Integrated Informatics Solutions In the Water Quality Sector

Companies working within the environmental and water and wastewater sectors face a number of significant challenges with regard to delivering accurate, consistent, and traceable results. Since ensuring public safety and delivering quality water are the chief goals of any water company, samples must be regularly tested and quality monitored between the water source to the final destination—the consumer’s tap. Effective monitoring of this process requires that water companies implement more consistent sampling, testing, and reporting processes that can help them reliably deliver a safe product while continuing to meet increasing regulatory requirements. Water companies today, whether they are large state or municipal organizations, privately run, or small rural providers, all face the same pressures—to maintain quality of supply while implementing the most sustainable and efficient processes, reducing labor-intensive procedures and waste, and increasing automation. The bottom line is that water companies must ensure that the business makes the best use of all of its resources.

Changing business requirements are driving some of the latest developments in informatics solutions in the water quality sector. Meeting stringent requirements for water and environmental samples has often resulted in labor-intensive procedures to ensure compliance, such as paper recordkeeping, demonstration of capability (DOC), document control, reagent and standard traceability, proof of training, and reporting. Water and environmental laboratories need solutions that automate and significantly reduce those manual activities, and hence increase data quality and traceability, while also meeting compliance requirements for ISO 17025 and the standards adopted by the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Conference (NELAC).

Advanced informatics solutions such as purpose-built LIMS, which are designed for the work flow of water and environmental laboratories, can address many of the industry’s fundamental issues. An informatics solution designed to manage traceability and promote efficiency can also be instrumental in facilitating the exchange of information by connecting the laboratory with the rest of the organization and thereby helping management at all levels of the organization make faster and more informed decisions.

Legislative requirements

In 2003, NELAC adopted standards that are used for the accreditation of environmental laboratories. Among other requirements, the standards also cover quality management and technical requirements for laboratories performing environmental analysis.1 Within this framework, laboratories are required to ensure electronic data security, software documentation and verification, software and hardware audits, backups, and records of any changes to automated data entries. In addition, laboratories must utilize a permanent chronological record such as a logbook or electronic database to document custody of all sample containers received in the laboratory.

The current version of the NELAC standard has been fully integrated with ISO 17025.2 All NELAC-accredited laboratories will be required to meet adopted ISO 17025 requirements, which specify general requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories to carry out tests and/or calibrations, including the sampling process. These regulations cover testing and calibrations performed using standard methods, nonstandard methods, and laboratory-developed methods. The regulations are applicable to all ISO 17025-certified organizations performing tests and/or calibrations. This includes first-, second-, and third-party laboratories as well as laboratories in which testing and/or calibration forms are part of the inspection and quality process.

Benefits of integrated informatics solutions for water quality analysis

Laboratory managers need to optimize the utilization of their staff and equipment to improve efficiency and productivity. Minimizing time-consuming and potentially error-prone manual processes is a key weapon in the laboratory manager’s armory. LIMS allow for considerable reductions of administrative overhead in the laboratory. Laboratory operating costs are especially diminished by applications featuring built-in functionality specific for water and environmental laboratory work flows. Predefined test methods, batch sequences, measurement traceability, and regulatory reports enable the laboratory to process data faster than ever, while delivering consistently accurate analytical data. By automating time-consuming activities, water and environmental laboratories realize improved efficiency and significant productivity gains while ensuring traceability and maintaining records for compliance reporting.

Preconfigured solutions enabling compliance with water and environmental regulations

State-of-the-art LIMS for water and environmental laboratories have been developed in conjunction with environmental experts for ISO 17025 and NELAC requirements, ensuring the solution has specific functionality to support the work flows found in water and environmental laboratories. These new solutions are built with comprehensive dashboard functionality that can help address the regulatory and operational needs of three distinct and interrelated parts of the laboratory’s business—personnel, quality assurance, and the customer.

Key features of a purpose-built water and environmental LIMS solution include:

  • Statement of Work (SOW) and project management capabilities to ensure proper documentation of customer interactions and contract review
  • Customized pricing, quoting, and invoicing management, which will reduce the need for external software applications and associated costs (Figure 1

Figure 1 - Pricing, quoting, and invoicing can be managed from within SampleManager LIMS (Thermo Fisher Scientific, Philadelphia, PA), reducing the need for other software applications within a business solution. This also reduces implementation and integration costs.

Figure 2 - Subsampling allows users to easily manage sample allocation to various containers upon receipt to the laboratory, ensuring traceability of the sample from arrival to disposal.

