Method miniaturisation is the squeezing of as many instrumental and analytical parameters as possible to optimise efficiency. Variables that can be examined include extraction solvent, extraction technique, injection onto the column, separation on column, quantification via the detector and finally the cycle time of one analytical run. As we strive to make the method more robust we should improve quality, obtain an equivalent if not better Limit of Detection (LOD) and deliver the result more quickly and hence more cheaply.
When it comes to multiple beneficiaries and when done well, the largest scale improvement a lab can effect is a LIMS system. These enable the tracking of each and every sample, via its own unique identification number and/or barcode, through the entire analytical workflow from site sampling all the way to the customer’s e-mail address. Data is not the only thing housed within a LIMS, anything to do with the whole laboratory, including management and quality details, can be stored, giving all users multiple benefits. The biggest wins are improved quality, the chance to track key variables and real time analysis of samples within a workflow. Other major benefits are that:
- Instrumental link-to-lims allows error-free transcription of often hundreds of results in minutes rather than the laborious cut-and-paste of old and other more minor kit can be connected i.e. balances for sample weighing and label printers for automated labelling.
- Report viewing is a useful option, automated reporting once again eliminates cutting and pasting and the inherent errors that can arise and advanced reporting formats (which are becoming increasingly requested) are easily incorporated into the software.
- The LIMS system becomes a database that can be interrogated for management reports or trend analysis via KPIs.
- The systems themselves are easily administered in-house in a part-time capacity by anyone with basic IT skills.
- Everything moves towards becoming electronic, reducing the paper trail.
- Real time analysis of samples in the work process is enabled so labour can be re-allocated to remove bottlenecks.
- Archiving of old suites is easily enabled reducing errors in scheduling.
- A rapid search facility becomes available.
- Audit trails are accumulated in the background and swiftly retrievable, user administration status can be set at several levels to protect security and ensure training has been received before extra responsibility is taken.
- Most new systems come with associated web portals enabling the customer to remotely view or trend results.
In conclusion there is a lot to consider in implementing these processes, but a little time spent miniaturising methods and processes could provide better analysis quality and limits of detection, considerable on-going financial savings and a large amount of re-investable time. As Professor Walt Jennings once said "the only place you can afford to lose time is academia."