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How LIMS Are Enabling the Mobile Lab of the Future

Imagine that you’re a field technician for a public water provider. Your company is committed to supplying clean, safe drinking water to millions of people, so it has implemented a sophisticated water sampling program to ensure water is free of contaminants.

by Thermo Fisher Scientific,Matthew Grulke

LIMS and The Mobile Lab: Data at your fingertips

Across this water company’s territory, technicians just like you are collecting and testing samples from reservoirs, water treatment facilities and even customers’ homes.

Today you’re collecting samples from various points around a lake that supplies water to one of your company’s main processing facilities. After filling each sample bottle, you transcribe its barcode into your notebook. You check your watch and jot down the time. You remember to add a preservative that ensures the sample gives accurate readings after it has been transported to the lab. Finally, you pull out a GPS unit and note your exact location coordinates. When you get back to the lab, all of this information – recorded manually – will need to be re-entered into a database and combined with the test results.

As you pack up your notebook and GPS, it hits you: All of this data could more easily be collected – not to mention transmitted back to the lab – on a single device; for example, the iPhone in your pocket. Mobile devices are an increasingly critical component of modern life, and that trend holds true for laboratories as well. Regardless of industry, the incredible (and constantly evolving) features on these devices can enable technicians to easily capture new types of data more accurately and from more remote locations, but they also pose an interesting challenge. How do laboratories ensure that all the data collected via mobile devices is accurate, secure and organized? The answer is a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). Just as a LIMS enables an automated, paperless environment inside the lab, it can integrate with mobile devices in the field to ensure that data collection, transmission and analysis are fully optimized.

New Devices, New Opportunities

The most straightforward benefit mobile devices bring to the lab is, quite simply, more data. The more data that labs have available, the more effective they can be, provided that the data is organized and accurate. That’s where the LIMS comes in. A LIMS enables users to transmit information directly from the field into the database, eliminating error-prone manual transcription. The ability to go completely paperless is no longer bound by the physical constraints of the laboratory itself. The LIMS ensures that location information, barcode reading, precise timing and any other data the technician collects are linked directly to the test results. In other words, combining mobile devices and a LIMS brings a sampling program’s entire chain of custody under one secure umbrella. This enables improved regulatory compliance, traceability and auditing, of course, but it also makes for better management.

One of the greatest advantages of mobile devices is that they’re a two-way street. Not only can users submit data to the LIMS, they can examine and look at data on a device without physically entering the lab. Today’s state of the art LIMS such as Thermo Scientific SampleManager offer connectivity with mobile devices that allow lab personnel to visualize results from high-level trends down to granular details.

For labs performing extensive chromatography runs, for example, data must constantly be monitored to ensure results match up with reference data. Scientists aren’t interested in general results alone, they want the ability to drill down to the level of individual components and peaks. A LIMS provides access to interactive data – not just a static image such as a JPEG or PDF – from a mobile device, allowing the lab to run far more efficiently. The same goes for automated alerts on sample runs: Mobile devices linked to the LIMS allow users to make a decision from a remote location about whether an outlying result requires a retest or a full investigation, preventing unnecessary delays. Because of these visualization and connectivity advances, laboratory personnel are free to be far more creative as they design workflows. Data management is no longer a limiting factor in the laboratory; instead it is a driving force for innovation.