It’s always a shock when reviewing the results of LIMS surveys that ask whether the lab instruments have been interfaced to the LIMS. One would expect that practically all LIMS implementations would have interfaced the instruments, right? Well it turns out that a large percentage of LIMS implementations have not interfaced the lab instruments to the system. Why not? The answers vary but include:
- We plan to in the next phase of the LIMS implementation
- We had to get the management reports done first
- We felt it cost too much to interface the instruments
- We felt that cutting and pasting was good enough
All of these reasons for not interfacing the instruments to the LIMS may seem reasonable to the LIMS owners, but there are overwhelming reasons to interface every instrument in your laboratory to your LIMS that can be. But before we get too far into this, let’s explore the types of instruments that can be interfaced to a LIMS.
Types of Instruments that can be Interfaced to LIMS
Instruments to be interfaced to a LIMS fall into three major categories:
- Simple instruments
These types of instruments are able to output a result but no real metadata (sampleID, testID, test parameters) to enable unassisted interfacing. Methods of interfacing these include activating the data transfer from within the data entry screen of the LIMS or utilizing an intermediary interfacing software package where the needed metadata can be associated with the result. Interestingly, these “simple instruments” are sometimes the most challenging to interface to the LIMS
- Uni-directional instruments
These types of instruments are able to output a data report and results file but do not have a facility to import information. Within the output files, the metadata needed to allow unassisted interfacing will be available. Interfacing these instruments is done by the LIMS or interfacing software picking up the file in a location and then parsing and entering the information/results into the LIMS. Additionally, many instrument interfacing systems will offer a large variety of drivers for interfacing these types of instruments and some vendors will even create new drivers, if requested.
- Bi-directional instruments
These types of instruments are able to both output data reports and results files and have an Application Programming Interface (API) to enable the import of data, information, protocols, worklists, commands/function calls, etc. These sophisticated instrument systems, like many chromatography data systems and robotic systems, are interfaced with the LIMS programmatically. Many LIMS companies will offer sophisticated bi-directional interfaces to the most popular instrument systems in this class. If an application is not commercially available, a full featured interface can be programmatically created.
Why Interface your Instruments to LIMS
There are a number of reasons why it is beneficial to interface the lab instruments to LIMS. Some of the most prevalent ones are discussed below.
Reason #1: Increase Productivity/Effectiveness
One of the best reasons to interface your instruments to your LIMS is the increase in lab productivity and scientist effectiveness it yields. Removing the manual entering of data, or even the cutting and pasting of data from the instrument to the LIMS, saves a ton of time and effort.
Likewise, if a bi-directional interface is being utilized, you will also eliminate the time required to enter the run information, parameters, etc. into the instrument system. This can all be set up in your LIMS and then transferred over electronically to the instrument. Increasing productivity and sample throughput are key goals in all quality control and testing labs. Increasing effectiveness (i.e. increasing the amount of time available for a scientist to do science) is a key goal in research labs.
Reason #2: Increase Data Quality / Data Integrity
Another key reason to interface your instruments to your LIMS is the increase in data quality and integrity that it yields. By removing the “human element” from the data transfer and entry equation, a huge source of error is removed.
Removing transcription errors will significantly increase the quality of your data. A very large issue in laboratories that is coming under increased scrutiny in FDA regulated labs is data integrity. How the data is captured and recorded from the source (i.e. instrument) to the data system (LIMS or ELN) is a major source of warning letters. By interfacing your instruments to your LIMS or ELN, you will eliminate this issue.
Reason #3: Increase User Satisfaction and LIMS Adoption
One of the complaints often heard by the scientists in the lab when a LIMS is implemented is that there was not much in the LIMS that helped them with their job. In fact, they will sometimes complain that the LIMS has made more work for them and that they “Hate LIMS”. One of the best ways to increase the scientists’ LIMS satisfaction is to interface the lab instruments to the LIMS.
By doing so, you will have made a significant improvement in their work processes and will have saved them a ton of time and annoyance. Not only will interfacing the instruments increase their LIMS satisfaction level, it will also increase the rate of LIMS adoption since once the scientists feel that the LIMS actually helps them, they will be more likely to fully utilize it. You will also be surprised at the number of new requests for additional functionality you will receive.
Have you interfaced your lab instruments to your LIMS? If not, why not? If you have, are you using the instrument interfacing facility from your LIMS or another software system? What types of interfaces are you running? Simple? Uni-directional? Bi-directional?