LabWare LIMS / ELN is the primary product we work with for implementations, here at GeoMetrick Enterprises. We’ve worked on it longer than almost anyone in the entire world. In addition, also on many versions. We’re the LabWare LIMS experts and the LabWare ELN experts.
What is the LabWare LIMS?
The LabWare LIMS is a laboratory information management system developed by LabWare, Inc. It is currently the top selling LIMS in the world, although this might vary in some of the geographic markets.
GeoMetrick Enterprises has been providing services for this LIMS product since 1996, although the actual LIMS is several years older than that. It’s definitely not the newest LIMS in the marketplace, but neither is it the oldest. It is especially popular for large QC (Quality Control) operations, especially in the pharmaceutical world. However, it is also used in many other areas.
The Labware LIMS has a base product with many add-on modules. The base system has many features, to begin with. You can create projects, instrument runs, manufactured lots of material, workflows – there are many things you can create just with the base system, as it is. In addition, you can create samples, tests and results, of course. It has powerful tools for calculations, as well.
In addition, there are modules for drug stability, clinical trials, interfaces to instruments and instrument software, interfaces to Northwest Analytical Quality Analyst software. This is a tiny list of the huge number of modules that users can download and plugin. Most of these can be downloaded without an additional fee, but some will require the purchase of other software licenses. For example, using Northwest Analytical software requires purchasing licenses for that software. As a different example, users can run any Crystal Report that in the Reports directory but, to develop new templates would require purchasing licenses for Crystal reports.
What is the LabWare ELN?
There is this other product, then, the LabWare ELN. The LabWare ELN is an exception to other modules in that you do pay an additional fee to purchase it. You must purchase the LIMS in order to then purchase the ELN. You cannot run the ELN without the LIMS.
“Why is that?,” you might wonder. The reason for this is the the LabWare LIMS is the base product. It sets up everything used by any other module, including the LabWare ELN.
When you begin working with the LabWare ELN, you will find that it depends on the LabWare LIMS having done some amount of work, already. For example, the LIMS creates the samples, tests and results, but the ELN uses them.
With that said, it’s certainly possible to do work within the ELN that you might have done in the LIMS. But it is the LabWare LIMS that created the data structure to enable all this.
Is the LabWare ELN Really and Truly an ELN?
Now, we get into the part where we argue about what our industry acronyms mean. The LabWare ELN is more on the structured side. It would be appropriate for QC (Quality Control) laboratories.
This is the point where some people in the industry would bring up two specific issues with that:
Right about now, you’re wondering if you should care. No, not except for the purposes of discussion. You should buy software based on the features it provides to meet your requirements, not the acronyms we assign to them.
Working With LIMS Basic Not Smalltalk
Nobody who is speaking to you about a LabWare LIMS should be using the term “Smalltalk” with you. If you’re actually speaking with LabWare and you ask what programming language the actual LIMS programs are written in, then it’s fine if they tell you that it’s written in Smalltalk. That’s the only exception. But no-one else should be discussing it with you.
Nobody implementing your LIMS should be using Smalltalk. It’s not a tool we use for implementation of the LabWare LIMS or the LabWare ELN. There are configuration items in the system, where you use buttons and dropdowns to implement the system. Where those aren’t sufficient, we use LIMS Basic to write our programs for the LabWare LIMS. We occasionally use other tools, as well. We might write database statements with SQL (Structured Query Language) or interface an instrument with the parsing language, but we won’t be using Smalltalk.
Less Programming, More LabWare LIMS Modules
Our approach is simple – leverage the modules. Put another way, if there’s a module for something, we do an evaluation of it to see how closely it will meet your needs. We weigh the amount and complexity of configuration you would need with the module against how much LIMS Basic programming would have to take place to implement it without the module. In addition, long-term maintenance has to be considered.
Example: External Stability
Let’s suppose that another system is managing and feeding the LIMS the Stability samples. On the LIMS side, there’s still configuration work to do. However, with the stability samples managed by another system, would you install Stability Manager? The answer to that question comes from reviewing what you need to accomplish in LIMS, what information you get from the other system, and weighing these factors.
LabWare LIMS Basic Code Isn’t Always Shareable
In using the variety of modules within the LIMS, keep in-mind that each one has unique features. As with any other type of program, LabWare LIMS Basic programs should be constructed in a manner where code is shared as much as possible. At the same time, we must make allowances for the variations required by the different modules.
LabWare LIMS / ELN Maintenance
Enough about configuration and programming, though. Let’s not forget maintenance. You could have the best system built but, if you can’t maintain it, it’s not worth anything to you.
Big systems such as this require IT expertise, both to keep the equipment working, but also the database. They need to understand the details of version control on various machines.
In addition, you must determine how the LabWare LIMS, itself, will be maintained. With its various SLLs and also the configuration and the LIMS Basic within the database, all this needs to be controlled without using an external version control system.
Most customers want a Development environment, one for testing or validation, and another for Production. It’s a good idea to have a separate environment for training and sometimes other instances, as well.
The Need for a Strong LabWare LIMS System Administrator
Then, how do you ensure that each instance has the right SLLs and matches the correct configuration and LIMS Basic? This is where a great LabWare LIMS System Administrator comes in. They have to have a method to keep this all separate and to be able to move packages of features from one place to another.
Sure, you can write a LIMS Basic program and export it, then move it to another place. Let’s suppose, though, that it requires that specific records are built in one of the tables. Then, okay, export those, too. Now, also suppose that it requires a new SLL in order to get it to work.
Regulated or not, you wouldn’t just take a new SLL and put it right into your Production instance. Yet, if you really need that new feature, you would want to find a way to test it and move it, fairly soon. You need a system admin that can create or work through procedures that will get everything tested and moved in the most appropriate manner.
Another example of the types of issues a good system admin will be able to deal with is that of working with other systems. Let’s suppose your LabWare LIMS will be interfaced with your MES (Manufacturing Execution System). If they’re sharing some of their database tables, you can’t just take one of the down for maintenance without notifying the other.
Once, again, a good LabWare LIMS System Admin understands these types of issues. They will work with the other systems on plans that allow for a system to be taken down for maintenance, when needed.
As an example, let’s consider a contract lab situation. A contract lab might be billing by test and, to do that, there might be an interface with the accounting system. When it’s the end of the billing cycle and the accounting system goes to start creating invoices for customers, that would be an inopportune time for the LabWare LIMS to be scheduled to be down for maintenance. This is a situation where one of the stakeholders is the Accounting department. Good admins on both sides will negotiate around these types of issues.
Getting the Best LabWare LIMS / ELN Resources is the Key to Success
The point to all of this is to illustrate that the LabWare LIMS / ELN platform is complex. It requires a great deal of work to implement and maintain. There are many moving parts to make this all happen. There is quite a lot to know about the intricacies of this system in order to do that. In addition, you also need to work with people who understand the outside issues, such as those of interfacing with various systems.