative space for all data associated with a laboratory. Because of the amount of data it contains and the many thousands of experiments that it might connect and store, LIMS are highly structured systems. They provide clear, unambiguous ways of recording, storing and archiving data and the metadata that is associated with it. $28 billion is lost every year in the US on irreproducible research, so standardizing methods and data collection alone is reason enough to install a LIMS.
Despite their rigid structure, LIMS are often highly flexible tools, adaptable to the needs of each organization’s requirements and allowing managers to determine the exact components and structure that their system will take. Typically, a LIMS will:
Manage the end-to-end tracking of all samples as they move through the laboratory – usually with barcodes for automatic scanning and recording.
Provide inventory management – again, through barcodes, tracking and locating open bottles and creating alerts when reagent stocks are running low.
Hold pre-determined and pre-approved workflows – ensuring measurements are taken in a consistent and reproducible way.
Integrate with laboratory equipment – automating workflows and enabling experimental data to be automatically transferred into the LIMS, thereby reducing manual, error-prone and time-consuming data entry tasks.
Provide a connection to upstream quality or manufacturing departments – the data created in the R&D LIMS can often be automatically carried into these processes.
Control access – through restricted user logins, scientists, managers and analysts can access the data they need, when they need it, in a standardized format so that it can be easily interrogated.
Provide dashboard details – for a quick overview of all experimental data in all laboratories.
Create full audit trails – including electronic signatures, date stamps and security checks so that stored data can’t be edited or deleted. With version control, scientists can be sure that they are working on the right data with the right procedures.
Automatically generate reports – defined by configurable parameters, including trend analysis and detailed study reports for regulatory submission.
Top tips for choosing the right LIMS tool
With some laboratory equipment able to generate many thousands of data points on a single run, automatic processing is essential, but the real power of a LIMS is the ability to mine this information and make decisions as a result of it. With the high-level and detailed reporting available, managers can soon spot trends and make decisions, further optimizing the work carried out in laboratories.
Make sure that the LIMS can be adapted to your exact needs – if you can’t produce the workflows and standardized templates that you need, look for another supplier.
Check that application programming interfaces (APIs) are available – to fully integrate with all laboratory equipment.
Look for in-built templates – do they already reflect your requirements and can they be easily updated?
Can the system cope with the complexity of your business? Can it connect with multi-sites, accommodate different languages and will it grow with your business?
Check that the system meets the regulatory compliance standards – for your R&D sector and the regions you operate in.
Ensure legacy data can be moved quickly and easily into the system – using mapping that can be easily searched and retrieved. Look for automated protocols to make this possible without manual data entry.
Make sure that the software support staff know your business and understand your requirements, look for LIMS providers with scientific staff working in support roles.
Test the system – make sure that all stakeholders test the usability of the system and are brought into the decision. Talk to previous clients to get a real-world understanding of how the system works. LIMS providers include Thermo Fisher Scientific, LabWare and LabGuru.