  • Extensive sample and subsample scheduling functionality, including the use of handhelds/personal digital assistants (PDAs), ensuring proper traceability and management of field sampling information (Figure 2)
  • Built-in predefined test methods and calculations for higher-quality results and more efficient operations, while also eliminating the need for external spreadsheets and manual calculations
  • Preparation and analytical batches, and their associated methods and matrices, linked to ensure traceability throughout the sample testing process
  • Project, job, and sample templates that can capture customer and sample information, guaranteeing chain of custody
  • The ability to add document attachments to samples or projects and generate reports specific to the water industry, facilitating compliance with NELAC and U.S. EPA regulatory requirements (Figure 3)

Figure 3 - Predefined report templates enable customers to automatically generate regulatory-required reports in a fraction of the time.

Figure 4 - Dashboards provide graphical representations of information to permit laboratory management and analysts to visualize critical information in various forms.

Figure 5 - Data visualization allows users outside of the laboratory to monitor field collection sites quickly and easily within LIMS.

  • Automatic scheduling and maintaining demonstration of capability (DOC), limits of detection (LOD), and limits of quantitation (LOQ) studies, which eliminate the need for manual data gathering and report generation
  • Data visualization tools and an intuitive user interface that can allow users to easily manage and track sample information (Figures 4 and 5).

Optimized operations for laboratory personnel and management

Today’s water and environmental LIMS solutions provide comprehensive sample handling, financial control from pricing to invoicing, project and customer management, instrument integration, and automated reporting capabilities—giving managers tighter control and saving time on routine tasks. Dashboards are configured to display sample and project metrics, labor costs, and monitor hold times at a glance so that users can view the health of their laboratory and make more rapid decisions about their operations. Furthermore, by automating and centralizing the way samples are monitored and tracked, throughput, quality, and laboratory productivity are also improved, permitting laboratory managers and analysts to focus on value-added activities.

Meeting ISO 17025 and NELAC requirements for quality assurance

Testing for water and environmental samples encompasses a stringent set of requirements that has also introduced a new set of labor-intensive procedures into the laboratory to ensure compliance, recordkeeping, DOC, document control, reagent and standard traceability, proof of training, and reporting. Using an informatics solution specific to the work flow found in water and environmental laboratories, Quality Assurance can rely on fully integrated work processes that ensure compliance with applicable regulations. With such a system, records are maintained electronically in a validated and secure environment, and therefore can be easily retrieved during audits.

Data validation and traceability for the customer

Each customer relies on the laboratory to provide accurate and valid data. Whether the laboratory is in-house or a commercial facility, customer management is a key part of contract review and sample handling within the regulatory environment. A built-for-purpose water and environmental LIMS solution facilitates compliance by documenting customer processes within a secured environment and maintaining the information for easy retrieval. The Statement of Work allows the project manager to associate multiple customer contacts and comply with reporting, pricing, and testing requirements in one system. Customer communication can be saved within the project to document any changes to the contract, which is an important part of contract review. By connecting these processes, all versions of quotes, invoices, and reports are saved electronically to ensure data traceability and version control.

Meeting the needs of water and environmental laboratories

The latest preconfigured LIMS solutions have been specifically designed to help environmental and water and wastewater laboratories improve efficiency, maintain records and traceability, and meet compliance requirements for ISO 17025 and NELAC. Best practices and key learnings in the field of laboratory informatics demonstrate that a built-for-purpose informatics solution can help water and environmental companies redefine their laboratory processes for improved efficiencies, cost savings, and regulatory compliance. Companies that have installed these advanced LIMS solutions have been able to improve both the efficiency and integrity of their sample management and testing processes.

References

  1. The NELAC Institute, Environmental Laboratory Sector, Vol. 1, Management and Technical Requirements for Laboratories Performing Environmental Analysis, TNI Standard; www.nelac-institute.org/docs/standards/2009/EL_Volume1_2011.pdf.
  2. International Organization for Standardization, ISO/IEC 17025/2005 General Requirements for the Competence of Testing and Calibration Laboratories; www.iso.org/iso/catalogue_detail.htm?csnumber=39883.

Ms. Mensingh is President, EM2 Management Solutions, Houston, TX, U.S.A. Mr. Thurston is Director of Product Strategy, Process Industries, Thermo Fisher Scientific, 1601 Cherry St., Ste. 1200, Philadelphia, PA 19102, U.S.A.; tel.: 215-964-6020; fax: 215-964-6021; e-mail: marketing.informatics@thermofisher.com.

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