What Should Be Integrated with a LIMS?

What Should Integrate with a LIMS

When you implement a laboratory information management system (LIMS), you’ll have to plan for what you will integrate with your LIMS and when you will do it. Understanding the potential benefits or difficulties of integrations will help the implementation team do this planning. In today’s informatics and data-sharing environment, it’s true that almost any system or instrument can be integrated with a LIMS, but what should be integrated with your LIMS and in what order is unique to your situation. This blog post offers some guidance.

Prioritization

At the heart of the question of what should be integrated with a LIMS is the goal of optimizing business processes. You may want to start with processes that present some kind of risk or that are high volume. CSols uses a risk matrix that looks at the probability of an event and the severity of the harm that would result. How you evaluate risk and its influence on business processes will differ, depending on the lab environment you’re in. 

  • In the research and development lab, optimizing business processes involves questions of safety (usually in terms of risk to the consumer) as well as quality and volume. Systems and instruments that have direct effects on these risks should be integrated first. 
  • In the quality control lab, the value of instrument or system integration is judged primarily on the time sensitivity of the results. Integrating systems or instruments that depend on people’s actions to deliver a report to the right hands could be a priority.
  • In regulated industries, an important aspect of optimizing business processes is to ensure data integrity. Documenting compliance with regulations can consume large quantities of time for labs with any level of manual processes. Choosing integrations strategically to reduce risk or save time can provide significant return on investment (ROI).

Another way to determine the priority order of your integrations is to evaluate the complexity of the integration. The easier the integration, the faster an organization can realize time savings and reduced risks of human error. For these reasons, many organizations will take advantage of the relatively simple integrations that are available for, or in some cases built in to, the LIMS. At minimum, you will need to plan for some level of configuration with these integrations—even for simple ones. 

It is possible, and even popular, to put off any integrations until after the initial LIMS implementation is complete. However, if you don’t have a dedicated LIMS administrator on your staff who can handle the technical challenges of integrations, it is worth having the identified critical systems or instruments integrated during your implementation.

Systems and Instruments That Are Capable of LIMS Integration 

Labs will have an array of instruments and software systems that are capable of integration with their LIMS, depending on the processes they are running. However, just because you can integrate all of your lab instruments and systems with your LIMS doesn’t mean you should. Integrating systems and instruments can be a time-consuming, technical task so it’s not always feasible to connect every software and every piece of equipment. Your organization should carefully weigh the efforts required against the benefits. 

▶ Related Content: Interfacing Instruments, data systems, and information systems to LIMS: It can wait!

System Integrations

  • Integrating informatics products like a chromatography data system (CDS) or an electronic lab notebook (ELN) improves data integrity. Some system integrations are included with specific LIMS products at the time of purchase. Most of the major LIMS products have an integrated ELN and laboratory execution system (LES); some also have available scientific data management systems (SDMS). CDS providers like Waters and Agilent make integrating their systems with various LIMS quite easy to do. If your chosen LIMS has the integrations built in for systems that you plan to use, these should be integrated during the implementation. 
  • Integrating your LIMS with manufacturing systems, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) software like SAP or a manufacturing execution system (MES), may only make sense if your manufacturing lines run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Otherwise, these kinds of integrations may not provide sufficient return on investment (ROI) to make the technical challenges worth undertaking. If you are operating continually, integrating the systems that hold the quality test protocols and disposition information with your LIMS offers the possibility of automated lot release or alerts when a product falls out of the defined specifications. These benefits may be extremely valuable at 3 a.m. on a Saturday. 
  • A relatively new option is a third-party integration platform as a service (iPaaS) product, which enables your LIMS and instruments or systems like your CDS, ERP, or MES to integrate with one another through this platform. Microsoft and IBM are well-known providers, but there are many others. For complex systems, the cloud-based platform effectively acts as a pass-through for the integration messaging. For systems that don’t have methods for integration (e.g., instruments that only output files), this approach offers standardization and file security. This kind of platform can be administered by your organization’s IT staff rather than by the LIMS or ERP, which may be a point in its favor. However, it does represent an additional cost. If your LIMS is well supported with a dedicated administrator, such a third-party solution may not be necessary due to the powerful integration capabilities in most LIMS.
Webinar: "LIMS Instrument Interfacing - The Times They Are A-Changing"

Instrument Integrations

In addition to the commonly integrated systems that have been mentioned previously, more and more of the less complex lab instruments are capable of LIMS integration. This added capability is meant to address data integrity concerns. 

For instance, many pH meters, titrators, barcode readers, walk-in freezers, and lab balances come with software that enables integration and adheres to the ALCOA+ principles. Configuring the instrument management and calibration module that is available with most LIMS products will give you the ability to interface many types of instruments with your LIMS. 

If this is done, it becomes possible to schedule instrument calibration and maintenance automatically, log equipment time from a central interface, or track instrument performance. 

a practical guide to instrument integration

Additional Considerations for LIMS Integration

When you choose your instrument and system integrations with the goal of optimizing your business processes, you will be able to decide which integrations are right for your lab. The right system and instrument integrations realize ROI. Beyond the reduced risk of human error and accompanying improvements in data integrity, your lab will enjoy increased efficiency and productivity. This increased productivity may, in turn, lead to improvements in user satisfaction due to less time spent on manual tasks, and to breakthroughs in innovation thanks to increased data access. 


What instruments or systems do you feel are the most important to integrate with your LIMS?

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