Apr 18, 2024 4:28:16 PM | Blog What is a LIMS?

LIMS, or Laboratory Information Management Systems, are software solutions used in labs to manage samples, workflows, and data, improving efficiency and maintaining quality. They automate many tasks, enforce standard operating procedures, organize data, and generally store and manage information from laboratory processes, making them essential for modern labs that need to demonstrate quality, comply with regulations, or deliver a high level of customer service.

Are there different types of LIMS?

While all are aimed at automating and standardizing laboratory workflows and data collection in support of organizational objectives like productivity, data management,  and quality control, LIMS can take a variety of forms including:

  • Purpose-built commercial software
  • A combination of point solutions
  • Custom-tailored homegrown solutions

Can a lab operate without a LIMS?

In low-throughput, unregulated environments like research laboratories, it is common practice to operate without a LIMS. Samples, workflows, and results are managed manually using notebooks and spreadsheets. This process is slow, but more importantly, highly error-prone and begins to break down as labs shift focus to commercial applications and grow in size. 

What are the capabilities of a LIMS?

At their core, the main functions of LIMS include:

  • Sample Management: A LIMS tracks everything that happens with a sample from the time it is received in the lab including information like type, origin, and any other relevant metadata.
  • Workflow Management: A LIMS automates and standardizes tasks to streamline workflows and ensure standard operating procedures are consistently adhered to. Again this works to improve efficiency and reduce errors.
  • Data Management: A LIMS stores data generated by activities across the lab including test results, instrument readings, and quality control data in a structured way to facilitate analysis, reporting, compliance, and investigations.

Over the years, LIMS capabilities have expanded as the market increasingly seeks out a single system to manage multiple aspects of a lab, and even diverse lab environments under one organization (i.e. clinical versus research laboratories). For instance, many LIMS offer functionality including:

  • Order or Request Management: Some LIMS provide integrated client-facing portals where tests can be ordered, status tracked, and results accessed and downloaded.
  • Inventory Management: A LIMS might help you track critical aspects of inventory like consumable stock levels or reagent expiration dates to ensure the lab has the necessary resources to operate efficiently and accurately.
  • Instrument Integration and Management: A LIMS usually integrates with laboratory instruments to automate the bi-directional flow of data, but it could also allow labs to track calibration schedules and prevent offline equipment from being used.
  • Storage Management: For larger labs, many LIMS solutions can model its storage structure in detail to facilitate the process of locating available storage space and to track the placement, retrieval, and movement of samples and containers.

When does a lab need a LIMS?

It’s true, there are laboratory settings that can carry on just fine using spreadsheets and notebooks. But there are certain signals to monitor to know when it’s time for your lab to investigate different LIMS options. These are:

  • Increasing sample volumes: As a lab obtains more clients, heavily manual procedures for tracking samples and results will not only hamper productivity but also risk data integrity. Continuously track your throughput, turnaround time, and incidence of errors.
  • Increasing data volumes and complexity: If it is becoming a struggle to manage and analyze data effectively using manual methods or through basic applications like Excel, it’s time for a LIMS. LIMS can add structure to data and facilitate querying, visualization and reporting for more efficient analysis.
  • Regulatory compliance requirements: While compliance is a function of a lab and its processes, a LIMS is recommended as a crucial element of achieving and maintaining it by automating tasks, enforcing SOPs, monitoring quality,  and providing detailed audit trails. If your lab is trying to achieve regulatory compliance or accreditation of any kind, it’s a good sign that it’s time for a LIMS.
  • Client demands: Laboratory clients are ultimately concerned with two things: turnaround time and quality of results. If either of these begins to fall below expectations, so will the lab’s reputation. A LIMS can inject efficiency into operations – without having to immediately add staff – and also protect results integrity through automation and rigor. If client satisfaction is declining, it is another cue to invest in a LIMS. 

What are the characteristics of a modern LIMS?

Since the concept of a LIMS has been around since the 1970s it’s probably not surprising that advancements have been made in the past five decades. More modern adaptations have taken advantage of newer trends and  innovative technologies to provide greater benefits to labs including:

  • User-friendly interface: It may sound trite but in the case of LIMS there are some that look like they were created in the 1990s (or earlier) and are extremely cumbersome to work with. Consider the impact of an outdated, cluttered interface on employee satisfaction and productivity, particularly in a competitive talent field of highly-trained technicians.  
  • Cloud-based deployment: A cloud-based LIMS is accessible from anywhere with a wifi connection and allows for instant deployment of updates. It reduces the costs associated with on-site hardware and provides the peace of mind that comes with data backups. Security concerns associated with early cloud-based systems are largely addressed if vendors adhere to industry standard architecture and best practices.
  • Low or zero-code configurability and customization: Older systems often come with rigidly pre-defined data models that require extensive coding to customize in any way. Modern systems are built with a lot more flexibility allowing labs to quickly configure them to their specific needs.
  • Advanced data management: Modern LIMS are designed to help labs manage and quickly derive value from large volumes of highly complex data. One way this can be accomplished is through the use of a graph database which allows the lab to flexibly configure their data model around the unique characteristics of their science and seamlessly adapt this model as required. Additionally, the graph database is designed to capture deeply interconnected relationships between data points which helps uncover insights in situations where scientists might not be entirely certain what they’re looking for.

Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) play a critical role in laboratory operations, offering automation, standardization, and organization of samples, workflows, and data. As labs grow and evolve, adopting a LIMS becomes imperative to meet quality, compliance, and customer service needs.

If you're currently assessing different LIMS options contact us. We'll ask questions to understand your lab's needs and guide you through your different options to help you make the best decision. 


Written By: Labbit