The use of the Matrix Gemini LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) in the Cereal, Milling and Baking Science Laboratory at Allied Technical Centre (ATC) is a perfect example of how a flexible, configurable LIMS can be adapted by the users themselves to meet changing requirements. Successive versions of Matrix have been implemented at ATC, beginning with V2 in the late 1990s.
Allied Technical Centre, in Maidenhead, Berkshire, UK, is part of Associated British Foods (ABF) plc. ATC provides technical leadership in a number of areas, including food safety, food law, product assurance and nutrition, bakery development, environmental management, consumer contact management and cereals, milling and baking science. Facilities include a UKAS accredited Cereals, Milling and Baking Science laboratory, pilot milling and controlled-temperature shelf-life rooms. The laboratory acts as a primary reference laboratory for the Milling & Baking Group as well as providing a testing service for other clients. The laboratory carries out a wide range of microbiological tests which adds value by supporting, developing and optimizing the baking process. This in turn drives process control to enable delivery of consistent product quality and optimum production efficiency. By monitoring and evaluating ingredient functionality, manufacturing costs can be minimized. The laboratory also has a role to play in new product development and product formulation.
Prior to 1997 ATC used a LIMS that was popular in its day but it was fairly crude in its capabilities and inflexible to use. Nevertheless, the Head of Analytical Services at ATC at the time recognized the importance of LIMS and the potential it had to offer the company so instigated the purchase of a new, Windows-based LIMS. The initial requirements for the LIMS were simply for sample registration and job logging, but it was recognized that much more could be accomplished with a system that could grow with the laboratory to meet its changing needs. The challenge was therefore not just to find a system that made this possible but to actually implement these changes, as required over an extended period of time.
Following a successful demonstration by Autoscribe which highlighted the company’s expertise in the field of LIMS and the capability and configurability of the product, Matrix V2 was purchased. Initially Matrix was not operated as a full LIMS, but configured for registering samples and logging jobs. The first database used was Microsoft Access. Following training on the configuration of Matrix, the ATC Technical Support team took ownership of Matrix and began an internal development program that has continued to the present day, to utilize Matrix to the best benefit of the laboratory. A variety of capabilities have been added over the years. These include:
- Incorporation of internal and external costing information into the sample registration screens – this allows invoice generation for work conducted for non-ABF companies and an allocation of effort for work carried out for ABF companies
- Development of individually configured registration pages for wheat, flour and milled products, and baked product samples
- Addition of runsheets into the system
- Inclusion of results in the system to replace the increasingly unmanageable number of spreadsheets previously used for results
- Developing methodology for direct results entry from a variety of instruments in the laboratory to save time and
reduce transcription errors. Adaptation of methodology if required when instruments are upgraded. Tests are carried out in batches – around 30% test results are entered manually and 70% directly from instrumentation
- CSV import of test results from external laboratories (for chemical testing, for example) to minimize errors in results data entry
- Creation of a wide range of reports – some from Crystal Reports, some from spreadsheets or mail merge linked to SQL database
- Financial reporting as well as test reporting
- Utilization of Matrix by other departments as they saw its flexibility and applications – for example any live sample has associated information such as legal documents that may be used for internal management
- Multiple users – around 20 mainstream users of Matrix with a further 20 occasional users
- For ease of use, most users access Matrix via the web user interface
Matrix has transformed the management of sample data at ATC and this is extremely important since the Cereals, Milling and Baking Science laboratory handled approximately 19,000 samples in 2016.
The major benefit offered by Matrix Gemini LIMS is the configurability and the flexibility it brings in allowing staff at ATC to evolve the system to meet their needs. The system now follows the laboratory process flow of:
- Sample Registration
- Test Runsheets
- Result Entry
- Test Results Reporting
- Financial Reporting
Many of the individual functions within Matrix have been found to be particularly useful, such as the SQL 992 button which runs an SQL statement, and Transformer – this function turns user selected data into a comma separated list of SQL compliant values, in a form suitable for use in a SQL statement to query databases or for Crystal Reports. For ATC, Transformer is used to select samples from a screen and then push them to another activity such as a report. ATC has also purchased the Bulk Sample Registration module for Matrix, which has simplified the registration of large numbers of samples or where a variety of sample types are being registered. This module provides a grid with spreadsheet-like data-entry functionality for registering large numbers of samples. It allows entry of the sample data to be done in advance of the registration operation, and has also been used to generate templates for regular repeat batches of samples. Ongoing changes continue to be made to the system in response to laboratory needs. In recent months a new module for monitoring instrument calibration dates has been completed.
Matrix is incredibly cost-effective, so we have never wanted to change.
We have an outstanding relationship with Autoscribe.
The two things that sold Matrix to us were the configurability and the technical knowledge shown during the presentation.
As we developed the use of Matrix in the laboratory, other parts of the business could see how it could be applied to them.