In the dynamic field of environmental testing, staying ahead of regulatory changes and embracing technological advancements is crucial for laboratories to thrive. As new contaminants emerge and detection limits become more stringent, laboratories must navigate the evolving landscape with alacrity and prudence. Moreover, unexpected events such as the COVID-19 pandemic have underscored the importance of centralized data management, scientific collaboration, and the power of Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
In this blog, we explore the technology trends that have come or are expected to come into sharp focus and drive laboratories toward greater efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and compliance.
Laboratory Workflow Automation
Environmental testing laboratories have already adopted some degree of automation, but greater adoption is expected in the near future. Laboratories are increasingly automating their entire workflows to maintain data integrity. Automation has many advantages, including data accuracy, process efficiency, increased output, and reduced administrative workload, allowing laboratory staff to concentrate on more specialized tasks. Furthermore, the deployment of laboratory monitoring systems is expected to curtail sample wastage and errors. For instance, if a parameter exceeds its predefined threshold, laboratory managers will be alerted to initiate the necessary action.
While the initial cost of transitioning from manual processes to automated systems can be high, this investment is likely to yield long-term profits. The availability of laboratory automation technology has increased significantly, making it feasible for even small laboratories with restricted budgets to embrace automation.
Cloud Computing or Cloud Technology
Cloud computing has transformed the way laboratories function. With cloud computing, laboratories can access computing services such as servers, databases, and software over the Internet. This means that staff members present in remote locations can collaborate in real-time, making their work easier and more efficient. Additionally, cloud computing helps laboratories save costs by eliminating the need to purchase IT infrastructure and hire staff.
One of the most significant benefits of cloud computing is that laboratories can easily store and access data from anywhere and at any time. Modern in-the-cloud systems, such as a cloud-based Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), use cutting-edge cloud technology to enhance security and provide automated timely security updates.
For multi-laboratory companies, an environmental LIMS is particularly useful as it can store data from all laboratories in one central location, eliminating data silos. With a cloud-based environmental LIMS, diverse workflows from all laboratories can be managed centrally, making it easier to coordinate and share data across the organization.
Use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)
AI and ML can be effectively employed by environmental testing laboratories to enhance experimental design, accelerate the analysis of results from numerous tests, and facilitate data-driven decision-making that would typically take several days if done manually. Similar to automation, AI mitigates human errors in laboratory processes and amplifies productivity. Much like automation in the laboratory, though the upfront cost might appear steep, ML, when programmed accurately, generates fewer errors and biases compared to humans, resulting in successful integration into environmental testing procedures. For instance, AI has been applied to mineralogical composition estimation, which, in conjunction with simple infrared spectrophotometry examination for chemical and physical properties, can curtail testing costs substantially.
Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) Implementation
Automate workflows: Workflow automation is a key functionality that helps streamline laboratory management and eliminates the need for manual data entry. A high-quality environmental monitoring LIMS should have a configuration tool that allows the laboratory to match their laboratory terminology and workflows.
Manage inventory: Inventory management is critical, as laboratory technicians should be able to easily manage their sample and reagent inventory. This functionality ensures that the virtual storage of samples matches their physical counterpart and saves time and resources by avoiding over-ordering.
Manage tests: Test management is another essential feature that enables a laboratory to standardize testing while retaining control over the testing process. An environmental LIMS can also easily track the approval and validation of test results and generate certificates of analysis (CoAs) and share them with clients in real-time.
Perform accurate reporting that fosters collaboration: LIMS reporting tools should be easy to access and use for generating reports on inventory, sample tracking, test results, and QC data.
The environmental laboratory industry faces unique challenges in terms of regulation and innovation. However, advancements in technology offer opportunities to improve laboratory workflows, increase efficiency, and reduce costs. With personnel cost and accreditation costs being among the highest components of operational cost for environmental laboratories, and market conditions forcing environmental laboratories to become more aggressive in using technology to reduce costs and boost operating efficiencies, the pace of technological innovation in environmental testing is expected to accelerate. Automation, cloud computing, AI and ML, and environmental LIMS deployment are some of the technology trends that are expected to revolutionize the environmental testing space. By adopting these technologies, laboratories can ensure regulatory compliance, seamlessly manage inventory and tests, facilitate collaboration, and generate accurate and reliable CoAs. As environmental regulations continue to change, laboratories must be ready to adapt and harness technological advancements to remain competitive.